Well a couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to get to try both main chocolate walking tours for myself. I did the Mayfair Tour on Saturday morning and the Belgravia/Knightsbridge Tour on Sunday afternoon. I’ve known Jennifer Earle, founder of Chocolate Ecstasy Tours, for a couple of years now, but this is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to try the tours myself.
To say I was excited by the prospect was an understatement. A chocolate tour isn’t just about visiting the shops and sampling the chocolate, it’s about sharing that experience with fellow chocolate lovers. (And visiting the shops and sampling the chocolate.)
Now I’ve thought long and hard about the best way to write up my experiences, and I’ve decided that I’m not going to talk about the individual shops we visited by name. Part of the excitement of these walking tours is not quite knowing where you’re going next, even if you know the area. I don’t want to spoil that surprise.
You’ll probably be able to work many of the locations from the photos, but I’d rather give you an overall impression of the tours, than a blow by blow account or reviews of the individual shops.
We started our Mayfair tour at 10am at a rather nice bistro/bar/gallery, where we all got the chance to introduce ourselves over a delicious thick, sweet hot chocolate. This is a great way to start, as it gives people a chance to get to know each other. After sampling a couple of pastries, we all followed Jennifer down Regent Street to our first shop.
At this shop, the manager introduced himself, talked about the history of the shop and gave a brief introduction on how to taste real chocolate. Of course, being an “expert” (ahem!), I knew most of this information already, but it was still interesting to hear someone else talking about it – and to watch my fellow tourers consuming the information as readily as the chocolate.
After sampling a few squares of their chocolate, we all had a good chance to look around the shop, and as with all the venues on both tours, we were offered a discount on anything we wanted to buy ourselves.
After we’d stocked up, we proceeded to the next shop, stopping occasionally for a short history lesson on the area from Jennifer. I enjoyed these little stops and learned a lot about my own city. I think I would have enjoyed a couple more little breaks on the way – not because there was too much walking, but simply because I wanted to know more!
Our tour continued around the more traditional chocolate shops in the area. Each time we stopped, we learned about the shop, either from Jennifer or from a member of staff. We got to sample lots of different chocolates, then had the opportunity to buy more. Most shops were happy to give us small samples of anything we asked for, and generally acted like they were happy to see us. It’s always good to see staff so happy when they’re giving their products away!
The Sunday afternoon tour took us around some of the more modern chocolate shops. This time, my fellow tourers consisted primarily of contestants on BBC2′s recent Great British Bake Off. This made the experience a little surreal for all of us, with tourers frequently being recognised and stopped in the street. But it was all fun!
I hadn’t realised how different this tour would to the Mayfair tour. The format of the tour was basically the same, but we got to try some more unusual chocolates and spent a little more time working out what flavour combinations had been used in particular chocolates. Despite the constant rain, I found myself enjoying this tour even more than the previous day.
The company was great on both tours, Jennifer was the perfect guide, and shop staff were universally helpful and smiley, even on the odd occasion when they clearly hadn’t been quite ready for our arrival. But Sunday’s tour seemed like it was aimed more at me than the Mayfair tour.
And that’s going to be your biggest dilemma. Which tour do you choose? I can guarantee you’ll have a thoroughly enjoyable day either way, but the chocolates are quite different.
If you’re more of a traditionalist and simply want to learn more about chocolate and the history of central London, then go for the Mayfair tour. If you’re a certified chocoholic and looking to try new and exciting things, then go for Belgravia. If you really can’t decide, then what better way to spend an entire weekend?
My own weekend was fabulous. I caught up with old friends, made some new ones, learned a lot, and most importantly of all, I ate a lot of chocolate!
Of course, Jennifer is a friend, but I honestly can’t recommend Chocolate Ecstasy Tours enough, whether you’re looking for something interesting to do while visiting the city, or live in London and want to explore your own home town, it really is a great way to spend a morning or afternoon.
Just take plenty of spending money, as you won’t be able to resist stocking up along the way!
Don’t forget, you’ve still got time to book if you want to come to Chocolate Ecstasy Tours Cocktails & Chocolate evening at Le Meridien, Piccadilly on Thursday.