Chocolate is one of those things that can make us smile. I thought I’d take a look back at a trip my family made where there were plenty of smiles including chocolate enhanced ones!
For 10 days every October in Perugia in Umbria, Italy there is a festival to make any chocolate lover’s mouth water – the Eurochocolate Festival. This is Italy’s biggest chocolate festival and one of the largest in Europe which takes place in the piazzas and streets of Perugia. Nearly one million visitors attend each year. Perugia, Umbria’s petite capital is perched on the top of a hill and the River Tiber runs below the town. The town has a history dating back to Etruscan times and its Centro Storico (historic centre) has an intriguing layout of narrow cobbled streets, arched staircases and piazzas which are flanked on all sides by grand palazzi which only enhance the atmosphere of this lively little town.
The streets are lined with stalls showcasing many flavours of chocolate from across the World. Big brand chocolate producers are represented along with small independent artisans. The year we went Milka even had a ferris wheel on the edge of the hill top which gives far reaching views across Umbria. They even give you a free pair of Milka binoculars to enjoy the views! Many independent chocolate makers have stalls from which you can buy and taste all sorts of chocolate products. My girls’ favourites were the extremely thick Italian hot chocolate in which your spoon can almost stand up straight in and the chocolate crepes.
The town itself is easy to navigate and it is a manageable size to walk around even with children. Being on a hilltop to get to the old town can mean walking up some steep hills but a fun way of getting to the top is to use the funicular monorail system.
Perugia was not a town I knew a lot about and I don’t think many English people visit. This is what made it feel special and as if we were discovering it a new. The weather was warm and sunny during the day and a little chilly a night.
We spent a week staying in a little farm cottage up in the hills amongst the olive groves. My youngest daughter’s main disappointment was that the swimming pool had been emptied of water! This was made up for by the goats that lived on the land. The goats received a lot of attention that week from a wannabee goat herder! The local shop was no bigger than a bus stop and sold its own roast pork from a whole pig in the shop. My Italian was very basic but armed with my phrase book the shop keeper and I had an in depth discussion on the origin of the pig and how tasty it was!
We visited the Chocolate Festival quite a few times in the week but there were so many other things to do as well.
We hired bikes and cycled on a cycle route on the edge of Lago Trasimeno (Italy’s largest non alpine lake). The paths took us through reed filled marshes and woodland on the shores of the lake. The views of the surrounding mountains were beautiful and reflected in the water’s surface like a giant mirror.
We took the train to my favourite city in the world- Rome for a day’s sight seeing filled with the history of the Colosseum and the Forum. My girls (and ourselves) were so inspired by the scale of the Roman ruins and they still talk about Rome many months on! The trains in Italy are a very easy way to travel. They are punctual, clean and good value. The other cities which we could have easily reached on the train were Florence and Sienna. We will do these cities on future visits as we didn’t want to do too much city sight seeing.
Another fantastic day out was our trip to Gubbio. Another beautiful town with a Roman amphitheatre in mountain scenery. There is a cable car which is basically an open cage with a gate that you stand in to get up the mountain. It was easy to get on with children as the lift operator asks you to stand on a red spot on the floor to wait for your cage and the you jump in and he lifts the children in. I’ve never seen another lift like it in any ski resort. Once in the cage it felt as safe as any other mountain lift we’ve been on. At the top we went for a walk to get higher and had our picnic in a ruined fort at the top of the hill with 360 degree panoramic views!
In Perugia, another chocolate themed trip is to the Perugina chocolate factory. They do offer English tours but we tagged on to an Italian one. The children loved seeing how a big factory worked as we walked around it in an elevated tunnel above the factory floor. We also saw the world’s biggest chocolate Baci!
The beauty of our holiday was the opportunity to explore a part of Italy that was unknown to us. We had days where we were busy out and about and times when we could just relax enjoying one of quite a few delicious gelatos or lattes. Doing very little was perfect, the absence of television was not even commented on by our children! It was delightful to just see them outside on their own just taking in the mountain scenery with awe and wonder.
Italy for us was so varied and such a different holiday that I would go back again at the drop of a hat. I just need to get to the gym to work off last year’s chocolate intake before we start all over again!