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Perugia, City of Chocolate

It’s hard to say the words “chocolate” and “Italy” in the same breath without immediately thinking about the Umbrian capital of Perugia. Why? Because this city is home to both Italy’s best-known chocolate maker and its most famous chocolate festival.

In November 1907, a group of four men in Perugia (including the son of the man who started the Buitoni pasta company) founded the “Perugina Confectionary Society” (it sounds better, as most things do, in Italian: Società Perugina per la Fabbricazione dei Confetti) and opened their doors in the historic center of town. The Perugina chocolate company, as it’s known today, grew steadily, but it wasn’t until 1922 that Perugina started producing the treat it’s now known best for – Baci.

Baci, those bite-sized chocolates with a whole hazelnut at their center, were the brainchild of the wife of one of the Perugina founders, a woman who had been instrumental in the company’s recipes and product line since the beginning. She first called her new candy “cazzotto,” or sock, but thankfully one of the other founders decided “baci,” or kisses, sounded more delicious. And those little love notes included in every Baci wrapper? They were there from the very beginning.

(As a side note, purists may be dismayed to learn that Perugina was acquired by Nestlè in 1988. I didn’t taste Baci until it was already part of the Nestlè empire, so I can’t compare them to the pre-1988 Baci. Anyone out there care to comment about quality before and after?)

Fast-forward to 1993, by which point Perugina was famous the world over, and Perugia was the obvious location for a chocolate festival. Today, EuroChocolate has grown into one of the biggest chocolate festivals in all of Europe, attracting almost one million visitors to Perugia every October. The 9-day festival includes chocolate vendors from Italy and elsewhere, classes on various chocolate-related topics, and both finished chocolate sculpture displays and live chocolate sculpting demonstrations.

EuroChocolate has spawned other chocolate festivals in Italy, including one in Turin and one in another Umbrian town called Terni, but the original Italian chocolate festival remains the country’s most popular.

Visitor’s Information: What to Know if You Want to Go

EuroChocolate takes place each October, although dates vary every year. Consult the official EuroChocolate website for this year’s festival dates.

Perugia is inundated every year during the festival, so if you’d like to experience it first-hand you’d be smart to plan well in advance and book your hotels in Perugia or hostels in Perugia as soon as you can. Day-tripping in from nearby towns is possible if you can’t find accommodation right in Perugia, but it’s so much nicer to just walk out the door of your hotel and right into the chocolate-filled streets.

There is a small airport in Perugia, but if you’re coming in from overseas you’ll find more cheap flights to Rome – from there you can either hop a short flight to Perugia or you can ride Italian trains to this hilltown in Umbria. A one-way trip takes 2.5-3 hours by train, and even the most expensive tickets are (at the moment) under €35 in first class.