The Easter Egg hunt is an inevitable part of Easter weekend. Alongside hot cross buns for lunch and dinner, family feuds, and viewing creme eggs as an entirely acceptable breakfast option (well, they ARE eggs…), the overly competitive chocolate hunt is part of the fabric of British Easter. As is, it must be said, discovering lonely mini eggs amongst the foliage for months to come, but I digress…
For those seeking a slightly more enlightened Easter experience, Metropolitan Touring has partnered with Ecuadorian bean-to-bar chocolatiers Pacari to offer an Easter hunt with a difference. The new Journey to the Source of Chocolate tour takes chocoholics on a winding path through the lush greenery of the Amazon Rainforest to the birthplace of cacao itself. Cacao, whose Latin name actually means “food of the Gods” symbolises much more than just a sweet treat among indigenous Amazonian communities and has long been heralded for its medicinal and healing properties. We all know chocolate can be a stress buster, but it is also known to alleviate symptoms of anemia, loss of appetite and fatigue, as well as aiding digestion. As if we needed more reasons to indulge in some high quality chocolate this Easter?!
A lofty 4,000m Andean pass takes guests up from Quito and down to the tiny community of Santa Rita, nestled deep in the heart of the rainforest. Here, cacao growers show guests around their family chacras, filled with towering cacao trees; branches weighed down with speckled, wrinkled cacao pods. The pods, ranging from bright yellow to deepest maroon, can be split open to reveal fresh cacao beans immersed in soft, fruit-scented pulp. Over generations, the growers have mastered the art of ripening, sensing the exact moment that the pulp reaches peak sweetness, ready to ferment the beans inside. The pods are cracked open and the soft innards scooped into vast vats for fermentation, before the beans are spread out in the sun, dried and slowly roasted.
Chocoholics can try their hand at grinding or conching freshly roasted cacao nibs – the innards of the cacao beans – with a touch of sugar to make an intense cacao liquor; pouring this into a mould and chilling to form slabs of chocolate. The pounding and grinding is tough work, so it’s entirely acceptable to sneak a few tastes of warm melted chocolate – all in the name of nourishment, of course…
After a delicious day of chocolate making, chocolate tasting, and hiking the cacao-covered hills; guests can retire to the magical Hamadryade Lodge and enjoy a soak in the natural volcanic thermal pools, surrounded by the sounds of the rainforest.
For true chocolate lovers, this is the trip of a lifetime; venturing deep into the heartland of all things delicious. For non-chocoholics, this is a fascinating cultural immersion in a spectacular rainforest setting – and besides, freshly handmade Ecuadorian chocolate beats soggy, garden-fresh mini eggs any day.
Jacada Travel (www.jacadatravel.com/0207 619 1380) offers a three-day Chocolate Trail from £1,930 per person, including two nights at Casa Gangotena in Quito, one night at Hamadryade Lodge with all meals included, and airport transfers. International flights from London to Quito start from £834 via Bogota.