Places to Visit During Chocolate Week

Europe goes chocolate crazy in October, with major fairs and celebrations – but you can become a chocolate tourist almost anywhere. 

The United Kingdom has declared this week Chocolate Week. Normally we’d scoff and cry “shameless marketeering”.

But when it involves chocolate, that simple blend of cocoa, milk and sugar that can turn any forlorn depressive into a smiling, sighing blob of bliss, we say “why not?”

Chocolate tourism has now gone global, so here are 10 top adventures around the world for chocoholics.

 1. Make chocolate on a cocoa plantation, St. Lucia

The Hotel Chocolat

Discover the roots of your chocolate addiction.

British chocolate makers Hotel Chocolat have opened a hotel on their St. Lucia plantation. When not sunning, swimming or relaxing in their “cocoa pods”, as rooms are dubbed, guests can visit the plantation, lend the harvesters a hand and enjoy a “tree-to-bar” experience, in which they partake in every step of making their own confectionery.
Prices: Rooms from US$450
The Hotel Chocolat, Rabot Estate, Soufriere, St. Lucia, West Indies; +1 800 757 7132; www.thehotelchocolat.com

2. Visit artisan chocolate-makers in Tuscany’s Chocolate Valley

chocolate tours

And you thought eating chocolate was easy.

Tuscany may be better known for its wines and picturesque hill towns, but the region’s Chocolate Valley is becoming a must-see. The area is famous for fine chocolate makers including Bianchini, Enoteca Pinchiorri, Slitti and Catinari-Agliana, plus the chocolate factories of De Bondt and Amedei – rated by many the world’s most gourmet chocolate.
Four-day tour from $1792 at www.seventypercent.com

 3. Stuff yourself at a chocolate bar, United States

Langham Boston

Whose round? I’ll have a pint of truffles.

Boston’s chocoholics creep into the historic downtown Langham Hotel on Saturdays to stuff themselves at an all-you-can-eat chocolate bar.

Fare includes a legendary chocolate croissant bread pudding as well as the usual truffles, whoopie pies and choccie sculptures.
Prices: Adults US$40, under-12s US$28
Langham Boston, 250 Franklin St., Boston, Massachusetts, United States; +1 617 451 1900; boston.langhamhotels.com

4. “Choc around the clock walk,” Belgium

www.choco-late.be

Choc mate.

This little country has made itself synonymous with good chocolate, and its most picturesque city, Bruges, goes mad with a “Choc in Bruges” month starting November 6.

There’s a “choc around the clock” walk, a museum dedicated to the luscious confection and a choice of creative chocolate menus in 14 different restaurants. The pinnacle is the Choco Laté Festival, from November 13-18, featuring more than three dozen of the city’s chocolate shops.

Bruges Belfry, Bruges, Belgium, www.choco-late.be

5. Mayan chocolate massage, Mexico

chocolate massage

Yes, I’m a chocoholic. Rub it in, why don’t you.

As the Mayans invented and revered chocolate, it’s natural they would find meaning in rubbing it all over themselves as well as drinking the stuff.

At the Tides Riviera Maya, the Xocolate ritual is performed with due ceremony in a semi-al fresco treatment room in the middle of the jungle. Cocoa shells are used to slough off dead skin cells before massaging the whole bod with warm cocoa butter — and the whole ritual starts with a shamanic blessing.

Prices: Xocolate ritual US$220, rooms from US$585
Playa Xcalacoco Frac 7, Quintana Roo, Mexico; +1 310 752 0960; www.tidesrivieramaya.com
6. Cook like a chocolate pro, France
Valrhona

Become the best girl/boyfriend ever.

But you don’t have to be a pro to take a one- or two-day course in their chocolate cookery school. The nearest airport is Lyon, a gourmet town full of artisan chocolate-makers — but there are also branches of the school in Paris and Tokyo.
Prices: US$385 for a two-day course

Valrhona, 8 quai du General de Gaulle, Tain l’Hermitage, France; +33 4 75 07 90 95; ecole-gourmet.valrhona.com

7. Enjoy an in-room chocolate fountain, England

Chocolate Boutique Hotel

Taking the pillow chocolate concept to a whole new level.
This small hotel on England’s south coast will deliver a chocolate fountain to your room with strawberries for dipping, and offer you a truffle-making workshop in their kitchen.
Naturally, the whole place is decked out in shades of chocolate and cream, there are choccie cocktails and breakfast includes chocolate crepes and the best hot chocolate you’re likely to taste outside Bruges (see above).
Prices: Rooms from US$165 double, chocolate-making workshops from US$74
Chocolate Boutique Hotel, 5 Durley Road, Bournemouth, Dorset, England; +44 1202 556 857; www.thechocolateboutiquehotel.co.uk

8. Chocolate and wine matching, Australia

 Hahndorf Hill Winery

Perfect partner to a Pinot Noir.
Hahndorf Hill Winery in the Adelaide Hills is famous for chocolate and wine pairings, featuring gourmet chocolate of single origin by the world’s top producers and confections by local artisan chocolatier Steven ter Horst.
Their ChocoVino Experience has been rated as one of the top 10 food and wine touring options in South Australia, and teetotalers are welcome to taste the chocolate too.
Prices: From US$10 or US$20 with wine
Hahndorf Hill Winery, Hahndorf, South Australia; +61 8 8388 7512; www.hahndorfhillwinery.com.au 

9. Get wrapped in chocolate, Austria Hotel Sacher

“Sweet chocolate body care.” Just the sound of it will make you melt.
The two-hour treat involves being peeled with a purifying cocoa bean extract, wrapped in a rich chocolate body mask and getting professionally caressed with something described as “sweet chocolate body care.”
Prices: Treatment US$250, room rates from US$508 Hotel Sacher
Philharmonikerstrasse 4, Vienna, Austria; +43 1 514560; www.lhw.com/sacher
10. Chocolate Dream Park, China China Chocolate Dream
Chocolate handbags, for the woman who wants it all … to eat.
Last year it was Beijing; this December, it will be Shanghai’s turn to host the annual Chocolate Dream Park, which has become an annual highlight of the Chinese winter.
Nearly half a million visitors are expected at this year’s chocolate wonderland, packed with beautifully crafted works of edible art. They will include Shanghai’s most iconic architectural landmarks – all made out of chocolate.Himalayan Centre, Pudong, December 16-February 19, 2012

 Thanks, Anthea!

5 Addictive Things You Do Every Day

Addiction is a funny thing in our culture – people who are actually addicted to a substance actively deny it (“I just like to smoke!”), while other people claim addiction for every random thing they happen to enjoy (“I’m addicted to these delicious candy bars!”).

But as science gets a better understanding of how addiction works in the brain, suddenly a whole lot of our everyday habits make more sense. Things like …

#5. Listening to Pop Music

Yes, pop music is basically cranial crack, to the point that scientists have actually been able to predict which songs would become big sellers by hooking kids up to an MRI scanner and playing previously unheard pop tunes for them. When a future hit came on, the pleasure centre of the brain lit up like a Christmas tree.

Pop music is something that tends to divide people in ways normally reserved for large military conflicts. Its advocates idolize the artists and their music, while its opponents brand anyone interested in pop as mindless drones who don’t know “real” music. But while one can hate Lady Gaga all he wants, there’s no changing the fact that she has sold over 64 million records, and the sales of her last album actually caused Amazon.com’s servers to crash.

 #4. Eating Salty and Spicy Snacks
Sweet foods make sense – cells use sugar as their primary source of energy. Your body knows this, so it rewards you for cramming your mouth full of it (to the point that it keeps tasting good to us right up until we’ve eaten so much that we need a scooter to get around). But why are we so into salt? After all, salt is just tiny freaking rocks. Or, even weirder, stuff that burns our tongue? What exactly are potato chips and jalapeno-flavored everything doing for us?

The chemicals in spicy food irritate the trigeminal nerve, which is responsible for, oh, not much, just all the sensation in your goddamned face. Scientists theorize that the irritation causes the brain to release endorphins to ease the discomfort by, well, giving the eater a natural high. And like any high, you want it again, and to make it more intense. That’s right — people who love spicy foods are addicted to pain.

 #3. Using Lip Balm
… there are actual websites out there dedicated solely to helping people overcome their lip balm addiction. There are actual living and breathing people claiming to be addicted to goddamn ChapStick.

The mention that the supposed buzz you get from using lip balm is actually caused by the menthol, camphor and phenol used in it. Now wait just a second. Phenol? The same phenol that is corrosive to the eyes, skin and respiratory tract, and is also used as an embalming agent? The same phenol that can cause instantaneous death after injecting one gram?

#2. Tanning
I’m skipping this one…cause we’re a perfectly tanned lot 😛 😛

Maybe sunscreen would be our addiction.

#1. Chewing Ice
Ice chewing, or pagophagia, is a subset of a larger disorder known as pica, which causes people to crave things with no nutritional value (including much rarer and weirder compulsions like dirt, paper, chalk or even feces). Ice chewing specifically usually indicates iron deficiency, and chewers may actually be subconsciously trying to get the nutrients they’re lacking from the water. This is further evidenced by the fact that ice actually tastes better to an anemic person, presumably because the brain is jonesing for a fix of that sweet, sweet Fe.

Thanks, Mike!