“Do not worry,” he assured me in his best English, as he gently waved his hand, “The bees…they are not aggressive.”
High on a hill is Perugia, the ancient Italian city and home to the annual Chocolate Festival
While bees buzzed dangerously close to my hands and face, I realized that I wasn’t…worried, that is…as I gazed at what lay before me. I wasn’t wearing a beekeeper’s hooded suit, protective mesh veil, or even special gloves.
In fact, as sweet as I was, those bees were interested in something much sweeter.
Italy Celebrates Chocolate
Dried fruit like candied ginger and cherries are just some of the chocolate highlights at the festival…
The Eurochocolate food festival in Perugia, Italy celebrated its 25th birthday this year and thousands of people showed up to the party. Each year, this ancient hill-top city with cobblestone streets, Etruscan walls, and medieval charm, turns into what could be the world’s largest open-air chocolate market. This event, and the continuing efforts of everyone involved, have helped to reinforce Perugia’s international image as the “City of Chocolate.”
How sweet is that?!
The 10-day event celebrates the culture of chocolate, awakening your every bodily sense as the city comes alive. Music piped through speakers along the streets fills your ears, colorful displays delight your eyes, excitement and anticipation is felt in the energy that surrounds you, and then, of course, the aroma a chocolate in all forms reaches your nose and as you take a deep breath in, your taste buds start to salivate in anticipation.
Every sort of chocolate you can imagine and some you cannot, can be found in Perugia every October.
What is the Eurochocolate Festival?
Chocolate, games, and contests are all part of the Chocolate Festival…
Eugenio Guarducci, the architect of the event, held the first festival in 1993. Perugia, capital of the region of Umbria and birthplace to one of the most popular chocolates in the world, Bacio Perugina is the perfect location.
In addition to being known as the City of Chocolate, Perugia participates in the “Chocolate District” of Umbria and the International Chocolate Route with other Italian regions and European countries which share the traditions of chocolate-making.
Perfect, also because this is the same Perugia where Giosue Carducci, the 19th century poet, was inspired to compose Canto d’amore, Song of Love, in 1877. In the translated version, he waxes poetic about Italy amidst her struggles and reconciliations with politics and religion eventually winding back to the basic human emotion of love…
“…Love laugheth now, and merrily the women and children prattle in the sun…”
In Perugia, during the days of the chocolate festival, you will find that children laugh and women and men alike prattle in the sun as they dance in a chocolate-induced trance from booth to booth. Love, it seems, is a common theme as chocolate lovers from around the globe gather in this hilltop town, setting aside their own politics and religion, to satisfy their shared love affair with the dark bean.
Here, amidst the cathedral of San Lorenzo, the Abbey of San Pietro, and a number of ancient palaces, you will find hundreds of booths offering all types of chocolates ranging from dark to white, solid to liquid, and creamy to nutty. You will find all kinds of shapes too. My personal favorite, round chocolates filled with your favorite liquors ranging from limoncello to vodka. And the not-to-miss large chocolate donut-shaped slabs topped with various adornments such as nuts or crystallized ginger.
The limit is only in the imagination of the chocolate producers. As it turns out, their imaginations are very vivid!
They say the first Sunday is the best day to attend the event. This is when you can see the creation of the Chocolate Sculptures. Larger-than-life blocks of chocolate (well, at least larger than what we can eat in one sitting) measuring 1 cubic meter are expertly chiseled by various artists; Michelangelo’s of chocolate.
Even though the likes of David or Bacchus do not always emerge from these sculpted creations of Perugia, a well-known artistic center of Italy, the festival audience presses in toward the exhibition with amazement and the hopes they will catch an offshoot from the chocolate block as its new form is revealed.
A Special Celebration at the Chocolate Festival
Good to know…you CAN get this wheel of chocolate back to the states in you carry-on…just sayin’
This year, because the festival was celebrating its own milestone, they prepared a special mega-chocolate cake for people sharing their 25th birthday. Those enjoying their quarter-century marriage vows were also acknowledged.
A special section of the Chocolate Festival was reserved to Eurochocolate World. This is a dedication to cocoa producing countries, historically sponsored by ICCO, International Cocoa Organization, and Fairtrade Italia.
Understanding the culture and traditions of the countries and families that grow, harvest, and process the cacao pods that eventually transform into the chocolate creations we eat, drink and enjoy adds another level of appreciation for the food we eat.
As an added bonus, be sure to pop into the Giuliano truffle shop or visit their booth to enjoy the heavenly scent and taste of truffles! White truffles are in season (more or less) and visiting the shop where you are greeted with the strong, familiar scent of what I refer to as “angel’s feet” you can sample and purchase various oils, salsas and powders made with truffles.
It’s Not Just A Foodie Festival
Each of these chocolate balls are filled with flavors, solid and liquid. Limoncello anyone?..
Now, admittedly when you break it down to the basics, the Eurochocolate festival is a delicious, yet crowded, food event. If you approach it simply as a destination with food, you may be heartily disappointed. However, when you see it as a launching pad for discovery, where you get to enjoy both everyday favorites and artisanal chocolates with flavor combinations you were not familiar with before the event, then you will experience a new kind of joy.
In addition…it’s in Italy!
For some reason, in a country that celebrates life and has a tangible joy for the food coaxed from its rich soil, even sharing a brick of chocolate with a flying insect, a pollinating Italian bee, seems absolutely natural. Even beautiful.
I doubt you could say the same about sharing food with other flying insects!
It is rumored that 2019 could bring some new opportunities for Eurochocolate. In addition to the annual October event, there may be another event closer to Easter, a holiday which embraces everything chocolate. This earlier event may also highlight olive oil.
EuroChocolate 2019 will be held from October 18-27 and the theme highlights an everyday item as its’ chocolate ambassador…the Button! The town of Perugia will be invaded by buttons…delicious and chocolaty buttons!
For more information on the upcoming event, visit the festivals website.
When You Go:
And for cupcake lovers..
Entrance to the event is Free. With the event lasting 10 days, you can choose weekend dates. which may be a bit more crowded. or enjoy your time during the week when crowds tend to be a little lighter.
Consider getting a ChocoCard. For a reasonable cost (6 euros during the 2018 event), this card entitles you to discounts and special gifts related to the event.
Some events may require prior reservations, such as the cooking classes, tastings and workshops. You can also visit the nearby chocolate factory for a tour.
Getting there is easy, once you know what to do! The easiest way is to park in the lots designated just outside of town and take the mini metro to the Pincetto station. From there, you can walk up the stairs or take the elevator up to the old town center.
Driving all the way up to the town is not recommended because parking is limited.
Activities are open every day from 9am to 8pm. On Saturday, they continue until 11pm. In between your chocolate tasting, take time to sit a spell at one of the many outdoor restaurants in Perugia to eat, drink and people watch.