Although it is present in our lives all year round, it seems that chocolate, whether in the form of nougat, hot in a good cup, incorporated into different desserts or simply in tablet or as a chocolate, regains greater prominence during the Christmas holidays. And they know this well in the chocolate factories that exist throughout Spain, which are preparing these days to increase their production and also to open their doors to the many visitors who want to learn more about this exquisite sweet made from cocoa.
From Lleida to Granada, passing through Vizcaya, Huesca or Guadalajara, we visit some charming villages in search of the best chocolate factories in the country and, while we're at it, we do a bit of sightseeing.
Chocolate Jolonch (Lleida)
This factory is located in the small town of Agramunt (Lleida), one of the oldest in Spain, in operation since 1770. It produces artisan chocolates and its specialty is the typical stone chocolate, considered a variety native to the town, with a grainy and consistent texture, made from cocoa, sugar, rice flour and cinnamon or vanilla essences. To this day, traditional production methods are still used, which can be seen in their workshop, which, according to the owners, is a real museum. The visit to the factory is free of charge. For large groups, a tasting is included (1.20 euros). More information here.
The town is home to places such as the Church of Santa Maria, the Town Hall and old jail and the Plaza Mercadal, all worth a stroll.
Where to sleep: Cal Viladot (Carrer de Sió, 26; Telephone: 679 46 33 71), an elegant six-bedroom farmhouse with an impressive living-dining room presided over by the private library of the previous owner, the artist Guillem Viladot.
Where to eat: Restaurant Atípic (Plaza Mercat, 6; Phone: 687861219) offers innovative signature cuisine.
Kaitxo was born in the Biscayan town of Balmaseda from the passion for gourmet chocolates of its founders Jon Mikel and Raquel. Created in 2017, the family brand is dedicated to making coffees and chocolates. The latter come from cocoa treated in excellent conditions and their products are developed through a process from bean to bar, "an artisanal technique that aims to enhance the flavour of the cocoa to the maximum". They offer guided tours of the workshop to discover how they make chocolates and roast coffees, as well as all the processes necessary to make a chocolate bar. The duration is approximately 1 hour and a half and includes a chocolate tasting. Price: 15 euros. More information and bookings here.
Balmaseda is worth a walk to discover its rich cultural heritage, such as the church of San Severino and the Gothic temple of San Juan, as well as its Old Bridge with its tower.
Where to sleep: Palace of Horkasitas (Horkasitas Auzoa, 69; Telephone: 686 37 22 10), a palace from 1966 considered a historical monument, surrounded by forests, with 7 rooms on three floors.
Where to eat: Located in a former convent of cloistered nuns from the seventeenth century, the San Roque Restaurant (Convent of Santa Clara, Campo de las Monjas, 2, Balmaseda; Telephone: 946 102 268) offers traditional Basque cuisine.
Chocolate Brescó (Huesca)
In 1836, the Brescó-Escolà family decided to buy part of the second Piarist convent in the town of Benabarre in Huesca to be the headquarters of the Brescó chocolate factory. In 1875 a long family tradition of master chocolatiers began, where quality chocolates are still produced today. At present, the development of the company follows the course undertaken by the great-grandfather Francisco Brescó, with the current management of the great-great-grandson of the first Brescó chocolatier, Xavier, who at the age of 16 decided to continue with the family tradition and abandon his studies to deepen his knowledge of the trade and grow in this world of chocolate. Medallions, straws and artisan chocolates are some of its specialties.
In the centre of the town of Huesca, next to the church, you can visit the 18th-century Obrador Museum, located in the Brescó house, where you can see how chocolate was made centuries ago. In addition, the visit can be completed by strolling through the charming medieval town of Benabarre, guarded by its castle. More information and visits here.
Where to sleep: Casa Rural Benabarre L'Era (Sta. Ana, s/n; Telephone: 619 70 73 19), accommodation for 9 people with garden, terrace, fireplace...
Where to eat: Homemade local cuisine at Restaurante Can Pere (El Abeto, 5; Phone: 974543141).
Chocolates Iturbe (Guadalajara)
Under the La Cadena brand, the Iturbe family has been manufacturing their own chocolate since 1900 in Molina de Aragón (Guadalajara) in two forms: powder and tablet, and they do so while preserving the machinery of their ancestors. More information here.
Walled and crowned by a castle, the medieval town of Molina de Aragón is worth a walk through its historic centre to enjoy its great wealth of monuments. The Jewish quarter, the Moorish quarter, the monastery of San Francisco and the Romanesque bridge are symbols of the beautiful town.
Where to sleep: Parador de Santa Rita (Santa Rita, 26; Telephone: 661919939), a rural accommodation in a stone mansion built in 1826.
Where to eat: Homemade food (as a specialty, torreznos) at La Ribera (P.º los Adarves, 4; Tel.: 949 831 957).
Abuela Ili Chocolate (Granada)
This factory, inaugurated in 2007, is located in the spectacular town of Pampaneira, the jewel of Granada's Alpujarra. Abuela Ili Chocolate was born as a tribute to the owner's mother, Mauricio, and her daughter. From his shop in the town, which receives thousands of tourists annually, he distributes chocolate to different cities in the country. The shop can be visited to see how they make their wide variety of artisanal chocolates. They conduct tastings. More information here.
Where to sleep: Cueva de Cora (Pampaneira) is an idyllic country house with only one room.
Where to eat: Grandma's House (Calle Real, 10; Phone: 638471330) is a local home-cooked restaurant.
Chocolates Valor (Alicante)
In the centre of the Alicante coastal town of Villajoyosa is the Valor Chocolate Museum, created in 1998, which was once the brand's small family factory. There, those interested can learn about the chocolate-making process and the entire history of the firm from its birth to the present day. Five generations of master chocolatiers have already run the iconic company. The visit includes a tour of the company's collection of machinery used in different eras, from the times when cocoa was ground in stone to the present day. Admission to the museum is free, upon reservation. More information here.
In addition to Chocolates Valor, Chocolates Marcos Tonda, Chocolates Clavileño and Chocolates Pérez have factories in the town of Alicante.
Where to sleep: Hotel Censal (Av. del País Valencià, 25; Tel.: 966 850 017), next to the Valor Chocolate Museum with comfortable rooms overlooking the bay and the city of Villajoyosa.
Where to eat: Valencian paella, tapas and seafood at Taverna El Pòsit (Av. del Port, 23; Telephone: 966 85 15 19).
Astorga Chocolate Museum (León)
The monumental municipality of Astorga would not be what it is without its chocolate past. The production of this sweet was one of the main industries of the town and the region between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries. Given the importance that this type of production had in the area, different companies were created whose main objective was to advertise and market the product. All this history can be discovered today in the Astorga Chocolate Museum, located in a beautiful palace from the beginning of the twentieth century that was the house, warehouse and workshop of the Asturian chocolatier Magín Rubio.
Its museum collection, unique in Spain, houses pieces of different characteristics related to the world of cocoa and chocolate. In addition to old machinery, it has curious pieces related to chocolate advertising. The visit ends with a tasting. Admission: €2.50. More information here.
Astorga is one of the heritage jewels of the province of León. In addition to the Cathedral of Santa María, the Plaza Mayor is another must-see site. It is presided over by the Town Hall, a spectacular 1889th-century Baroque building, and the clock tower. Another indispensable monument is the Episcopal Palace (1931-<>), the work of the architect Antonio Gaudí.
Where to stay: Exe Astur Plaza (Plaza España, 2; Tel.: 987 61 76 65) is a small charming hotel located in the heart of Plaza Mayor, just a five-minute walk from Gaudí's Palace and the Cathedral.
Where to eat: The cocido maragato is one of the star dishes of Astorga. It includes seven types of meat, including pork, chicken and beef, as well as chickpeas, potatoes and collard greens. This is the speciality of Casa Maragata I (Húsar Tiburcio, 2. Tel.: 987 61 88 80).