Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Alicante, Spain: Chocolate, Pirates and Tours

I took the tram (a small, modern train) out from Alicante towards Benidorm. A narrow strip along the coast has been highly developed with high rises and residential estates to house tourists and ex pats who flock to the beach and the sun.

But there is much more to Alicante than “sol y playa,” and my destination was Villajoyosa, a former fishing village that in the late 1800s was home to over 30 chocolate factories. Two of the chocolate factories, third and fourth generation family businesses, are still in operation today.

Chocolates Perez
Chocolates Perez is a fourth-generation family business. The Perez family were already selling chocolate in 1874. They would take a load of chocolate by horse-drawn cart to a neighbouring village and then unload it into sacks to sell door to door.

Their small business includes a chocolate museum, and Perez family members are still on hand to show visitors the primitive machinery that they used to use to mill the chocolate.

Valor Chocolates
Valor Chocolates is named after Valeriano Lopez who opened the business in 1881. It is now Spain’s premier brand of chocolate. They have a large, very modern plant just a few blocks away from Chocolates Perez.

Valor bills its chocolate as “un placer adulto” (an adult pleasure) and the video that is shown at the beginning of each tour includes a number of very amusing ads illustrating this theme (off limits to under-age teenagers, etc.).

Valor also has a museum, but what I particularly enjoyed was the tour of the factory itself. We were taken around a corridor that overlooked the factory floor and were able to watch the chocolate being poured into moulds and then wrapped as well as individual chocolates being put into boxes that were then sealed.

They have a mouth-watering shop with lots and lots of chocolate samples. I really enjoyed the chocolate cup made with balsamic vinegar as well as another one with olive oil and some tomato.

Visits
I recommend visiting both factories. Perez Chocolates feels like a more personal, family operation, while there is more to see and do at Valor. Both are free.

The chocolate factories are located within easy walking distance of the Villajoyosa tram station so can easily be reached from either Alicante or Benidorm. (I'm included detailed directions as I got lost using Google Maps.)

To find Valor, walk beside the tracks and over the bridge. Turn left when you reach Calle Pianista Gonzalo Soriano. The factory will be on your left, and it’s hard to miss as it’s very large. Tours are on the hour; check the website for details.

To reach Chocolates Perez, cross the street at Valor and proceed down the street past the Centro de Salud. At the first corner, turn left. You’ll almost immediately turn right (there’s a road sign for Finestat). The chocolate factory will be one block down this street and facing you. This isn’t a structured tour; check the website for their hours.

Alternatively, Mandarinablue Travel Experience offers a tour of Villajoyosa’s fish market and the Perez Chocolates factory (including a visit to the actual production facility that isn’t available to individual tourists).

I highly recommend this tour company after spending a day and a half with the owner, Mireia Aldeguer. Check Mandarinablue’s website for details of the various tours that are on offer.

Pirates
An interesting side note is the small round watch towers made of stone that can be seen at intervals along the coast. Apparently, in centuries past, there were a great many British and Berber pirates who attacked the coast, and locals kept a lookout from the towers so that they could warn residents of imminent invasions.

Note: The group of people around the cart is a photograph of a photograph in the Perez Chocolate museum and should not be reproduced elsewhere.

1 comment:

wizardofwords said...

What a treat it must have been to visit Villajoyosa, Penny! Hard to imagine such a small place having more than 30 chocolate factories! The Spanish really do love their chocolate, but my research has focused more on the artisan chocolate makers and chocolatiers.

I do happen to have a Valor Chocolates bar in the house that I picked up in London. Will have to try it soon! Hope to eventually get to the factory.

Cheers,
Doreen Pendgracs