If there is one thing that Italy does spectacularly well it’s definitely the food. We have been spoilt by so much authentic Italian nommy-ness that I fear I will never again enjoy food as much as I have done here. And this is coming from someone who is usually a fussy eater. The food our hosts were making was incredible; multitudes of different types and flavours of pasta (we even helped make our own fresh tagliatelle one evening which was great fun and so delicious with a ragu recipe indigenous to this region). We’ve also had real Italian pizza which comes in two forms – red or white (I loved them both) and hideously addictive biscuits for breakfast believe it or not. And then there was the chocolate festival.
Eurochocolate 2016 was incredible. The train journey from Umbertide to Perugia was interesting (Italians seem to like forcing you to figure things out by powers of assumption alone) but it was so worth it. The city of Perugia is kind of like the capital of the region and rightly so, it’s huge yet beautiful, busy yet friendly and, on this occasion, full of chocolate.
The streets were draped with a thick fog and a chill in the air but were already alive with busy people setting up the chocolate stalls for the day. I didn’t know what to expect when we arrived and the first half hour we simply flitted from tent to tent drooling over every shade and flavour of chocolate imaginable. Then we decided to get the “Chococard.” The idea is that you pay six Euros and for that you get a card that allows you to get free tasters across most of the stalls, discounts on purchases and, best of all a selfie stick with an actual full size bar of Perugia chocolate. With the selfie stick you could then take selfies, post them to social media with hashtags and be entered into a competition for some massive prizes. It was all incredibly well run and the theming, as well as the stalls, could be found all over the city, it was huge! Everybody seemed to embrace the madness of it and it ran for a total of 10 days, I thought they must be exhausted at the end of it.
By 10am I was starting to feel like I needed to eat something savoury instead and by 11am I couldn’t take another bite of chocolate if someone had paid me to. As well as the freebies from the Chococard we kept being given free things just for walking around. Friendly people representing chocolate companies would pass us and force biscuits, chocolate, yoghurt and even a football into our hands for no apparent reason, it was fantastic! By 11:30 we had tried a hot chocolate fondue type drink (and worn the cream hat with pride), we had played the prize every time chocolate fruit machine, we had been told the best chocolate in the world comes from Turin and Peter had even tried chocolate tea (which he couldn’t actually finish it was that disgusting!)
There was literally chocolate everywhere! Even the speakers lining the streets were playing a chocolate themed playlist on repeat. We heard A Spoonful of Sugar, Chocolate (by the incredible 1975) and even a French or Italian song that just repeated “milk chocolate” over and over again over a backing track of clubbing music.
We decided we needed a break from chocolate otherwise one of us would indeed be sick so we found a pizzeria restaurant named “Ferrari” and, of course we had to try in there! I am incredibly glad we did as it was incredible! Most of it was underground underneath fantastic cool stone archways and the pizzas were out of this world. We spent a dreamy couple of hours reminiscing about 2 years previously when Peter and I had first met and enjoying the atmosphere and the food. But what to have for pudding? Stupid question, of course it would be more chocolate!
I decided to be brave and start making some purchases. They were obscenely priced but my gosh was it tasty. I was sorely tempted by a line of chocolate bars on an animal theme. They all had different flavours and animals on them. I was tempted by the Ringtailed Lemur bar and was more than puzzled over the cannabis flavoured bar adorned with an exotic bird. However I had to return to the chocolate from Turin as it really was the best from what we had tasted. I also bought some cute little layered cubes of varying flavours and Peter and I decided to buy some chocolate honey for our hosts (which I would later flavour some home baked buns with).
Perugia was swamped with people, most here for the festival but it is a tourist attraction year round with stunning old buildings, billions of churches, art galleries and views across the rest of the region. You could gaze out across the terracotta rooftops over the dramatic mountains in the background, the view only interrupted by the occasional sharp spire of a church piercing the sky. The mist hadn’t cleared completely but what we saw was still breathtaking and, of course, we had to take a few selfies with our new selfie sticks. I felt rather ashamed at embracing the madness of selfies sticks but it was free after all!
After researching online I had stumbled across a student based website which suggested some of the best things to do in Perugia for free in only one day. It was truly a gem of a website and we ended up discovering a couple of really amazing things we might have missed otherwise. First was the whispering arches. I had read that if you had two people that stood at opposite corners of the archways along the side of one of the grand buildings you could hear each other’s whispers and hold a full conversation. Kind of like the two tin cans and piece of string game. So Peter diligently stood in one corner facing the wall and looking to all the bewildered outsiders like I had told him off and instructed him to stand in the corner to think about what he’d done. I did the same on the opposite side and we actually had a conversation across the arches. It was brilliant! I don’t think many people know about it (we were certainly the only ones doing it) so if you happen to be in Perugia then give it a go.
Exploring round the corner of the archways we were instructed to look for an oddly places escalator that takes you underground. We went down and nearly came straight back up again after bumping into a huge crowd of Italian school kids on a day trip. But they were swiftly moved off, hurried along by several worn out looking teachers and we could finally appreciate the place. The underground chambers had been commissioned in order to keep the inhabitants of Perugia inside the city walls (rather than keep enemies out) many hundreds of years ago and the architecture was impressive. Tall elegant arches criss-crossed along the top of the very high ceiling in beautiful dark brickwork and the place had a quiet reverence about it. There were even Eurochocolate events down here too, educating passers by on fairtrade schemes. We exited through the alternative entrance further down the steep street and turned to admire the statues adorning the top of the building, much weathered by the elements but still impressive.
Having another wander around the heart of the festival, Pete and I clutching our free footballs, I got stopped by a random American woman who asked in her flat American drawl
“Hey, where did you get your balls?”
After snorting slightly at the request I explained where the stall was, sent our American friend on her way and collapsed along the side of a wall laughing at the hilarity, wishing my sister had been there to witness it. But I love American people spotting, it’s a great past time. We had come across a few in Gubbio and many here, none of wish could queue properly or could speak in anything less than a “holler” as they would call it. They’re easy to spot and fascinating to observe in an environment quite different from their natural habitat.
We had so much fun at the chocolate festival that we actually returned briefly the next day for one main reason; I had forgotten to sample the chocolate kebab. I had come across the concept of a chocolate kebab only recently on one of those viral videos that circulates on Facebook. I never thought I would come across one in real life but there it was, a massive cylindrical slab of rotating chocolate, alternating milk and white in a deliciously bright pattern, shaved off and wrapped in a type of spongy sweet bread. I was gutted when we got back from the festival the previous day and realised I had forgotten to try it so here we were, standing in front of the stall again, eagerly getting out our Euros and realising that the dream was real, I was about to actually eat a chocolate kebab. The taste was truly out of this world. By about 3 bites in I was already desperate for a drink and by the time I had finished I was feeling rather Ill but it was most definitely worth it.
The chocolate we brought back I tried to save for special occasions but it was just too good not to devour, most of it so different from regular store bought stuff. It was softer, lighter, creamier and every bite truly felt like a small cube of heaven melting in your mouth. Every piece was savoured and gone far too soon and I hope one day I can return and buy some more. If in doubt I will go to Turin, I just need to find out where it actually is!