Category: Europe


I’m told by the folks at the Quote of the Day service that it’s “National Bittersweet Chocolate with Almonds Day!” That immediately brought to mind my visit to the Chocolaterie de Puyricard in the tiny village of Puyricard, France, as Puyricard is famous for its Mendiants — magnificent dark chocolate disks covered with nuts and raisins. They are delicious and not sweet at all. One of my favourite chocolate treats! Have you had the pleasure of sinking your teeth into a mendiant?

This post is a nice transition from our last few focusing on Belgium, as Puyricard Chocolatier was founded by a Belgian couple who had moved to the south of France in 1967 to pursue their dream of opening a chocolaterie.

the staff at Puyricard make the chocolates by hand for your enjoyment

Chocolaterie de Puyricard now has 17 locations in France plus a New York-based exclusive order service for North American clients under the name of Puyricard Signature. Puyricard’s Signature is an online club we chocolate lovers can join to gain access to a limited line of exquisite French-tradition chocolates produced under the direction of master chocolatier, Tanguy Roelandts, son of the founders of the company, Jean-Guy and Marie-Anne Roelandts.

The creative team at Puyricard are masters at what they do: combining fabulous French chocolate with the best fresh ingredients to enhance it. That includes cherries they grow themselves, apples grown just 70 miles from the plant, the very best almonds from Spain, hazelnuts from Italy, vanilla from Tahiti – all fresh and used without preservatives. So only a small selection of the 100 different confections made in France are available in North America, giving you more of an incentive to head to France and taste and enjoy the best of the best right where it is made and created.

the packaging at Puyricard is as beautiful as the chocolates

The packaging at Puyricard is just as elegant as the chocolates and changes with the seasons. Both the outside and the inside of the package will fill you with awe — and bring you great pleasure.

Enjoy your favourite chocolates in moderation. And please join us back here the week of November 21st for our next delicious post.

I met Jean Galler, The King’s Chocolatier, at his office in Liège, Belgium and was immediately enamored with his charm and style. And that was before I’d tasted the chocolate of Galler Chocolatier!

Jean Galler proudly introduces us to his finest chocolates

Galler emits passion and excitement in his every word, movement and action. He is without question the most elegant and sophisticated chocolatier on the planet and there was no doubt that he would deliver that passion and elegance in his chocolate creations. We were not disappointed. Galler’s chocolate is complex and multi-faceted. He has something to please everyone with a discerning taste for fine chocolate. He is all about freedom to choose. So from Galler, you can expect a wide variety of chocolates to please virtually any palate.

Galler has been making chocolate since 1976 and in 1993, was the first of Belgium’s chocolatiers to launch a 70% cocoa chocolate in which he found the perfect blend between bitterness and sweetness. In 2008, he launched a series of four blended chocolates. “It is a very similar technique to blending grape varietals for wine such as Bordeaux,” says Galler, whose passion for chocolate focuses on the finest quality.

“Today’s reality is that the consumer wants excellent quality but a small quantity.” So Galler launched a series of mini gourmet chocolate bars that have become extremely popular. He also has a series of products for children.

Jean Galler's playful side shows us his children's line of fine chocolate products

What does chocolate symbolize to the man who makes chocolate for the King of Belgium? “For me, chocolate is freedom. So in the box, I put freedom to choose and to change.” Galler Pure Cocoa has more than 40 chocolate shops around the world, including the Grand Place in Brussels and eight shops in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

In 2008, Galler launched Chocolat-passion, a wine-matching concept in which he employs a sommelier at each of his second-generation shops to help customers purchase just the right wine to enjoy with their chocolate purchases. You will find 32 wines from 22 different countries at Galler’s Chocolat-passion locations, in addition to multi media all about chocolate. What could be sweeter?

Galler also had a tea matching service for his chocolate creations at his Chocolat-Thé locations, at which you can enjoy any of 30 different teas in the traditional way with your Galler chocolates. And a new, third concept for chocolate appreciation can be found at his signature, Liège location. Visit the Chocolat Bar for a chocolate experience you will never forget.

Liège is a short drive from Brussels and is also accessible by train. They have an impressive new train station that I’m told took 13 years to build! The city itself is an industrial hub and more of a place to visit rather than stay.

When you are in Belgium, be sure to visit more than one of Galler’s locations and experience the extent of his creativity and ingenuity. And enjoy the elegant and exotic nature of his chocolates. You will never forget them, just as I will never forget meeting Monsieur Galler.

For those of us on this side of the pond here in North America, Happy National Chocolate Day on October 28th! I’m sure we’ll all be celebrating with a great piece (or two!) of fine chocolate. And as it’s also Champagne Day, you might like to enjoy some champagne with your chocolate!

Please join us back here the week of Nov 7th for our next post.

I’m sure I’m not alone in wishing I could hop the pond and be in London this week for the celebrations of Chocolate Week. As I’ve previously written on this blog, you will definitely find some of the best chocolate on the planet in the UK.

But as it’s not in the cards for me to make another epic chocolate journey at this particular moment in time, I’ll just reminisce about some of the best chocolate I’ve had the privilege of tasting and introduce you to several of the charming men who are making it in Belgium.

some of the amazing chocolate I brought home from Belgium

A chocolate expedition to Belgium should begin at La Maison des Maitres Chocolatiers, a wonderful shop located right in the Grand Place of Brussels which features the chocolate products of 10 of Belgium’s best.  The idea behind this inspirational place of chocolate is to introduce you to selected offerings from a variety of Belgian chocolatiers, saving you time and effort. If you’ve only got a short amount of time to make your chocolate discoveries, this is the place for you! You’ll see chocolate demonstrations and have the opportunity to taste a selection of chocolate to help you find your favourite.

tasting some succulent drinking chocolate at La Maison

Two of my personal favourites do happen to be represented at La Maison. The chocolates of both Laurent Gerbaud (who has a beautiful new shop in Brussels) and Edouard Bechoux, owner of Les chocolats d’Edouard of Florenville, Belgium can be found at La Maison.

Laurent Gerbaud Chocolatier has a strong connection to Asia, as Laurent lived in China for two years. He takes great pride in the purity of his chocolates, with no added sugar, butter, alcohol or preservatives and offers a terrific selection of exotic fruit such as Egyptian prunes, figs from Turkey and South African apricots that are happily covered in thick dark chocolate.

the very charming, Laurent Gerbaud

Laurent is upbeat and enthusiastic. Edouard Bechoux has more of a reserved nature, but he is equally creative, and started his culinary training at the young age of 14. He spent several years living in Tuscany and brings that influence to the kitchen in his bistro, which by no surprise, serves a lot of chocolate on the menu. I enjoyed beef served with a Ugandan chocolate sauce. It was most delectable!
Edouard also specializes in drinking chocolate and has 17 kinds of hot chocolate, 12 kinds of cool chocolate and 35 desserts for sale in addition to the extensive selection of  fresh chocolates, all made on site.

Edouard Bechoux's creativity with chocolate is sure to please

Please return the week of October 24th, when I will introduce you to Monsieur Galler.

To match the excitement of the fall migration of geese happening here on the Canadian Prairies right now, I thought we’d celebrate with our own migration! I’ll be migrating some of the content from my lifestyle blog over to this blog in order to fill in the blanks regarding my research for Chocolatour, which formally began 2 years ago … in the fall of 2009 … with a trip to Belgium, France and Switzerland.

Rather than repeating those posts (which you can still read over at the Blogger blog,) I’ll update them by giving you choco-centric information that will be a teaser for what you’ll find in Chocolatour: Your Guide to the Faces and Places of Chocolate.

Let’s start with Belgium, and our glorious time in Brussels, Florenville and Liège, Belgium. I visited those three particular cities as they are home to three of Belgium’s finest and most innovative chocolatiers.

the squares in European cities are wonderful, with the Grand Place of Brussels being no exception

I will devote a future blog post to each chocolatier, their products and communities in my top 3 picks for innovative Belgian chocolate. But for this week …

My Top 3 Reasons for Loving Belgium:

1) Chocolate! (But of course!) There are probably more chocolate shops in Belgium than any other place on the planet! In Brussels and Bruges, in particular, you’ll encounter a chocolate boutique every few steps. And the chocolate is amazing. In most cases, it’s handcrafted by local chocolatiers, each with his or her own unique style to entice you. Experiment! Try many and find the right chocolate personality to match your own. Think of it as chocolate dating, and what can be more satisfying than that!

2) The Belgians are really nice. You’ll find most Belgians to be a friendly, helpful people. Try to engage in conversation. Knowing a little French will be helpful, as French is the principal language spoken in Brussels. But you will find the Belgians to be much more humble and accommodating than their French neighbours, making a trip to Belgium pleasant and engaging.

3) Beer! I’m not a big beer drinker, but the Belgians really know their beer, and if you’re fortunate enough to visit during the warm summer months, nothing will refresh you better than a frosty mug of Stella Artois on one of the gorgeous patios!

Please share your own special memories about Belgium. We’re celebrating World Tourism Day today, and I can think of no better way to do so, than to celebrate the attributes of other cultures with our fellow lovers of travel.

See you back here the week of October 10th, when we’ll meet some amazing men of chocolate.

We’ve had a lot of fun tasting chocolate here on Travel Diversions with Doreen, and enjoying the cultural and culinary adventures of the world. But this week, with the onset of September and a new season upon us, I’m feeling a bit more reflective and am asking you to dip back into your memory banks and  share 2 things with us:

1) What is YOUR most memorable travel moment and …

2) What valuable lesson did you learn from it?

I’ll start the ball rolling. My most memorable travel moment was back in 1996, during our week-long visit to the Greek island of Santorini. We’d taken a marathon 12-hour tour around the island on a particular day and ended up arriving by small boat to the island of Thirasia. Up above on the cliffs, we spotted the village of Manolas, and were told that there were only 2 ways to reach it. Walk up, or take a mule. We chose the mules.

Now, let me explain that there are/were no groomed trails to get you up to the top of the hill. And no guard rails to ensure you didn’t fall the considerable distance down the cliff to the sea. But there I was, purse in my lap and camera hanging from my shoulder (this was during the days of the much larger and heavier old DLS film cameras), and trying to hold onto the mule as we swayed side to side, slowly climbing the rocky cliff to the village at the top, where we were told we would be treated to amazing views and a nice lunch.

On arrival, Reg and I got comfortable and sat ourselves down for lunch and a couple of well-deserved beers in the late afternoon heat of the sun. We were truly exhausted, but over the course of an hour, were invigorated by the stunning vistas which provided amazing photographic opportunities, the terrific food and the refreshing libations.  But suddenly, we noticed the trail of mules making their ways down the cliff without any passengers! I ran screaming after them, only to be told by their keeper that the mules quit at 4 pm each day (they must have been unionized!) and we would have to walk back down to the boat. Thank goodness my knees were in much better shape back in 1996. I know some of my fellow travellers suffered considerably from that unexpected experience.

the unridden mule train makes its way back down as we look on

Lesson learned: NEVER take anything for granted when you are travelling. You may be told that the mules will take you up to the village, but be sure to find out how you will get down. And be sure you can deal with the challenge. Never assume that the conditions are good, or doable for your abilities. Make sure you confirm that BEFORE embarking on any side excursion, and if there is a language barrier (as there often is in travel), do not let yourself be rushed into making a decision that could have very serious repercussions.

On the other hand, sometimes we have amazing travel experiences by stretching ourselves and doing things we likely otherwise would not have done and that is great. I’ve done many of those myself, including parasailing, swimming with sharks and stingrays, a shopping diversion in Jamaica that literally caused us to miss the departure of our cruise ship, and many, many other priceless moments. If you’d like to read the complete story of our Greek adventure, you’ll find it here.

And then please share with us your most memorable travel moment, and the valuable travel lesson learned. I’m really looking forward to hearing your stories. The next new post will be uploaded here during the week of September 26th. Stay tuned to see what diversion we’ll take next!

Roaming around Rome

Being a Gemini, my world is comprised of two opposing forces: one that knows I have to get the job done and one that just likes to have fun. You can read more about my writing life and other musings on my writer’s blog. But here … we travel, meet amazing people, eat great food, drink tantalizing wine and eat the best chocolate you will find anywhere on the planet. So … on to the next adventure.

It’s hard for me to write this post as it is the final jaunt on last fall’s tasting extravaganza. What a trip that was! Virginia and I had spent 2 weeks making our way through Holland, Spain and Italy in search of the best chocolate. And then we had one day in Rome before flying back across the pond to Canada.

Good thing she’s organized! We managed to do a whirlwind tour of the Coloseum, Venice Square, the Fountain of Trevi, the Spanish Steps, the Vatican and St. Peter’s Square. Whew! It’s amazing how we managed to at least see all of those landmarks in a mere 7 hours!

So I won’t get into any kind of analysis here on those. And as you know, my mind is primarily fed by the sensual pleasures of food, wine and chocolate. Historic landmarks might be nice to see, but for me, do not a visit make.

Rome is great for daytripping. You can leave your luggage at the train station for a fairly reasonable fee. It cost us 15 euros each to store 3 bags each for roughly 7 hours. But beware! They only take cash for this service. No credit cards.

The Coloseum was remarkably close (via The Metro) to the train station, and after getting rejuvenated with yet another amazing Italian meal, we strolled down Via Di S. Gregorio and happened upon Biodomenica, an organic farmer’s market with so many wonderful local things to taste.

your tastebuds can’t help but be tempted at Biodomenica

After retrieving our luggage, we took the airport train from the Central train station to the airport. We conveniently had booked the Rome Airport Hilton Hotel which is connected to the airport terminal by moving sidewalks, so as tired and loaded down with luggage as we were … we managed to get to the Hilton where we could crash for the night and rise early for our overseas flight. They have a good restaurant on-site, and the rooms are spacious and comfortable. Highly recommended if your flight times are less than convenient as ours were.

Please share your thoughts on Rome and this post.  And please join us back here the week of March 28th, when we’ll discover some amazing chocolate makers in Florida. You’ll be surprised. The Old World has trained the New World well, just as with wine makers. New and innovative can be equally as enticing as tried and true.

Visiting Pisa as described in my last post wasn’t what it was all about for me. Yes, I totally enjoyed the local culture and cuisine, and learned much visiting the historic relics. But I was there for the chocolate. And I was not disappointed.

We were lucky with the timing of our visit in that we were in Pisa for dolce Mente, a festival of sweets. The man I was looking for was to be there. I had come a long way to meet him, but somehow knew it would be worth the effort. I was so right.

We entered the festival in time to see Dutch-born chocolatemaker, Paul de Bondt, stirring up a pot of what looked like dry ice, causing considerable smoke and excitement in the room. Turns out he was making a very special and delicious gelato.

Paul de Bondt making his very special chocolate gelato

Paul de Bondt and his Italian wife, Cecilia Iacobelli are the dynamic duo behind de Bondt Cioccolato Originale. Spending two hours with this chocolate master was all I needed to help me tighten the focus for my chocolate book. He enabled me to get inside the mind of a chocolate master.

“It’s the small details that make the big differences, so we really put a lot of attention to the small nuances of flavours,” said de Bondt. I totally understood what he was telling me, and tasting his chocolate brought it all together for me. It made me realize we are cut from the same cloth. We are chocolate purists, and although we may appreciate the excitement that can come from adding fruits, nuts and other enhancements to chocolate, it is the quality of the cocoa beans that is of utmost importance to the final chocolate product.

some of Paul de Bondt’s chocolate barks — all awesome

I could tell you much more about Paul de Bondt. And I will. In my book. Chocolatour is on its way to becoming a reality, and by the end of this year I hope to be toasting Paul and Cecilia at the Italian launch of the book.

More on that to come. But before we go, I have to take a step back. In my last post I neglected to thank our wonderful guide in Pisa, Vincenzo Riolo. He’s the same guide who showed American travel writer, Rick Steeves, that Pisa is so much more than the Tower. See both of them in this pic. I must say that in each of the European cities we have visited, it has been the knowledge and insights of our local guides that has made the visit much more than a superficial fly by. Vincenzo is truly a master of his profession. You can reach him via the Pisa Guides website.

If you plan to visit Pisa, right now is a very good time! The weekend of March 25-27, 2011 will be filled with events through Pisa province, with special tours, and yes … a Chocolate Festival to be held in San Miniato e Tirrenia. More on this month’s events at: http://www.pisaunicaterra.it/en/Focus/pisas-new-years-day.html.

Be sure to join us back here on the blog the week of March 14th, when we’ll wrap up our visit to Italy with a whirlwind tour of Rome.

I hope you’ve been enjoying our Chocolatour through Europe. Our next stop is Pisa, Italy.

I must say Pisa really surprised me. I expected only an old dilapidated  Leaning Tower. I didn’t know that the Leaning Tower is part of a large grouping of impressive historic buildings and that the Leaning Tower is far from being dilapidated. It has recently been cleaned and is almost sparkling white! Much restorative work has been done to many of Italy’s historic treasures and a trip to Pisa is sure to please.

there are a number of beautiful historic buildings nestled into the square where you'll find the Leaning Tower of Pisa

The food is amazing. What else is new?  Good food and libations is always top of my list. No wonder I love Italy!

So we were very grateful at the choice of hotel that Fabrizio Quochi, our friendly contact at the Pisa Tourist Board had made for us. The NH Cavalieri is literally across the street from the Centrale train station and is a surprisingly lovely place with a terrific restaurant. I liked the Tuscan pasta with olives so much I ordered it twice during our stay! It was excellent. The feather-light pasta was served with black olives and a delicious red sauce with plenty of fresh parmesan cheese.  Served of course, with a local hearty Chianti Classico. Magnifico!

the wonderful meal I had (twice!) at the NH Cavalieri Hotel

Later, we enjoyed the local specialty, Cecina, a chickpea pizza cooked in a wood oven. Have it with Spuma, a favourite Pisan soda (much like Mountain Dew) to really feel like you’re enjoying life like a lucky resident of Pisa. You can get both at Pizzeria Filippo, just a short walk from the NH Cavalieri.

The nice thing about Pisa is that is has a terrific location with easy accessibility  by air, train, bus or sea. Ryan Air has an increasing presence in Pisa, so you can fly directly there from a number of destinations. And just 45 minutes south of Pisa, we were able to gain access to a wonderful beach in Tirrenia, where we could stroll and swim. For just two Euros, we took a public bus from Pisa to the beach and spent the day just enjoying the sun and surf and watching the local fishermen.

enjoying a view of the beach in Tirrenia at a Tuscan restaurant

Please come back the week of March 1st for the next post on Pisa. And yes … there WILL be chocolate!

I’d heard that Tuscany has what is called “The Chocolate Valley” as there are so many chocolate makers in the area. We didn’t have time to visit them all, so Paulo took us to “Le Golosità,” a gastronomical delight, where you can purchase the best chocolate, wine and other confections of the area.

Paulo and Virginia on the chocolate trail

Roberto Catinari’s chocolate is heavenly and makes me long to go back to Pistoia. A specialty is the chocolate-dipped chestnuts. This shop is a must for any chocolate-loving visitor to Pistoia.

We also had the pleasure of meeting Giorgia Corsini, whose great grandfather started Bruno Corsini Industria Dolciaria back in 1918. The company is an all-woman operation — highly unusual in the male-dominated chocolate industry. Corsini takes great pride in its wide variety of “confetti,” a white hard candy of various interesting flavours such as coriander and fennel. But without question, my favourite Corsini treat was the Panforte Glacé al Cioccolato, a dark chocolate-covered fruit cake containing only almonds, hazelnut creme, vanilla beans, chocolate mass, cocoa butter and candied cedar fruit found exclusively in the south of Italy.  An absolutely amazing blend of pure flavours.

Margherita, a confectioner in training, welcomes us to a tray of Panforte Glacé

I can assure you that if I had the financial resources, I’d be on a plane next month to attend Cioccolosità, the three-day chocolate festival held in the neighbouring village of Monsummano Terme from March 11-13, 2011, where I have no doubt I’d meet the illusive Mr. Catinari.

Join me back here the week of February 14th, where we’ll have a sweet tour of Pisa just in time for Valentine’s Day.

I’d never even heard of Pistoia before, and suddenly I found myself spending two days there. All in the quest of tasting the finest chocolate in Italy!

the Romanesque style of architecture is prevalent in Pistoia

Pistoia is a small Tuscan village highlighted by Romanesque buildings of the 12th century. That’s about all I’m going to tell you about the history of Pistoia, as everyone who knows me knows I’m not a history buff. I’m there to meet the people and to taste the local specialties: the food, the wine, and of course … the chocolate. I was not be disappointed!

We ate some of the best meals of our journey while in Pistoia, thanks to the culinary talents of Renzo and Laura, the charming couple who run the Toscanelli Ristorante, where we enjoyed two sumptuous meals. Having grown up indulging in the best of Italian cuisine at the home of my dear friend, Maria (and the homes of her extended family members in Winnipeg) I really knew my Italian favourites, and I can assure you, Laura and Renzo did not disappoint.

Renzo welcomes you to Toscanelli's with a complimentary champagne cocktail

At Toscanelli’s, we enjoyed fabulous wine and olive oil made by the owners at their nearby home. We ate local porcini mushrooms that had been picked that day. And squealed at the flourless chocolate lava cake (called chocolate pie on the menu.) We were truly in heaven.

Laura’s attentive service and bounty of fresh produce are two more reasons to visit Toscanelli’s Ristorante

Our friendly and knowledgeable guide, Paulo Bresci, also referred us to Aoristo Ristorante on Via De Buti, where we had a fabulous view of the historic skyline, personalized service by one of the partners and top-notch Tuscan cuisine paired with some amazing local wine. In totally chic surroundings. What’s not to like?

amazing flavours were present in every offering at Aorista Ristorante

Pistoia may not be Venice, Florence or Milan, but it provided us with an authentic taste of Tuscany without the crowds, the high cost or the crime associated with larger centres. Many thanks to Rosy of Verde Paradiso B&B who hosted us during our stay. Although we couldn’t converse too deeply due to a language barrier, we knew we were truly welcome, and felt very safe and comfortable during our stay.

Verde Paradiso B&B is a clean, friendly and safe place to stay while in Pistoia

I’m heading off to Florida from January 21-31 (yes, more chocolate tasting!) and so may be slow in responding to your questions or comments. But please keep them coming!

Look for the next post on Pistoia during the week of February 1st. Ciao for now!

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