Sadly, we’ve all come to know Perugia as a shady drug dealers’ paradise slash freemason stronghold where young students go missing, get murdered or end up in jail. But last week Perugia showed an even darker side. About 70% dark to be exact.
As if to purge itself of its bad reputation, the ancient Umbrian city unleashed a giant wave of chocolate onto its streets, in the form of the annual EuroChocolate festival.
The name seems a little odd at first, considering most chocolate begins its life on the other side of the equator, but in the absence of any ‘Worldchocolate’ festivals in my immediate vicinity I wasn’t about to turn my nose up at it!
Besides, if there is one thing Europeans do well it’s making chocolate and making it in forms and flavours as diverse as the continent itself.
A lot of the big names are represented: Toblerone, Lindt and the local chocolate powerhouse Perugina, makers of those little domes of happiness known as Baci ‘kisses’. Tucked away in various corners, you’ll find the smaller makers and true artisans like Barcelona-based Enric Rovira, whose chocolate creations are so beautiful it’s almost a crime to eat them. Well, almost.
Filling all the gaps in between are countless resellers of giant slabs of chocolate, novelties like cocoa-flavoured pasta and various chocolate memorabilia. There are also plenty of unrelated brands getting in on the action, like Kodak who were giving away chocolate picture frames (no complaints there!) and Philadelphia touting a chocolate cream cheese.
Upon arriving, the first step is to purchase a 6 Euro ‘chococard’, which entitles you to twelve free samples from various vendors scattered throughout the festival. There are plenty of non-chococard stands giving out samples but seeking out the ones on the card is a fun mission, and you’ll soon realise you’ve been cleverly guided into every corner of the festival as well as some of the prettiest spots in the city.
As a seasoned veteran of exactly one Eurochocolate, I’d say there are three things to bear in mind before going to the festival. Firstly, this event is some serious eating. You’ll need to warm up and prep your stomach for what’s coming, so start the day with a light savoury breakfast.
Secondly, definitely go on a week day if you can, preferably even a rainy one. A million people visit the festival each year and that’s a lot of people between you and your chocolate!
Lastly, you will turn into a chocolate-crazed glutton. Your face will be smeared with brown, your eyes lit with a diabolical light and you may start making Gollum noises when you see the vats of flavoured, molten chocolate: “My precious…” Seriously, it’s not pretty, so you need to choose your fellow festival-goers wisely. Maybe leave the boyfriend at home – he really doesn’t need to see you slowly undressing a Valhrona Grand Cru with your eyes.
Ok, I’ll add a fourth point: Try to allow some time to see some of the city’s sights and the views of the valley around. Dusk was gathering as we hit the last point on our ‘chocomap’ and we had to beat a hasty retreat before the killer students started coming out..