Category: Tuscany


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.

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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.

Since I’d rather be tasting (chocolate, wine, great cuisine …) than typing while overseas — and can you blame me? … I’m posting the end of the month entry now, and will post again after October 5th, on my return.

Quite a few of you have asked for details about our itinerary. There are a few small details still being ironed out, but here are the confirmed stops we’re looking forward to:

September 20: Fly via British Airways from Toronto to London, and on to Amsterdam. We’ll be staying at the Hotel King’s Villa, a Hampshire Classic Hotel, from Sept 21 until the morning of September 24th. Check out the hotel at: http://www.kingsvillahotel.nl. We’ll be meeting plenty of chocolate makers and discovering the sweet side of this fair city.

September 24th, we fly via Iberia Airlines from Amsterdam to Barcelona. I’ve flown Iberia before and had no complaints. In fact, their business class is awesome! And a 2-hour flight beats 16 hours on the train when you have limited time to play with. Barcelona will be a real treat.  We’re staying at the amazing W Barcelona, one of Starwood’s chic new hotels.  It doesn’t get any better than this. http://www.w-barcelona.com/. A couple of days in Barcelona will give us time to check out the Chocolate Museum, meet a prominent chocolate maker and have some fun.

September 26 will be a day of transition, as we make our way from Spain to Turin, Italy, the birthplace of  hot chocolate and the Italian city that most strongly identifies itself with chocolate. Take a look here and tell me it doesn’t look inviting: http://www.turismotorino.org/interna.aspx?idA=47.

On Sept 29 we head south to Tuscany. We’ll be staying in and around Florence for a couple of days, and then head to Pisa for a chocolate festival called Dolcemente. Looking forward to discovering Pisa and enjoying the hospitality at the NH Cavalieri, an “NH Hotel.” I’m not familiar with this chain, but it certainly looks welcoming and well-situated, as it’s close to the train station and also the site of the festival . Take a look at: http://www.nh-hotels.com/nh/en/hotels/italy/pisa/nh-cavalieri.html?action=search&type. If the rest of Pisa’s residents are as friendly as those I’ve met so far via e-mail, I know it will be an amazing visit.

Then on to Rome on October 3rd for a quick day of discovery before flying home to Canada. We’re looking forward to the convenience of the Rome Airport Hilton as our flight leaves at 8 am the next day and it will be great to have a short walk to the terminal instead of trying to fight traffic getting to the airport. There’s no doubt we’ll be sharing a “Goodbye Europe” toast in the hotel’s bar shown on this page: http://www1.hilton.com/en_US/hi/hotel/ROMAPTW-Hilton-Rome-Airport-hotel/index.do.

Back to Toronto and on to Winnipeg on Oct 4th. We’ll be thinking about you, and wish that you could all be along with us as we take the next installment of the Chocolatour.

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