Make Your Valentine's Day Travel Plans Sweet Ones

04.02.2010 In: Travel tips

Seeing the World Through Chocolate

For those of us from Chicago, chocolate has long been associated with the Marshall Field family and store. Frango mints are as synonymous with Chicago as Ghirardelli is with San Francisco. While the State Street Marshall Fields store has long since been bought out by Macy's, romantics can still find Frango mints (those succulent chocolate squares with a hint of mint) for sale. While Chicago waved a fond farewell to their flagship department store, the chocolate lives on. For those who can't afford anything more than a staycation this year, a box of Frangos still goes a long way.

However, for those who want to indulge their loved one in a romantic escape, either at Valentine's day (or later), there are a few other spots worth considering.

If It's Chocolate, It Must Be Belgium
For the rest of the world, the finest chocolates on earth, it is claimed, hail from the small European nation of Belgium. With its prime location (easy access to most of Western Europe) and its charming old world feel, what better place to indulge a chocolate craving?

In Brussels, the ultimate chocolate store is Mary Chocolatier, a supplier to the royal family in existence for four generations (holding a Belgian Royal Warrant since 1942). Founded in 1919 by Madame Marie Delluc, this wise woman employed a master chocolate maker whose handmade recipes continue on to the present day. Looking more like a high end jewelry store with its Louis XIV style, Mary Chocolatier offers 70 different types of chocolates for sale. Visitors can also take a 45-minute tour (available in 9 languages), to learn the history and processes involved in creating the final, magnificent product.

Chocolate in the Desert
Those who prefer bright lights and lots of action can also get their sweet tooth satisfied, after wining and dining and playing the tables in the casinos of Las Vegas. The city of Las Vegas might an unlikely spot for considering chocolate, but after winning a few hands, there's no better place to spend some of those earnings than at the Ethel M Chocolate Factory and Botanical Gardens. Of course, being located in the desert, this is a cactus garden, but that only makes it more fascinating.

This Valentine's Day, the Cactus Garden will be transformed into a lighted lovers' lane, with chocolate-dipped strawberries and "Cupid's Cocoa" available after a romantic stroll with your loved one. No matter what time of year you travel, however, the free self-guided factory tours and stroll through Ethel M's garden (with more than 300 species of desert plants) is worth a special trip. It's a short drive outside the city proper in Henderson, or visitors can opt to take one of the many day tours from Las Vegas that make stops there.

Ice Cream and Cocoa and Paris, oh my
It's hard to conjure up a more romantic place to indulge your senses than the City of Light. Strolling hand-in-hand along the Seine or through the Tulleries is reason enough to visit this magnificent city. While millions of tourists pack its museums and Eiffel Tower, each year, Paris is also about nuance and magic, about the smaller details.

Two places stand out as the ultimate locations to enjoy sweet memories of Paris. The first is Berthillon on the Ile St. Louis (a tiny island in the Seine across from Notre Dame). This small, romantic island is a largely residential neighborhood with mansions dating from the 16th to 18th centuries. Tucked away within it is Berthillon whose chocolate ice cream is legendary. The second delicious option is the Angelina Café on rue du Rivoli, not far from the Louvre. This popular salon du the is the spot for indulging in the richest, most decadent hot chocolate on the planet.

A Delicious Torte Test
Vienna is the city of Beethoven, Mahler, Freud, and Klimt. With architecture reminiscent of beautiful wedding cakes, it's little surprise that this city has been a magnet for hundreds of years for those who love art, music, culture, and, well, pastry. Let Belgians have their candy and Parisians their cocoa, Vienna is the land of strudel and torte.

Where a torte is more famous than many other things about the city, it's little surprise that a controversy exists. Claiming to have the original Sacher torte is Demel's, opened since 1887 and serving up pastries and coffee just as long. The 5-layer Anna torte and the richly decadent Sacher torte are just some of the 60 pastries on offer each day. Of course, the Hotel Sacher will have none of the Demel claims; it has the name to prove it. Both places assert that they have the original recipe, and there is a slight bias in Demel's favor (or should one say, flavor?). The only way to judge, however, is to sample them both, and judge for yourself.

Riding the Chocolate Train
If anyone can rival Belgium in its chocolate claims, that country is likely to be Switzerland, where it seems every city corner has its own chocolatier. As proof of their love for chocolate, the Swiss also consume the most chocolate in the world, a claim no other country can match. There are factories and museums dedicated to chocolate, but perhaps one of the most unique activities on offer is the chocolate train.

For romantics who enjoy a different take on the sweet treat, there's no better adventure than the Golden Pass Service's Swiss Chocolate Train. The train (which operates only in the summer months) travels departing from Montreaux and passes through the scenic mountain landscape of Switzerland. Along the way, visitors stop at a cheese factory, castle, and the Cailler-Nestle factory in Broc. Travelers enjoy first class service aboard a 19th century Belle Epoque Pullman car as they chug through the dazzling Swiss landscape.

No other food seems to say love like chocolate. Its decadent milky texture and mouthwatering taste conjures up the ambrosia of love. So many places seem linked to the sweet stuff, and many of them make for romantic getaways for a weekend or longer. Food is a natural part of travel, and going to these spots definitely has its own sweet reward upon arrival.