Decadent, creative and full of variety, Connecticut's Chocolate Trail is not to be missed. A concept created by the state's tourism department three years ago, this tasty trail offers visitors a unique way to see the state, sample tasty concoctions and appreciate the distinctive styles of local chocolatiers. Turns out a drive through our back roads can actually become an international excursion.
Bridgewater Chocolate, West Hartford
Start exploring in the Hartford area where shopping feels luxurious at Bridgewater Chocolate. This West Hartford boutique features preservative free, gluten-free options, made by hand in the Brookfield factory.
“We want your experience in our store to be magical,” says manager Sarah Hill, pointing out Bridgewater's unique 3D designs, such as the chocolate dreidel that debuted for Hanukkah. “You should enjoy the experience, from purchasing it to consuming it.”
Divine Treasures, Manchester
Travel a few miles and end up at Divine Treasures in Manchester, opened six years ago by Diane Wagemann, who once lived in Belgium.
“I truly missed the quality chocolate that was in Europe that I didn't find here in the U.S.,” Wagemann says, noting that she uses beans from Peru, processed the old fashioned way with no trans fats or high fructose corn syrup. “It's organic, gluten-free, dairy-free and then we have a sugar-free line. We get people who are driving by and they went on the Chocolate Trail and knew that we were right off I-84.”
Looking for a molded chocolate in the shape of Connecticut? Or, how about a UConn Husky bar? Take a trip to Munson's Chocolates, a family-owned chain with 10 locations in Connecticut, including the Bolton headquarters, Farmington and Glastonbury.
Thompson Chocolate, Meriden
Head to Meriden for a classic experience at Thompson Chocolate, open since 1879. “It's all about local businesses and letting people know we're here,” says sales and marketing director Michael Besso.
Tschudin Chocolates & Confections, Middletown
Not far away, find Tschudin Chocolates & Confections, a wonderfully quirky little shop in Middletown. Owner Roberto Tschudin Lucheme, a self-described science nerd with a culinary background, frequently delights tourists from New York and Massachusetts with his humorous designs, such as chocolate pianos, sky-high edible stilettos and magical mermaid lions.
“We seem to get business off the trail no matter which direction they come from. After all, Middletown is in the middle of it all,” he says. His describes his Spanish-style recipes as a “pinball for the taste buds.”
Fascia's Chocolates, Waterbury
To the west, Waterbury's Fascia's Chocolates, known for everything from truffles to coated pretzels, recently opened a 1,000-square-foot space where visitors can make their own candy bar.
“We designed a building for tourism. We were doing small group events and birthday parties prior but now it's public tours, Saturdays and Sundays, 12:30 p.m. and 2 p.m.,” says co-owner Carmen Romeo, noting he would like to coordinate with other establishments on the trail for future programming.
Nearby, in Cheshire, Cocoashak is home to 80 truffle styles.
“At least twice a week somebody comes in and says they saw the Chocolate Trail and were either following it or going to a few shops. They also seem to follow the Connecticut Wine Trail while they're doing the Chocolate Trail,” says owner Chris Koshak, remembering a busload of women, celebrating a 50th birthday along the path. “We're all different, so it is a good way to see our different styles and what we offer.”
Thorncrest Farm & Milk House, Goshen
The newest addition to the trail can be found in the bucolic hills of Litchfield County. The cows that roam the pastures at Thorncrest Farm & Milk House in Goshen provide the ingredients for the homemade chocolates, created by Kimberly and Clint Thorn.
H. Mangels Confectioner, Milford
New Haven County boasts H. Mangels Confectioner in Milford, makers of hand-dipped chocolate truffles.
A year ago, the confectionery moved locations, causing confusion right before Valentine's Day.
“The panic that ensued was actually a little comical,” says owner Paul Mangels, whose shop is now inside Villa Gourmet, which carries unique cheese and fresh fish.
“It's a great marriage.”
Deborah Ann's Sweet Shop, Ridgefield
Chocolate Rain Shoppe, Norwalk
Drive farther south and encounter a happy cacophony of desserts in Fairfield County. At Deborah Ann's Sweet Shop in Ridgefield, visitors see homey soft centers being made in an open kitchen.
Pecan and cashew turtles provide the delicious scent at Chocolate Rain Shoppe in Norwalk, along with French macaroons.
Greenwich's Chocolate Lab
A truly unique experience is found at Greenwich's Chocolate Lab, located in The J House Hotel. “When you step inside, you see that it really is more of a laboratory than it is just a confectionery shop,” says General Manager Jonathan Wise, who believes this destination, featuring a chef and ingredients from West Africa, appeals to “foodies.”
Chocopologie Cafe, South Norwalk
Finally, a craving will certainly be satisfied at Chocopologie Cafe, in South Norwalk, where Danish baker Fritz Knipschildt is known worldwide for his masterful methods. “I think people look at us as being inventive,” he says humbly.
A beautiful shiny box of fresh treats, adorned with a deluxe bow, is an enduring, endearing gift that will never go out of style.
A trip along the Chocolate Trail inspires an appreciation of the artistry and chemistry behind this indulgence, creating a journey filled with sweet memories.
For more information about the Connecticut Chocolate Trail, head to www.ctvisit.com.