Indulgent Escapes

No matter the destination, cuisine has become a destination itself within the world of travel, giving tourists another opportunity to indulge in the delicious delicacies that define the region.

When it comes to food, travel company Brown + Hudson aims to integrate a country’s cuisine into a client’s overall experience, to the effect that guests feel like they’ve been on a culinary tour without necessarily realizing it. The same integration is seen and felt in every aspect of the “Heart of Darkness” tour through the cities and jungles of Ecuador.

Coined a luxpedition, the tour means to tell the “untold story of chocolate through exclusive access to areas few visitors have set foot in before,” all while experiencing utter luxury and insider access.

In partnership with To’ak Chocolate, the tour highlights several natural and cultural sights, particularly within the Jama-Coaque Ecological Reserve, where co-founder Jerry Toth originally became passionate about cacao farming. By way of rainforest conservation, Toth lived in the middle of the forest preserve in Ecuador for many years cultivating cacao trees, deciding after some time that he wanted to take the obsession to another level.

From the beginning, he says the goal of To’ak Chocolate was to “elevate dark chocolate to the level of vintage wine and aged whisky.” To’ak Chocolate is made with the rarest cacao beans in the world, which guests on the tour have the opportunity to experience at almost every level of crafting.

At the archaeological site of Santa Ana La Florida, travelers can explore the evidence left of the first domestic use of cacau among the Mayo-Chinchipe culture, dating back more than 5,000 years ago. With a visit to To’ak’s cacao plantation in the Valle Piedra de Plata, guests can roam the forest of nacional cacao trees, one of the most prized cacao beans on Earth and a species that was almost wiped from existence.

Jerry Toth

Photos courtesy Brown + Hudson.

Most appealing, though, will be the exclusive after-hours chocolate tasting in the Guayasamin Museum, creating a collective journey that acts as a portal into the culture, philosophy and emotions of the region.

Just as importantly, chocolate tends to play a complementary component in travel as well as dessert. Artisans of Leisure’s Food and Wine excursions provide in-depth private tours that couples the very best wine with other culinary and cultural highlights of the region, including chocolate.

For example, the “Bordeaux to Basque Country” tour includes sampling local wines, touring vineyards, viewing the architecture of several winery buildings, and sampling delicacies like chocolate found in the area.

This journey takes guests through cities and regions known for authenticity and tradition, from the half-timber houses and charming shops of Bayonne in southern France to the gastronomic capital of northern Spain, San Sebastian.

San Sebastian, Spain

Photo courtesy Artisan of Leisure.

While chocolate may not be thought of as the perfect complement to exercise, tour operators at UTracks have designed a self-guided bicycle tour that rides through the mountains and quaint cities of Switzerland, with special access to chocolatier shops and stops along the way. Tour Operator Kate Baker says the “Swiss Chocolate Cycle” tour offers the perfect balance of both travel and exercise. “Being active on holidays means you can indulge guilt free — a much better proposition than eating chocolate without being active.”

The tour will have participants cycling between cities throughout Switzerland, starting and ending in Zurich. Baker notes that “of course being in Switzerland, there are opportunities throughout the tour to taste artisan and more mainstream brands of chocolate.” In the town of Buchs, travelers will meet with chocolatiers at the Frey Chocolate visitor center to make their own chocolate bar. And after a peaceful bike trail along the Reuss River to the town of Root, travelers can experience the exciting world of Chocolatier Aeschbach, known for its tradition-conscious methods and high quality.

Other cities and destinations on the tour include the relaxing spa town of Baden, known for its thermal springs; views of the Swiss Alps through orchards and fields to the town of Sursee; a yacht trip around the bay of Lucerne; and so much more. The active aspect of the trip, Baker says, helps travelers to further witness the infusion of chocolate in many aspects of these cities. “A cyclist looks forward to every food experience, and moving between towns allows one to discover a range of cuisine.”

Top: Baden, Switzerland

Right: Lake Lucerne, Switzerland

Photos courtesy Switzerland Tourism.