Words by Rebecca Winke
When we think of autumn, color immediately comes to mind. The bright orange of pumpkins and harvest moons, the golds and russets of turning leaves and ripening grapes, the black of crisp, starry night skies and olives ready for harvesting. Or, if you’re like me, simply white, milk, and dark.
Yes, autumn is all about chocolate in Umbria. If you thought you had to head to Switzerland or Belgium to get your elixir of the gods, think again. This central Italian region has everything a chocolate lover could possibly wish for, in one of the most stunningly beautiful areas of the Bel Paese.
Umbria has been put on the chocolate lovers’ map primarily because of Eurochocolate, an annual festival now in its seventeenth year which attracts more than a million visitors and has become one of the biggest chocolate-themed events in Europe.
This year the festival runs from 15-24 October, but if you can’t make it to Italy’s “Green Heart” during the ten days it turns cocoa-brown, don’t despair. Here are some suggestions for chocolate loving travelers throughout the autumn and winter:
There’s alternative lifestyle. There’s alternative rock. Why not alternative chocolate?
Altrocioccolato, a chocolate festival dedicated to fair trade, organic, and sustainable agriculture is everything Eurochocolate is not: tiny, uncommercialized, and specializing in microproducers from the world over. The dates and location change from year to year; in 2010 you can partake of chocolate that’s both good for you and good for the earth in Castiglione del Lago from 15-17 October.
Go to the source
Perugia’s historic chocolate company—one of the few known outside of the region - is, of course, Perugina, maker of the ubiquitous Bacio since 1922. Their museum is on the outskirts of the city, and a visit includes a guided tour of the factory all year round, but during the autumn and winter production is back in full swing after the summer pause.
The best part of the visit: the gift shop, where you can purchase their Bacio chocolates in bulk to bring home.
Back to school
Yikes, not that kind of school - I mean the fun kind! Sign up for a half-day class at Perugina’s Scuola del Cioccolato when they open up their courses which run every Saturday from September to May.
In a half-day basic class you can learn to concoct confectionary creations using either milk or dark chocolate, choose a themed class for Christmas or Easter treats, or even learn how to reproduce the famous Bacio Perugina at home. It’s a great way to have an impromtu language lesson, too: the courses are only in Italian!
Don’t forget the little guys
Umbria is known for the powerhouse Perugina, but the region is also full of small family chocolate producers and tiny arteliers which suit any taste.
Two smaller chocolate producers to consider are Vannucci near Todi and Cioccolateria Vetusta Nursia near Norcia.
Both offer guided tours of their deliciously scented factories from October to May, and have small shops where you can sample some of their specialties. Vetusta Nursia is especially known for their unique truffle infused chocolate (and by truffle, I mean the tuber) and you can see a full line of their chocolates and liqueurs at the delightful Cioccolateria Tifernum boutique in Città di Castello.
If you want to skip the tour and get right to the good stuff, you can stop in to one of Umbria’s local chocolatiers to sample some of the highest quality pralines, filled chocolates, and tablets around.
Food for the body, food for the soul
Sure, we all know that chocolate can do wonders for the state of mind as a food, but what about as a spa treatment? Chocolate-themed massages and scrubs work wonders not only as a mood-enhancer (who doesn’t love the rich smell of chocolate?) but also as an a anti-cellulite agent.
For a luxurious treat for the true chocolate enthusiast, book an hour-long session including a dark chocolate body mask, followed by a massage with chocolate-scented moisturizing sweet almond oil at the Le Muse Spa in Umbria’s elegant Villa Monte Solare in the rolling hills outside of Perugia.
Otherwise, if you’ve champagne taste but beer money (or make that Godiva taste but Cadbury money) go for the four-star treatment at the two-star price chocolate therapy at Assisi’s friendly Castae Aquae Spa where a chocolate-scented body scrub, session in their relaxing “cloud bath”, and final massage with chocolate infused oil is only €60.00. Ah, now that’s a sweet treat!
Two favorites are the whimsical cone-shaped Nasi di Pinocchio, or “Pinocchio’s noses”, made by the historical Bar Montannucci on Orvieto’s Corso Cavour or the luxurious Cioccolato Augusta Perusia in Perugia’s historic center. Just steps from the city’s famous Etruscan Arch, this tiny shop is a wonderland for chocoholics, and has a nice selection of charming gift tins and boxes for the chocolate connoisseur back home.
Rebecca Winke – Innkeeper and Blogger
Rebecca moved to Italy from Chicago in 1993 and shortly thereafter opened an agriturismo in her husband’s renovated family farmhouse at the foot of Mount Subasio near Assisi, Umbria. She spends her time taking care of guests at Brigolante, blogging about the lovely region she now calls home at Rebecca’s Ruminations, and wondering about what strange winds blew an urban vegetarian to a pig farm in Umbria.