When I think Barcelona, I think about tapas, paella, or churros, and I want to try it all.
When Context Travel extended an invitation to take their City of Chocolate tour I thought, “Chocolate is Switzerland, Belgium or France. Barcelona?” But since it was about chocolate, and I know that Context Travels gives you a very personal travel experience, I happily accepted.
Our docent, Esther Dotras, is a Barcelona native, and well-versed in the history and culture of chocolate in Barcelona. As Esther led us through Barcelona’s Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter), she gave us a history of Barcelona’s love affair with chocolate, which started in 1493. At that time, Christopher Columbus returned from the new world with dried cacao beans. He also brought a recipe from the Aztecs for a chocolate drink, a libation they served bitter and cool. Not fitting European tastes, it was modified to be a warm, sweet drink. At first, chocolate was a treat reserved for the wealthy, but through time became part of the Spanish culture and Catalan cuisine. Ironically, Spain kept their chocolate discovery secret for 100 years.
Granja la Pallaresa
The first stop on our tour was Fargas, the third oldest chocolate shop in Barcelona. Fargas opened in 1827, memorialized by a plaque on the outside the shop. Inside is the original chocolate grinding machine, which was once powered by donkeys that toiled in the basement. Today the donkeys have been swapped for electricity. At Fargas, Esther introduced us to chocolate bonbons. They look like French macaroons, but are all completely chocolate and yummy. My favorite bonbon is the one filled with Cava, a sparkling wine drink common in Catalunya.
Granja la Pallaresa
After sampling the sweet chocolate goodies at Fargas, we headed to Granja la Pallaresa. Granja la Pallaresa was bustling with activity at this time of day, with the locals stopping off to have a hot chocolate and a churro. We tried the hot chocolate, which is not to be confused with the hot, milky beverage we drink in the US. The Catalan style is a very thick, melt of semi-sweet chocolate, topped with a mountain of real whipped cream – none of that aerosol canned stuff here. We dipped a spiral-shaped pastry called an ensaïmada into the hot chocolate. For our final treat at Granja la Pallaresa was the Cacaolat, a chocolate milkshake, and a favorite drink in Barcelona. I was well on my way to chocolate overload.
Esther then took us on a little side trip to Vicens, which is a brand specializing in artisanal nougats, known in Spain as turrón. Turrón is a favorite Christmastime treat in Barcelona. At holiday time, there are lines of people at the city’s most popular turroneros buying their holiday treats. We sampled a few varieties of the soft turrón that is typical in Catalunya. By the way, we found out that turrón is sold all over Barcelona, including at the La Boqueria market. Vincens has been around since 1775 and their website features more of the history of turrón. Check it out!
Our next stop on our chocolate tour was Pasteleria Escribà on La Rambla. Owner Christian Escribà is the son of the world-renowned “magician of chocolate,” Antoní Escribà. Escribà’s creations range from large, elaborate castle cakes to small and delicate chocolate lips. Escribà is a more creative, modern chocolate experience compared to Fargas. At the walk-up window, you can get made-to-order Crème Brule. We found ourselves going back to Escribà a few times during our stay to enjoy the treats and take in the ambiance.
The Context City of Chocolate tour is just the kind of experience we like to have. Esther introduced us to how chocolate is part of the Catalan culture and cuisine. If you love chocolate, you will love this tour.
Disclaimer: This walking tour was offered by Context Travel Spain while we were at the TBEX Conference. This post reflects my opinions and all the photos are mine or my husband, Martin’s.