Life is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get. Or so the line goes. But, with Valentine’s Day fast approaching, we here at Cheapflights thought you might welcome more certain ways to impress your loved one. And what better way to keep them sweet (other than a trip to a romantic destination) than with a box of exotic candies? So, candy boys and girls, think of this as your very own Valentine’s Day bucket list of 14 candy kingdoms — places where you can shop for sugar (and sweet treats) around the world. We’ll give you more options to chew on than Violet Beauregarde.
With your golden tickets at the ready, buckle up and let’s go – we’re as excited as, well, a kid in a candy shop.
The shrine to St. Valentine would seem like a natural, if macabre, place to start our hunt for sweets for your sweet lovers’ (or should that be candy lovers’) favorite saint day. The Carmelite church on Whitefriar Street in Dublin claims to hold “the sacred bones” of the saint of things romantic, although the church also concedes “it is quite possible that the Church of Praxedes, in Rome, does have some of the remains of the saint.” Sacred bones aside, the Irish capital has no shortage of candy, from sinful Bailey’s and Guinness-flavored chocolates to sweetie shamrocks – and, taking our cue from the Carmelite church, we’re also in sharing mode. The recently established Butler’s Chocolate Cafés – tagline: purveyors of happiness (!) – are dotted around the city and, if you’re feeling brave, you can take the kids to the Butler’s chocolate experience to produce their own edible souvenirs. Feeling nostalgic? Get yourself over to traditional sweet shop Aunty Nellies and its wall of candy jars for an old-style pick’n’mix experience with choices such as Glucose Barleys, Rosey Apples and traditional Peggy’s Legs.
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
The capital of The Netherlands has longstanding associations with candy as a major cocoa and sugar importer – and home of the cocoa press. But if you’re looking for some particularly Dutch tastes, head for the Albert Cuyp Market for StroopWafels (OK, not officially candy – but still sweet) or Zout, a “salty” Licorice (OK, not officially sweet – but still candy). For sheer garishness and out-of-this-world candy craziness – and lots of psychedelic smiles – Amsterdam’s Candy Freaks is hard to beat. With its natural, organic, sugar-free, gelatin-free, dairy-free, vegetarian and vegan varieties you could almost claim it’s a health store. For the broader-minded there are “sex candies” – including candy bras, licorice boobs and even candy breast tassels. Who says sweets aren’t the way to your partner’s, um, heart?
We’re bringing out the big guns and heading for Brussels, Belgium. This place caters to your chocolate desires, with chocolate artisans creating your every whim – and a few more besides. Giant chocolate manta ray? Check! Chocolate recreations of the famous Manneken Pis? Check! Earl grey tea chocolates to go with your tea? Check! Leonidas, Neuhaus and Godiva are the big boys. However, if you’re after true bon bons, gourmands will point you in the direction of artisan praline producers. Pierre Marcolini and Royal Warrant-holder Mary are rated among the best chocolatiers in Belgium. Cheap they’re not – but at least you can satisfy yourself (and your loved one). Their Mangue milk chocolate cream, pralines and Pates d’Amandes do contain genuine fruit and nuts (albeit in slightly more pricey form than the famous Cadbury bar of the same name). Fancy something educational and tasty? Try the Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate or any of the city’s many other chocolate museums if you want the, ahem, skinny on how genuine pralines are made.
While they may best their Belgian cousins for their fry and chocolate fixations, the French know a thing or two about candy and romance — as expected of the country that gave the world the terms “amour” and “gourmet.” Home to Nougat, Marrons Glaces (glazed chestnuts), Valrhona Chocolate and, more recently, the acquired taste that is chocolate olives, France has lots of sweet treasures. For an iconic sugar hit in romantic surroundings, we’re opting for French Macarons at Laduree, Paris. Largely responsible for re-inventing (or at least popularizing) the “macaron,” the famous patisserie features flavors like blackcurrant and violet, rose petal, soft caramel and sea salt – and licorice. All are so colorful, beautifully presented and wrapped it seems a pity to eat them, but don’t worry, after one taste you (or your loved one) will happily dive right in!
Famously neutral it may be, but Switzerland is in the battle for chocolate capital of the world. Producer of the first milk chocolate, it’s home to a host of popular candy brands including Nestle, Lindt, Ricola and Toblerone. If you’re planning a trip, climb aboard the sugar rush express, AKA the Swiss Chocolate Train. With a stop in Gruyeres (home of the famous cheese) your ultimate destination is Broc for the Maison Cailler chocolate factory. As an operating factory (yes!) the best bit is probably getting to see the chocolates coming off the line – that is until the samples at the end of the tour. You can walk it all off with a vigorous hike on one of the nearby trails.
Europe may have refined the production and artistry of chocolate, but Mexico is said to have played a crucial role in its evolution. Indeed the Mayans and Aztecs gave it near-religious significance. If you’re looking for the roots of chocolate, pay a visit to one of the food markets of Oaxaca City in the southeastern state of Oaxaca, where you can sample fragrant hot drinking chocolate, often spiced with cinnamon and almond and sometimes served with pan de yema (eggy bread). Alternatively, visit the chocolate producers of the famed street 20 de Noviembre where you can choose the ingredients (or even bring your own) for a customized chocolate hit.
Japan has a reputation for elevating inventions to the next level. The latest enhancement candidate? The humble Kit Kat. Tokyo’s Seibu Department store has opened a specialized outlet selling seasonal gourmet editions of the iconic four-fingered wafer. Its first three limited editions are “Sublime Bitter” made with high-end coverture chocolate, Special Cherry Blossom Green Tea and Special Chili with a pepper cream filling. Kit Kat already has a special Kyoto Kit Kat variety, the garishly green two-fingered Matcha Green Tea — a sweet hit with a bitter tea after taste. That should add some ceremony to the familiar Kit Kat break.
Los Angeles, California, United States
From tea to something a little stronger, as we move to Jelly Belly’s latest flavor: “draft beer” jelly beans. It sounds like the stuff of Homer Simpson’s dreams rather than romance, but the new beer bean is said to have a “clean, crisp, wheaty” taste and is certainly a unique way to toast your loved one. If you’re looking for some appropriate glitz and showmanship with your sugar rush, why not drop in on the tinsel town of candy stores – Sweet! of Hollywood Boulevard. Described as “the sweet spot for sweeties” or “30,000 square feet of candy craziness,” this one’s strictly for the brave, especially if you’re bringing the kids. Boasting 300 types of chocolate bars and 250 types of lollipops (check out Lollywood – get it?), it also claims to have the world’s fastest gumball machine – powered by a life-size red Ferrari. The shop has its own nod to sweet celluloid moments with a wall-to-wall marshmallow section featuring the Stay Puft marshmallow man from the 1984 film “Ghostbusters!” The Forever Valentine’s section enables you to shop for your sweet all year long.
After all that glitz, perhaps it’s time to go back to nature with something altogether more raw and natural. Our Canadian candy fix embodies iconic elements for which the nation is best known: maple and very cold weather. Yes, we’re talking maple taffy or “Sugar on Snow” as we call it in the States. Eaten from Eastern Ontario to Québec (where it’s called tire d’érable), it’s produced by boiling maple sap to a thick liquid that is then poured directly on (clean!) snow where it thickens. Just wait for that perfect moment when it’s cool but still soft and scoop it up with a stick or fork. Now wait for it….
Want to give your loved one something small, shiny and jewel-like but feeling the pinch in your wallet? Indian sweets (Mithai) covered in a thin layer of edible silver or gold leaf – Varakh – may be the answer. The shiny leaf commonly covers ubiquitous Barfi sweets. Available across India, they’re made of condensed milk and sugar flavored with fruit, nuts and exotic spices. The edible silver is considered an astringent and the gold an aphrodisiac in some parts, so this may be just the thing to get your lover in the mood.
Jaffas, perky nanas, pineapple lumps and chocolate “fush.” Yes, New Zealanders and, dare I say it, their Australian cousins, have turned the candy world upside down with some distinctly different sweets — as anyone with an antipodean amour will know. But make sure you get the name right – here they’re called lollies, lover. The large number of sheep in New Zealand has made Kiwis the butt of many jokes. Tourist stores across the country have been capitalizing on this with lines of popular “poopy” candy – “Sheep Droppings” and “Kiwi Poo” (or chocolate-covered peanuts and raisins to use their more simple term). You might not think they’re particularly romantic, but what’s a good relationship if you can’t laugh at each other once in a while?
Given its part in fueling the writing of this piece, it would be wrong to exclude Germany’s Haribo – producers of the famous gummy bear and sours mix – from our list. The company name is an acronym for “Hans Riegel, Bonn,” the name of its founder and original location. Regrettably, Haribo doesn’t offer factory tours but, if you’re a fan of the company’s Goldbears, it’s certainly worth a visit to one of the factory shops in Bonn, Solingen Mainbernheim or Wilkau-Hasslau. For the fussy, they exclusively offer “sorted” versions of the Goldbear – albeit in two-pound bags. Embrace the mother of all sugar rushes.
And finally to London. To misquote: “He who is tired of London candy is tired of candy.” As you might expect from the former capital of the British Empire, London, much like its British Museum, has managed to collect in one place some of the finest candy treasures from around the world. As an aside, the Museum’s shop features an occasional line in history-themed candy; King Tut-shaped chocolate anyone? The West End department stores have extensive ranges and impressive displays: Check out Selfridges for Artisan du Chocolat’s hot chocolate and bars ranging in flavor including Masala Chai, Mole Chili and Orchid & Orange blossom. Or, mix your vices and go for the Tobacco option. But, if you’re looking for that unique gift for your loved one, take a look at Harrods or Piccadilly’s Fortnum & Mason, which offer Colombian Chocolate covered Ants (they taste like peppery peanuts apparently – except with six legs) or Antlix lollipops. For candy aficionados of all sorts, the city’s Covent Garden area is worth a visit. Hope & Greenwood is a new-fashioned sweet and homeware shop where, alongside flying saucers and jelly cherry hearts, you’ll find newer treats like strawberry and ice cream candy floss. The area is also home to one of Hotel Chocolat’s flagship stores, which roasts cocoa beans onsite, features a Cocoa Bar cafe and, alongside all sorts of edibles, a range of cocoa-scented perfumes. Alternatively, get yourself over to the company’s cocoa-themed restaurant, Rabot 1745. If you’re looking for something a bit more unusual, try the much-heralded artisan chocolatier Paul A Young, who has a store in nearby Soho that offers a smorgasbord of unusual and iconic taste combinations including chocolate and stilton – and Marmite truffles. You’ll either love ’em or….
If you’re addicted to the online sugar rush that is Candy Crush Saga, look out for the latest brand extensions in the shape of themed sweets – Candy Crush Jelly Fish, Fruit Gummies and Color Bombs (with rainbow sprinkles, of course). With sweets grouped by pop culture, category, brand and country, CyberCandy might be just the place to visit for a taste of home – or to help you decide on your next sweet destination.
Now, if I can only find that rare Gummy Venus de Milo. In the words of Homer Simpson; “She can’t have got far, she has no arms….”
(Main image: butterflysha)