To say Villajoyosa is famous for chocolate is a bit of an understatement. Not many places in Spain can boast three working chocolate factories. And some days, you can even smell the aroma of chocolate as it wafts gently across the town. Take a factory tour and find out more (and get a tasting!).
In times gone by, chocolate was even bigger; in the late 19th century, there were dozens of producers in Villajoyosa (aka La Vila Joiosa, or La Vila for short). Most of them made it in their own homes. Even by the 1930s, there were still around 30 chocolate makers in the town.
Two hundred years of chocolate!
Chocolate-making began here in the early 1800s. The two basic raw ingredients, cacao beans and sugar, were easily imported from the Spanish colonies in central and south America via the port of La Vila.
In the beginning, chocolate was a drink – the solid chocolate bars we all love weren’t invented until halfway through the century.
The cacao beans were ground by hand into a paste, using a concave stone and a roller. To get it to the required smooth consistency meant hours of effort.
The bitter-tasting paste was then sweetened with sugar to make it palatable and poured into moulds to set. Of course nowadays, all the hard work is done by machine.
Today, the big beast of chocolate here in Villajoyosa is Chocolates Valor, with a large, modern factory on the outskirts of the town (Avda Pianista Gonzalo Soriano). You can find Valor chocolate pretty much anywhere in Spain; it’s even been spotted as far away as Valparaiso in Chile!
More than 95,000 people come every year for free tours of the Valor factory in Spanish or English (50 people per visit, first come first served). You see a short film on Valor and chocolate and there’s a walk through the factory.
But you don’t get very close to the production line and the factory is…well…a bit factory-like. Willy Wonka it isn’t! The tour ends at the museum, which is pretty good, and you do get to taste the product, which is even better.
Chocolate con churros!
You can also sample Valor in their chocolatería on the main street (Avda del País Valencia). Chocolate con churros (fried dough sticks with sugar dipped in liquid chocolate) is a calorie-laden must if you haven’t tried it before.
There are two smaller chocolate producers in town: Chocolates Pérez on Partida Mediases and Chocolates Clavileño on Carrer Colón.
Pérez is a fun visit; the tour is a lot friendlier and more personal than the Valor experience. If the production line is running, you get to see up close how chocolate is made. Pérez recently opened a chocolateria down on the seafront in the old town where you can sample the product.
Don’t bother visiting Clavileño; they don’t do factory tours and the museum is tiny. The chocolate is good though!
Xocolates Toni Garsi is an artisan chocolate maker in Villajoyosa, based in Poble Nou. Not very different in scale from the family chocolate makers that were the backbone of La Vila’s chocolate industry in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Toni’s father used to run a chocolate factory himself back in the day, which is where his son learnt his trade.
Now Toni makes and sells his own range of chocolate, using ingredients he sources himself and to his own formulas. The actual production though is done in the Chocolates Pérez factory. Check out his chocolate at artisan markets around the area, or buy direct from his base in Carrer Alacant.
One more name!
On the road out of town towards Benidorm, you’ll see Chocolates Marcos Tonda. Once a well-known Villajoyosa brand from way back, they don’t actually make their chocolate in La Vila these days. So I guess they don’t really count as local (but their showroom still has some nice chocolate to try!).
Try turrón from La Vila
Your blood sugar level is probably off the scale by now, but if you still have room for more, pop next door to Marcos Tonda and visit Carremi, Villajoyosa’s very own turrón factory.
Turrón from La Vila in the Carremi showroom and shop
Turrón is the traditional Christmas sweet, made from almonds and honey. Similar to nougat, it’s eaten all over Spain. Alicante province is the home of turrón; the little town of Xixona/Jijona, about 45 minutes drive from La Vila, is world famous for it. Worth a visit if you have a sweet tooth!
© Guy Pelham