“Chocolate doesn’t make the world go ‘round, but it sure does make the trip worthwhile!”-Unknown Author
The date was April twentieth, the year, two thousand and fifteen. My heart was pounding in my chest. I was sweating. There was no escape. I was completely surrounded—by chocolate! It was everywhere the eye could see. White chocolate, dark chocolate, milk chocolate. Truffles, bars, chocolate liquor, powder. Chocolate shaped into cats tongues, penguins, bunnies, Hello Kitty, even various public figures. I can’t decide what I want! It’s overwhelming to my senses. How can you choose only a few when there are so many? Did I die and go to heaven or hell for my waistline?
It’s now several weeks later and I’m a few kilos heavier! Where were we you might ask? Well we were not at Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory but close! We were visiting the towns of Canela and Gramado in the southernmost state of Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul.
Canela and Gramado are two charming hamlets, only about a 10 minute drive apart. This is tourist central in Rio Grande do Sul. They have heavy European influences, mainly from Italy and Germany. The towns appear magical, more like small villages in Switzerland than in Brazil. That said the majority of the tourists here are Brazilian with a few Argentines. Most people outside this region have never heard of this tourist destination. For us it’s great, fewer people we have to share this romantic foodie get away with. And wow did we eat! It helped that it was raining the two days we were there. So we went on a gastronomical, beer guzzling tour of both towns.
Canela and Gramado are my versions of heaven if you love great food, beer, and of course chocolate. This is a foodie paradise! Amazing restaurants are abundant here. This area is known for great fondue and international cuisine. It has been a while since we had Thai food, so the first thing we did in Canela was head to a Thai restaurant — Galangal. We were not disappointed with our first Thai meal in many months. There is also not a shortage of traditional Gaucho (cowboy) style steakhouses in this area. Many come with a Gaucho Show that demonstrates traditional cowboy dances. Yet we were short on time this trip, and nothing would deter us from having Thai food!
On our “must do” list we had to dine at a Café Colonial. Café Colonials are an old German tradition in which many homemade goodies are brought to the table at one time. It is quite a feast. The tradition comes from when the early settlers and farmers would only eat one meal a day. They did this before leaving to work all day in the fields. In Gramado you can eat at a Café Colonial at any time of the day. We ate at Bela Vista Café Colonial. We sampled about 30 dishes. They brought out grape juice, all different types of cakes, three types of salami, different cheeses, fried chicken, pork loins, sausages, a vegetable tray, pickles, quiche, various breads and jams, rolls, meat and cheese pastries, and the list goes on and on. We ate, and ate, and ate. It was an impressive spread to say the least. It required a two hour long nap in our hotel afterwards!
Gramado and Canela are home to several microbreweries. One doesn’t often equate Brazil with great beer. Once you learn about the German settlers in southern Brazil, it’s not surprising. We visited the Gram Bier factory and sampled some of their handcrafted beers.
Gram Bier factory is a family business. It came into existence after Brazilian Guilherme Dreher traveled to Germany. He brought the knowledge he obtained about artisanal beer to Brazil. We enjoyed a wonderful evening sampling several of their brews at the factory. The bartender was helpful and knowledgeable about all their products. We bought a lot of beer to take home. We had a beautiful time as we sipped on our beers while the sun finally came out and showed us a rainbow.
Willie Wonka: “How do you like the chocolate factory, Charlie?”
Charlie: “I think it’s the most wonderful place in the whole world!”
Now, back to where this story began–the chocolate. All up and down the main streets of Canela and Gramado you will find and smell the numerous specialty chocolate factories and shops. The chocolates in these factories are all handcrafted. This area is known for having the best chocolate in all Brazil. We spent few hours touring different factories and sampling these culinary delights! We visited Florybal, Caracol Chocolates, O Reinado Chocolate, and Chocolate Caseiro Lugano. I loved the decorations at Florybal. We went on a cheesy tour that included bizarre replication of colonial invaders and the native people with giant fake cacao trees. In short, being a lover of all things kitschy, it was awesome! Dale had a more difficult time getting into the spirit of this tour until it was time to sample chocolate. Then he was 100% on board with this endeavor.
Caracol Chocolates was a great place to stop to enjoy the best coffee in Brazil with a chocolate bar melted inside. There are several Caracol Chocolates stores. We stopped at the one next to the Catedral de Pedra in Canela. We enjoyed our coffee while watching the sun set on the beautiful stone cathedral. This was an amazing sight. The sunset bathed the cathedral in a gold glow. After sunset, the view of the cathedral remained spectacular, as it was lit up with lights that changed colors. What an amazing weekend we had of pure gluttony and beauty!