chocolate in Pisa with Paul de Bondt
Visiting Pisa as described in my last post wasn’t what it was all about for me. Yes, I totally enjoyed the local culture and cuisine, and learned much visiting the historic relics. But I was there for the chocolate and to experience chocolate in Pisa with Paul de Bondt.
We were lucky with the timing of our visit in that we were in Pisa for dolce Mente, a festival of sweets (that unfortunately is no longer operating to my knowledge.) The man I was looking for was there in 2010 when I visited. I had come a long way to meet him, but somehow knew it would be worth the effort. I was so right.
We entered the festival in time to see Dutch-born chocolatemaker, Paul de Bondt, stirring up a pot of what looked like dry ice, causing considerable smoke and excitement in the room. Turns out he was making a very special and delicious gelato.
Paul de Bondt and his Italian wife, Cecilia Iacobelli are the dynamic duo behind de Bondt Cioccolato Originale (de Bondt Chocolate.) Spending two hours with this chocolate master was all I needed to help me tighten the focus for my chocolate book. It was my epiphany as de Bondt enabled me to get inside the mind of a chocolate master.
“It’s the small details that make the big differences, so we really put a lot of attention to the small nuances of flavours,” said de Bondt. I totally understood what he was telling me, and tasting his chocolate brought it all together for me. It made me realize we are cut from the same cloth. We are chocolate purists, and although we may appreciate the excitement that can come from adding fruits, nuts and other enhancements to chocolate, it is the quality of the cocoa beans that is of utmost importance to the final chocolate product.
I could tell you much more about Paul de Bondt and the chocolate excellence I found in Pisa. And I do–in the first volume of my book, Chocolatour: A Quest for the World’s Best Chocolate.
And I was happy to include de Bondt Cioccolato on the list I wrote for National Geographic Traveler featuring the 10 Best Chocolate Shops in the world. It is a most deserving representative of the best European chocolate you will find–anywhere.
But before we go, I have to take a step back. In my last post I neglected to thank our wonderful guide in Pisa, Vincenzo Riolo. He’s the same guide who showed American travel writer, Rick Steeves, that Pisa is so much more than the Tower. I must say that in each of the European cities we have visited, it has been the knowledge and insights of our local guides that has made the visit much more than a superficial fly by. Vincenzo is truly a master of his profession. You can reach him via the Pisa Guides website.
If I get back to Italy, I hope to take in the Chocolate Festival that’s held in San Miniato e Tirrenia. One thing I learned on our Chocolatour of Italy is that the Italians really love their chocolate, making Italy a superb destination for anyone interested in chocolate-inspired travel.