With more than one dozen major factories, 2,000 chocolate shops and no less than 16 chocolate museums and demos, this entire country is a chocoholic paradise. Indeed, Europe's love affair with chocolate desserts began in Belgium, as a result of the country's colonial involvement in the Congo. You can find amazing chocolate pretty much anywhere you look in Belgium, but connoisseurs will not want to miss the likes of seriously gourmet Pierre Marcolini in Brussels.
2. Hershey, Penn.
This chocolate oasis in rural Pennsylvania is both a tribute to Milton Hershey, the man who basically invented the American chocolate industry, and a hub of modern chocolate making. Among its manifold attractions are factory tours, gourmet chocolate tastings and Chocolate World with its chocolate-themed rides, movies and other amusements. Even the air smells like chocolate here.
3. London, England
Cadbury's is to Albion what Hershey's is to America—and indeed, it has creamier, more inventive offerings across the board. But England was also at the vanguard of the organic food movement, as evidenced by the creators of Green & Black's Organic Chocolate. Launched in 1991 in Notting Hill by Craig Sams and Jo Fairley, today the company produces 13 scrumptious fair-trade chocolate bar varieties such as Maya Gold, ginger, caramel, mint and cherry.
4. Pacific Northwest
Theo Chocolates specializes in organic, fair trade, gourmet confectionaries. Tours of the factory in north Seattle's Fremont district are offered four times per day ($6). Across the border, Vancouver is well on its way to becoming Canada's chocolate oasis. Among the city's many gourmet chocolate boutiques are Chocolate Arts and Daniel Le Chocolat Belge.
5. San Francisco Bay Area
Northern California boasts several premium chocolate makers including the popular Ghirardelli in San Francisco. Founded in 1852, the Fisherman's Wharf landmark is the second oldest chocolate company in the US. Across the bay in Berkeley is Scharffen Berger, which offers free factory tours six times daily as well as the Café Cacao, which serves brunch, lunch and happy hour with mouthwatering chocolate desserts.
6. Arno River Valley, Italy
The fertile Arno River Valley between Florence and Pisa is the fulcrum of Italy's boutique chocolate industry—and is known as the "Chocolate Valley." Amedei, Mannori, Catinari and Vestri are among more than a dozen artisan confectionary makers. Factory tours and chocolate-making classes provide visitors with a hands-on (melted chocolate on your fingers) experience. Some of Vestri's fine chocolates, such as the "tocco oriente" white chocolate with Himalayan salt and sesame seeds, are pictured here.
7. Zürich, Switzerland
The normally staid Zürich is home to three premium chocolate makers—Sprüngli (founded in 1836), Lindt (1845) and Teuscher (circa1940). Confiserie Sprüngli on the bustling Paradeplatz square includes a huge chocolate shop, casual sidewalk café and elegant upstairs restaurant with divine chocolate desserts.
8. Burlington, Vt.
Burlington may have made its mark with clothing factories, but the lakeshore burg also churns out some pretty fine chocolate. From almond butter crunch bars and baking chocolate to truffles and dark chocolate pecan caramel clusters, Lake Champlain creates a wide variety of sweet treats. Free factory tours are offered Monday through Friday, and the adjacent boutique and café is open seven days a week; as is LCC's Church Street Marketplace outlet, where every Saturday 12 different kinds of copper kettle fudge are made on the premises.
9. Valrhona, France
France's premium chocolatier is located in the Rhone Valley town of Tain l'Hermitage, not far from Lyon. The factory and adjacent boutique are in the old town, not far from the riverfront. Right around the corner is Valrhona's Ecole du Grand Chocolat , a highly regarded school for pastry chefs, caterers and chocolate makers that also offers three-day, non-professional courses that cost approximately $1,000.
10. Villajoyosa and Alicante, Spain
Founded in 1881, Valor is Spain's oldest gourmet chocolate maker. The flagship boutique and café is on the Esplanada de Espańa in Alicante, where the menu includes chocolate mousse, ice cream, cakes, profiteroles and the signature crushed ice chocolate drink. Valor's roots are in the nearby village of Villajoyosa, where the Museo del Chocolate explores both the history of chocolate and the family that created Valor.