The best chocolate shops in the world are in the cities you expect to find them – Barcelona, Vienna and Paris. This is our guide to the finest chocolate makers and chocolate houses in three of our favourite European cities – and our tips for nearby lodgings for chocolate lovers if you want to make a holiday out of it.
It’s Easter, so let’s talk chocolate. As a child, my Easter memories in Australia are split between savouring hot cross buns saturated with melted butter on Good Friday and on Easter Sunday searching the backyard for the chocolate eggs my dad the Easter bunny would hide. Russian Easter with the grandparents was imbued with more rituals and meanings.
But today I’m talking chocolate and the best chocolate shops in the world for those who didn’t get enough chocolate eggs, bunnies or chickens today – because there’s no substitute for a sublime block of chocolate by a skilled chocolatier to get you salivating for chocolate again.
A confession: I’m not a chocaholic. I’m more of a chocolate lover. I’m not the kind of person who needs to eat chocolate everyday but more the sort who seeks out the best chocolate shops in the world when I travel, samples the signature chocolates, buys their more unusual specialties, then savours them during the time we spend in that city.
Best Chocolate Shops in the World – and Sweet Lodgings for Chocolate Lovers
Barcelona for Chocolate Lovers
As you’d expect from the first European country to get a taste of chocolate – Spanish Conquistador Don Hernán Cortés brought cocoa beans from Mexico to Spain in 1528 and soon after the delicious habit of drinking chocolate spread across Europe – Barcelona boasts some of the best chocolate shops in the world, many of which are located in the lively El Born neighbourhood.
While the Catalan capital produced the world’s first machine-made chocolate in 1780, the finest contemporary chocolate is hand-crafted. At E & A Gispert, which dates to 1851, you’ll find among the specialty coffee, spices and nuts, along with chocolate. Try Enric Rovira’s divine chocolates, including his bombolas de pimineta rosa – cocoa-dusted balls of chocolate-covered red peppers.
Typical of the newer breed of chocolatier of recent decades, tiny Bubo by celebrated Spanish pastry chef Carlos Mampel offers delectable chocolate desserts, cakes, pastries, and, of course, chocolates. My favourite: the ‘curry coco’ truffles, which taste of coconut at first but leave a subtle spicy after-taste.
The best Barcelona chocolate shop, however, is Xocoa by local brothers Guillem and Marc Escursell. Born to a long line of chocolate makers, these artisanal chocolatiers revolutionised gourmet chocolate-making and were some of the first chocolate makers to use wild flavours such as wasabi and chilli. My pick: the chocolate with candied rose petals. Click through for links to Barcelona’s best chocolate shops and artesanal stores in El Born.
Where to Stay in Barcelona
Super-handy to Barcelona’s best chocolate shops, Hotel Banys Orientals in a handsome 18th century building in the heart of El Born has bright rooms with four-poster beds and balconies. Close by, Ciutat de Barcelona has minimalist rooms, a rooftop plunge pool, and is great value for this location. Cool and comfy, the Park Hotel, on the edge of El Born, has a rooftop plunge pool, free WiFi, and is home chef Jordi Cruz’ Ten’s Tapas Restaurant. More luxurious, the stylish Mercer Hotel Barcelona, a ten-minute stroll away in the Gothic Quarter, by the Roman walls, has original beamed ceilings, exposed brick walls, and a small rooftop pool, while five-star The Serras Hotel has a rooftop lounge-bar, infinity pool, and sea or city views from rooms with private balconies.
Vienna for Chocolate Lovers
With a long history of chocolate making, it’s no surprise that Austria’s capital Vienna is home to many of the best chocolate shops in the world. Chocolate arrived in Vienna from Madrid in 1711 when Emperor Charles VI moved his court to Austria. Just over a century later, in 1832, the world’s most famous chocolate cake, the Sachertorte, was invented in Vienna by Franz Sacher. Former royal court confectioner, Demel is widely regarded as one of the best Vienna chocolate shops (although I adored the candied violets more), while Altmann & Kühne follows closely for its handmade Lilliput chocolate truffles.
I recommend you make a beeline for the massive gourmet emporium of Julius Meinl, where you can pick up a bottle of wine, freshly roasted coffee and the finest chocolate bars by Austria’s most innovative chocolatiers, including Tiroler Edle’s chocolate blocks made from organic cream from Tyrol grey cows and sprinkled with dried flowers and herbs. Julius Meinl’s classic chocolate bars are also delicious.
Vienna’s fabulous Naschmarkt is home to two of my favourite chocolatiers. At Eduard A Fruth, you can order a glass of bubbly to sip with your chocolate tart. I love his chilli-peppered chocolate bars. The Schoko Company store is easily another of Vienna’s best chocolate shops, with a focus on ‘bean to bar’ and organic, fair trade chocolate, including Josef Zotter’s exquisite chocolates crafted from exotic flavours, such as bacon and Goji berries.
Don’t miss the Viennese Museum of Chocolate to learn more about Austria’s history of chocolate making and chocolate making process, and the Xocolat Chocolate Factory, for Christian Petz’s innovative truffles, chocolates, fudges, caramels, and liqueur chocolates, as well as chocolate-making workshops.
Where to Stay in Vienna
The grand Hotel Sacher Wien, opened in 1876, created the original Sacher-Torte, the king of chocolate cakes, which you can savour in the hotel’s own Café Sacher. Within a short amble of Demel, Altmann & Kühne, Julius Meinl, and the Naschmarkt are several stylish boutique hotels, including The Guesthouse Vienna, with chic rooms with Bang & Olufsen gear, free WiFi, complimentary bottles of Austrian wine, and an on-site bakery; glamorous Art Deco-inspired Hotel Lamée in a 1930s building boasting Vienna’s best rooftop bar and panoramic city views; Hotel Topazz, which pays homage to the 20th-century Viennese architects, artists and designers with its accessible art, quirky oval windows, and interiors in marble, chrome and nickel; and DO&CO Hotel, in postmodern Haas Haus, with unparalleled vistas of St Stephen’s Cathedral and a 12-seat rooftop private dining space. Alternatively, comfy three-star Drei Kronen Hotel is a bargain, opposite the Naschmarkt with free WiFi, in a beautiful Art Nouveau building dating to 1894.
Paris for Chocolate Lovers
It would be no surprise to you that France‘s epicurean capital, Paris, would be home to the best chocolate shops in the world. The gourmet emporiums of Fauchon, Hédiard, and La Grand Épicerie de Paris at Le Bon Marché department store were a few of the reasons we used to escape to Paris from our home in Abu Dhabi (which at the time didn’t even have a mall). I went for specialties such as chocolate coated coffee beans, Russian teas, candied violets, and pastels in pretty tins, while Terence was interested in the truffles, fleur de sel and fine olive oil, none of which were available in the UAE at the time.
While Hediard and Fauchon are now all over the world, no shopping mall branch in Japan or Dubai can compare to the original centuries-old Paris stores: Hédiard was founded in 1854, Fauchon in 1886. On our first trip to Paris, chocolate loving food tourists made a beeline for either La Maison du Chocolat or Cacao et Chocolat, since taken over by De Neuville (another old cocolate maker, established as Les Maîtres Chocolatiers Réunis in 1883) for their chocolate truffles, pralines and ganaches.
These days, there are thousands of boutique chocolate makers in Paris and it’s impossible to keep up with the latest, hottest chocolatier-pâtissier supplying superstar chefs, but you can’t go wrong with a visit to the elegant chocolate houses of Gérard Mulot, Arnaud Larher, Patrick Roger, Pierre Hermé, and Jacques Génin (which we dropped into for a tasting on a Paris foodie walk). Of course, Pierre Hermé branches are all over the world – although personally I don’t see any point buying chocolate from a French chocolate marker in Dubai when I could buy Emirati chocolates from Mirzam, such as a block of Khabeesa made with local dates, cardamom and cinnamon.
Where to Stay in Paris
When Fauchon L’Hôtel Paris soon opens you’ll be able to take the hotel elevator directly to Café Fauchon for breakfast on the terrace overlooking Place de la Madeleine to savour piping hot bread fresh from the oven, smoked salmon, Champagne, Fauchon teas, with pastries. The plush suites, decorated in Fauchon’s signature fuschia, with feature customised gourmet mini-bars. Until then, try boutique Le Roch Hotel and Spa, a ten-minute stroll away, near the Louvre, Place Vendôme and Palais Garnier, with a lovely garden, pool and hammam, and free WiFi in the elegant rooms. Across the river, in the heart of Saint Germain des Prés in Paris, light-filled Hotel Bel Ami with its pops of colour, is located in the historical café district and is an easy walk to Patrick Roger, Pierre Hermé and La Grand Épicerie de Paris.
Do you seek out chocolate when you travel? We’d love to hear your picks of the best chocolate shops in the world in the comments below.