After four long years I’m finally heading out to the Grenada Chocolate Festival, on the Caribbean island of Grenada (not the southern Spanish town of Granada – spelled and pronounced differently). My plane stops in Barbados for a few hours (it’s the Virgin Atlantic one and about £150 cheaper than the direct route or the one that stops in St Lucia to refuel), giving me just enough time to make a beeline for Oustins – a touristy foodie strip en route to Bridgetown frequented by burnt English people and pissed Aussies. As it turns out I’ve arrived for Friday Night Fish Fry, so it only seems right I settle for a grilled Mahimahi with rice n beans and fresh plantain, dressed with extra hot pepper and cocoa nib sauce and a rum punch to wash it down.
A little prop plane awaited my return to the airport, a drastic transformation from the jumbo I came over on, and in less than one hours I touched down in Grenada.
After our foray into the Nicaraguan jungle in search of the ancient heirloom cacao, meeting with farmers along the way, it was now time to harvest the beautiful golden-red pods of deliciousness we had gathered. Have you ever wondered what makes chocolate taste like, well, often many more things than just chocolate? It’s not as simple as you might think.
After an introduction to the world of fine cacao and its production methods at Ingemann’s processing and sorting facility, it was time to hit the (rather bumpy) road out to the cacao farms of north central Nicaragua. Here we would be meeting with the farmers, learning their trade and helping them with the harvest of some of their crop – the pods of the prized Theobroma Cacao tree.
It’s 4.45am on a Sunday and I’m running for a train to the airport with two backpacks strapped to me, trying to eat a banana and call a cab company. Uber have failed me!
I make the flight and set off on my most ambitious Chocolate Adventure yet. Having spent most of the last few years exploring some of the best chocolate shops in far-flung corners of the world, and having worked as a chocolatier, it was now time to get down to basics, to go right back to the beginning and discover what really goes in to creating one of the worlds’ most popular treats.
Still feeling so relaxed we were falling off our proverbial chairs, we layered up to the max and made our way to 101 Laugavegur to catch our ride. It was our last day and we were heading out to see some of the most famous sights and sounds of south western Iceland, courtesy of Extreme Iceland on their Golden Circle Surprise Tour.
With temperatures barely above freezing the snow was starting up again as we made our way up to Þingvellir, or Thingvellir to us Anglicised folk. It was here, over 1000 years ago (in 930 to be precise) that the first ‘Athing’ was held – an open air assembly representing the whole of Iceland, who met once a year until 1798. Here, weather permitting, you can see yet another meeting point, between the two tectonic plates – American and Euroasian plates, who’s boundaries run right through Iceland and are clearly visible at this point – provided you’re not stuck in a blizzard. If you are stuck in a blizzard, then you probably won’t see more than an intricately frosted van window, like the one below.
Great taste in music, a quirky sense of humour, chocolate to die for and some of the world’s best scenery – Iceland really does tick all the boxes.
Even those of you more partial to a bikini-toting, pinacolada-sipping beachside holiday can still find some solace (and outstanding chocolate) in this magical land of elf rocks, blizzards and thermal spas.
After a whirlwind 36 hours in Denmark, including visiting a micro cacao plantation in a greenhouse in the Danish countryside and doing yoga in Christiania with one of its longest-standing residents, it was now time to hit Malmo – Sweden’s third largest city, and one that is fast making a name for itself in the sustainable living category!
Yet another early start, up at 5.30am heading back to Christiania, nothing beats practicing yoga in a cozy wooden loft, jam-packed with enough Aloe Vera plants to keep Holland and Barratt supplied for a year, above a fragrant apothecary, overlooking one of Europe’s most successful independent, self-governing Freetowns – strictly NOT part of the EU.
*Edited 2018 to reflect on the devastating news that Stace Bancroft – yogi, resident of Christiania and inspiration to the world – past away February 16th 2018. You were and still are an inspiration. Stace, this story is for you. RIP. Gone, but never forgotten.*
After a 4am start in London, to catch an 8am flight from Luton airport, the last thing you want is to be stuck in an epic rainstorm without a brolly. Luckily, Copenhagen is full of delightful little districts and boutique food halls where you can shelter from the onslaught, and where I discovered Groed – just off Torvehallerne, Israels Plads – a small cafe specialising in porridge so good Goldie Locks would have been proud.
Next morning it was an early start as we set off for Tallinn, in Estonia, a 3.5 hour ferry ride away. Now Estonia is a fascinating country, as are many of the far Eastern European countries. Filled with culture, myths and history, often with a fine selection of well-preserved medieval walled towns. Tallinn is one such town, dating back to the 13th Century it’s earliest name was in Russian, but in 1219, after the Danish conquest it became known in German, Danish and Swedish languages as ‘Reval’.