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Is chocolate good for you? Researchers, conducting highly scientific studies, have found chocolate beneficial in preventing a plethora of ailments including cancer, stroke and heart disease. But Spot Cool Stuff has a more simple theory:
If it makes you smile, it’s health food.
In honor of National Smile Month—and to the dismay of dentists everywhere—here’s our look at 12 wonderful chocolate shops. We hesitate calling them the “best” chocolate shops given how there are easily 60 or more stores that we could have included on this list. All the shops we did include are superlative in some way.
Note that this overview is a companion piece to our equally dentist-horrifying review of the world’s best candy shops.
If you surveyed all the world’s experts on which chocolate shop they thought was the world’s best, L’Etoile d’Or would probably win. (Maison du Chocolat, based in Paris and with chocolate boutiques also in New York, Hong Kong, Cannes, London and Tokyo, would likely be the runner-up).
L’Etoile d’Or is charmingly old fashion—so old fashion that the store doesn’t even seem to have a website. It isn’t even particularly easy to find—head a block south of the Blanche metro station to 30 rue Fontaine. Once you enter the store, though, you’ve found a bon bon of chocolate heaven. The proprietors of L’Etoile d’Or scour France for the very best chocolates. Their store is the only outside of Lyon where you’ll find coveted Bernachon chocolate. We aslo love their Moka bar, made from chocolate ground smooth with espresso beans.
Wittamer, Neuhaus, Pierre Marcolini
Grand Sablon Square, Brussels
Belgium has been called “The Country of Chocolate.” Sadly, this is not literally true. Happily, Belgium does have more high quality chocolate stores per square kilometer than any country on earth. At the epicenter of this chocolate sensation is Grand Sablon Square. The “square” (it is, in fact, more triangle in shape) is full of wonderful chocolate shops. Among them, we’re taken by the luscious Wittamer chocolatier cafe. Others swear by Neuhaus, where the praline was invented, and Pierre Marcolini, which is like the chocolate shop equivalent of going to a postmodern minimalist nightclub.
Christopher Norman Chocolates
New York City
Chocolate purists stay away! The treats at Chiristopher Norman are unusual in the flavors and makeup. We’re talking chocolate walnut shells stuffed with banana-nut-cream truffles here, people. The mango chocolates ooze a powerful mango aroma. The cappuccino chocolate cups with Grand Marier can get you tipsy if you eat too many. Fortunately you can take the subway to Christopher Norman’s downtown Manhattan location.
Okay, the Mercado de la Boquería isn’t a chocolate shop as much as it is an entire market with all sorts of foodstuffs. But within the market’s hallways and back corners await chocolatiers with delicious offerings.
For a perfect chocolaty Barcelona day:
• Start in the morning by exploring around the Boqueria market for sweet treats. (The Hotel Barcelona Universal is a good nearby hotel).
• Then head to the Museo de La Xocolata (The Museum of Chocolate) for a tour and tastings. If you have a kiddo in tow you can drop them off in one of the museum’s chocolate art classes.
• Eat lunch (assuming you are hungry for any non-chocolate food) and take a siesta before indulging in a chocolate massage at the Gran Hotel Balneario Blancafort. The hotel also offers a day-long chocolate massage course.
Belmont Estates & Grenada Chocolate Company
For a glorious chocolate experience in the Caribbean there’s no place better than the Belmont Estate and the Grenada Chocolate Company. At the former, one can tour the plantation grounds and watch cocoa being grown and harvested (while monkeys watch on). At the later, see that same cocoa being processed into chocolate bars with solar energy-powered equipment. Along the way everyone is unbelievably friendly and inviting. And, of course, there’s a wonderful shop at which to purchase your chocolate goods.
Le Chocolat de H
If we remember our grade school French correctly, Le Chocolat de H translates into English as The Chocolate of H. It’s a surreal name for surreal store. From the street it looks like a modern art museum. On the inside it’s like a cross between a jewelry boutique and ski chalet. Chocolate creations are displayed like diamonds under long glass counters surrounded by wood shelving. Our favorite part is the attached restaurant where the selection of chocolate drinks, chocolate cakes, chocolate pastries and chocolate sandwiches is such that you can put together an entire lunch without subjecting your mouth to anything non-chocolaty. Consider calling in advance of a visit (3 5772 0075) as open hours vary erratically.
La Clayette, France
Flavigny-sur-Ozerain, the little French village where Chocolat was filmed, is oddly devoid of chocolate shops. But drive two hours south to the lovely village of La Clayette and you’ll find a real shop a little like the one in the movie. There, master chocolatier Bernard Dufoux runs a tiny out-of-the-way eponymous store where visitors can’t help but smile. Watch the master himself prepare specialties. And if you buy something there’s a good chance that Dufoux’s stepdaughter will be the one to ring you up. La Clayette, being a bit remote, is ideally visited as part of a France Rail ‘n’ Drive package.
Thanks to our Twitter follower @matthiasrascher for suggesting Bernard Dufoux to us.
French Broad Chocolates
Asheville, NC U.S.A.
French Broad isn’t a chocolate shop. It’s a chocolate lounge, a self-described “a sacred space for chocophiles.” Yes you can walk in, buy some amazing chocolates, and walk right out. But the French Broad is the sort of place that’s best enjoyed stretching out on comfy couch, staying for a while, and (of course) eating chocolate. Or drinking chocolate. Our favorite selection on the French Broad menu is Xocolatl, a drink inspired by the ancient Aztecsand made with ground chocolate, corn grits, organic chile and spices, all blended together is frothy almond milk!
La Cure Gourmande
Paris (and Belgium, Spain and throughout France)
Spot Cool Stuff is generally not a fan for large chain stores, but La Cure Gourmande is a great one as far as chocolate goes. You’ll find La Cure Gourmande shops throughout France (including a location at the Paris Orly airport). The shops are consistently cheerful, yellow-y and friendly places. Baked good and candies are also for sale, but it is their chocolates that are superlative. We reckon no store on the planet sells better chocolate covers almonds. In Paris, La Cure Gourmande has six locations of which we’re partial to the one at 49 l’Avenue de l’Opera.
Grand Candy Factory
Where was the biggest chocolate bar ever made? Brussels? Geneva? Hershey, Pennsylvania? The surprising answer is: Yerevan. There, in the Armenian capital, the Grand Candy Factory has 20 stores, each brightly colored, each watched over by the store’s trademark pink elephant and each with a selection of delicious (if somewhat uncreative) chocolate treats. In honor of the store’s 10th anniversary, the Grand Candy Factory decided to build one mega chocolate bar; it weighed in at 4,410 kg (9,702 lbs), enough to put it into the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest chocolate bar.
Where to Take a Bath in Chocolate
Cool Website Review: Design Your Own Chocolate Bars at Chocomize
Explore the Chocolate Hills ← it isn’t what you think
The World’s Best Book Stores
Every month a group of expert, independent travel bloggers converge on a single topic in a Travel Blog Mob. Our topic for May 2011: National Smile Month. Check out the other posts in this month’s mob: