Grenada’s chocolate tourism

By | Category: Travel destinations
Grenada - moe than just untouched beaches

Grenada – moe than just untouched beaches

The heat of the Caribbean in late spring and summer is intense. Why, then, would you want to have a chocolate festival at this time of year?

On the island of Grenada the Chocolate Festival returns for yet another year running from 13th of May until the 22nd of May and tickets are available as from tomorrow. The reason for this time of year is because it is not high season so accommodation is available, it isn’t as hot as high summer so the climate is bearable and it comes at a time when tourism numbers are low. So they invented a chocolate festival just three years ago to encourage more visitors.

But why Grenada?

Grenada is one of the few places where chocolate is produced in the same place as the cocoa is grown.  Mostly, the cocoa grown on the island is a variety known as Trinitario. These plants have taken to the island because of the rich volcanic soil here and the heat. Locals will claim that Grenadian cocoa is the best because of those reasons. Only you can judge.

an aerial view of True Blue Bay

an aerial view of True Blue Bay

One way to judge is to go the chocolate festival but before you sample the wares start at the Belmont Estate  (one of the most visited tourist destinations on Grenada) or the Crayfish Bay Estate (it was only last month that they created their own tree-to-bar chocolate for the first time) to see how cocoa is grown, processed and turned into award winning chocolate. Both places will sell you chocolate that has been harvested from those places, some of which,  has been turned into chocolate creations by locals rather than themselves.

The chocolate made from the cocoa is organic and as pure as it can be which reinforces the strapline that the tourist board introduced recently. “Pure Grenada” was the chosen phrase which was bears another connotation. As well as pure food, pure drinks, “pure” is meant to indicate that the island is unsullied by hordes of tourists. Compared to Cuba, Jamaica and the Bahamas, Grenada is off the beaten track.

Except that is to cricket fans. It is just a year since a test match between the West Indies and England – the first ever on the island – was played and those English fans that followed their team returned home with stories about how untouched the island was compared to other Caribbean destinations. Some had journeyed to Grenada in 2007 when the island hosted the Cricket World Cup as well. I think I am right in saying that no Grenadian had played at test level for the West Indies until Junior Murray just 22 years ago and that may be why so many Brits haven’t considered holidaying there. That’s to its advantage because it has so little commercialism.

a previous chocolate week - truffles and mini-houses

a previous chocolate festival offering – truffles and mini-houses

Here commercialism is so different. Take the Crayfish Bay Estate as an example. Operating on the fair-trade principle and owned by Kim Russell and his wife, they have given control of the land to locals. In return for looking after the land these people receive 90% of the value of the wet cocoa and nutmeg they harvest. Any other crops they grow such as banana and yams are theirs to keep.

Even the resorts and accommodation are different. At the resort in True Blue Bay, the owners – Russ and Magdalena Fielden – have been plying their trade since 1998. The resort has 48 guestrooms with sea views and all the things you would expect a Caribbean resort to have. Except that neither is a hotelier by training. Russ is an engineer and Magdalena is an architect. She also happens to be the honrary Mexican consul in Grenada and he has been behind the rebuilding and refurbishemnt of the local Vendome School which was badly damaged in 2004 when Hurricane Ivan devasted large chunks of Grenada. Now the reort is in the process of outfitting the libray for the school.

Magdalena is also a bit of entrepreneur. More than “a bit” really. A few years ago she ran a chocolate week in May and then she imported the London based chocolatier, Gerry Wilton, across to demonstrate to guests how to make truffles as well as chocolate shoes and even portraits.

and Magdalena Fielden who helped Grenadian chocolate to become a tourist attraction

and Magdalena Fielden who helped Grenadian chocolate to become a tourist attraction

The chocolate was from the island.  A few years later an dthe festival is an island based one. She has developed her own island honey that came about almost by accident when a bees’ nest was found under the eves of one of the the resort buildings. She contracted with the West Indies Beer Company and now produces two beers which are stored in things called kegerators which are made from Caribbean oak rum barrels. That gives the beer a distinctive taste and just as the taste is different so is the serving of the beers. They come in handled Mason jars. The two beers are Category Six, an English-style IPA  and the Windward Ale and both are made using the local mountain spring water available.

Category Six is flavoured with two varieties of English hops with an earthy, slightly fruity flavour and uses traditional English ale yeast.  The Windward Ale is an American-style IPA made using American hops and yeast. It is  lighter  in colour.  Not all the ingredients are Grenadian but Magdalena will change that. She plans to cultivate some of the hops on the mountainous hills of the island. But like any good entrepreneur, she has her market in mind. Where do the two biggest sources of guests come from? The USA and the UK so she has a beer that should appeal to both.

But chocolate is of growing importance to Grenada as a lure to attract visitors and to provide local jobs and training. Would it have come about with out entrepeneurs like Magdalena, the trio behind the Grenada Chocolate Company or the Russells who developed a sustainable tourist product? Who knows but combining chocolate and tourism looks like being a winning combination. Is chocolate honey or chocolate beer on the horizon?

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