To make the most of your visit to Perugia’s annual Eurochocolate Festival, there is one key phrase you need to learn – “Potrei assagiarlo per favore?” (Pronounced Poh-trey ah-sah-jar-lo per fah-vor-ray) It means “Could I taste it please?” And although not every chocolatier offers tasters, many will happily give you a chunk or chip of chocolate to try before you buy! What are you waiting for?!
Perugia, the regional capital of Umbria, has been the hilltop home of the annual festival since 1993, when the city set up an “Oktoberfest for chocoholics.”
The 2014 nine-day event ran from Friday 17th October to Sunday 26th October (2015’s Eurochocolate festival runs from 16th to the 25th October) and as one of Europe’s largest chocolate festivals is expected to welcome up to 1 million chocoholics! Oh and did I mention that its free!
Arriving at the train station on a glorious late summer afternoon, there is little sign of what awaits. But the minimetro is unusually busy as locals, tourists and families pile into the driverless trams for the 5 minute climb to the historic summit.
Stopping to admire the view out over the Umbrian countryside, a sweet perfume wafts gently down from Piazza Matteoli where stands overflow with chocolate goodies! And that’s just the start.
Around 80 chocolatiers take over the city centre with stalls in Piazza Italia, Piazza della Repubblica, Piazza IV Novembre and Piazza Matteoli, along the main streets of Corso Vannucci, Via Mazzini, Via Fani and on the terrace of the covered market.
And whether you like your chocolate in chunks, cakes, to drink hot, as fondant truffles, or cold as a licquor, there is something to suit most tastes.
Glass-countered stands burst with the finest cocoa-dusted praline truffles and star-sprinkled hand-made lollipops.
Nutty slabs are piled high under the welcome shade of the centuries old palazzi, whilst wasps and visitors fight over fruity, sugar-encrusted chocolate wedges.
And mixed in with the typical hazelnut sprinkled milk chocolate slabs, are chilli pepper peperoncino dark chocolates and creamy pistachio white chocolates which are, in fact, green but don’t let that put you off!
If Willy Wonka was to build a city, this is what it would be like.
Chocolate muffins with hot chocolate for breakfast , chocolate salami for lunch with chocolate drizzled fruit and, finally, chocolate kebabs and ice-cream for dinner followed by a chocolate licquor night-cap! Too much?!
One of the undoubted high points of the festival, however, is on the first Sunday when talented sculptors are challenged to create edible art. This year four huge blocks of Perugina chocolate, from the makers of the famous Italian Baci, each weighing over a tonne, have been manoeuvred into place in Via Vannucci and Piazza Matteoli under cover of darkness to await the artists.
By 10am on Sunday morning small crowds have gathered around each of the blocks. But they aren’t there to appreciate the art.
As the artists – Massimo Arzilli, Maria Rosaria Caramia, Livio Paolantoni e Doru Emil Andrii – and their assistants take up their hammers, picks and chisels to begin work, the scrum’s intentions become clear as people stretch and strain to catch the chunks and chips of chocolate flying off the blocks!
Fortunately Perugina staff are stationed around the sculptures to scoop handfuls of tasty chocolate chips into bags for distribution to the crowds.
But as the statues gradually begin to take shape the clammer for chocolate grows. I never thought I’d see grown men and women snatch sweets from out of the hands of children, (most do give them back when challenged). Chocolate makes people a little mad it seems!
But when the man behind me starts to push forward in front of pensioners and children, insisting he’s come all the way from Bari just for this and therefore deserves priority over everybody, I’ve had enough! The usual British scowl of disapproval doesn’t work so I throw down my trump card telling him I’ve travelled from the UK which, although not strictly true, gives the crowd a giggle and shuts him up! All’s fair in love and chocolate!!!
The festival isn’t just about chocolate though and also includes lots of other family entertainment. Street artists, clowns, and nifty balloon twisters keep the children amused in between sugar hits!
But ultimately Umbria’s Eurochocolate Festival is made for chocoholics. And whatever your preference, whether its milk, dark or white chocolate, with or without nuts, pure or enriched with crystallised fruits, Perugia is the place for you. If you haven’t booked your flight or train yet, clear your diary and get packing as a whole city of chocolate is waiting! Buon appetito!!
The 2015 Eurochocolate festival runs from 16th to the 25th October
Official festival website here
Opening hours – 9am-11pm Saturday, 9am-8pm all other days
Eurochocolate card – €5 – gets you lots of “free” chocolate and discounts but is not obligatory – entry to the festival is free!
Dietary information : The festival is conscious of visitors’ dietary requirements with many stands, including the Perugina statues, listing ingredients and allergens. Those with a nut allergy might have trouble (many products contain nuts or traces), as might vegetarians and vegans, but gluten-free and fairtrade (Equochocolate) products figure quite prominently. Have a very happy Eurochocolate festival!!
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