What is really happening behind the Milky-bar creamy exterior of The Chocolate Boutique Hotel in Bournemouth? To find out what delicious threats are available to guests and in order to provide a comprehensive report, I could do no less than loosen my belt a few notches and stay overnight.
The Chocolate Boutique Hotel is Gerry Wilton's brilliant idea. Wilton is, first and foremost, an entrepreneur who has been involved in the chocolate business since 2001. With his wife, Roo, they acquired this tall and imposing Grade-II listed building in Bournemouth's elegant Soho district. The hotel opened to business half a decade ago.
A Chocolate hotel is not only an original and brilliant idea but also a completely unique concept as it is the first and so far the only hotel themed around chocolate...in the world.
When checking in to a 4* hotel, I anticipate a minimum: flowers in the room and chocolates on my pillow but what should be expected from a 4* hotel dedicated to chocolate flavoured mini-breaks?
To start with, there are brown flowers in each of the rooms and chocolate freebies are everywhere. Bowlfuls of white, dark and milk chocolate buttons are dotted here and there. A welcoming giant bowl, filled up to the brim stands in prime position, on the reception desk.
In brief, one is encouraged to eat one's way throughout the hotel thanks to all these little gifts peppered everywhere. At weekends, guests can sample marshmallows dipped in mini-chocolate fountains. Even the most harden chocoholic will not be disappointed.
Once in the privacy of the bedroom, no bedtime treat on the pillow but chocolates everywhere else. Gerry Wilton says, "I love experimenting with chocolate moulds, I love all the different shapes, I keep buying new ones even though I already have a large collection." In my room there was the cutest hand-moulded Chocolate Boutique Hotel representations, large and small samples in dark, milk and white forms.
Here, each room is different and personalised - that is the boutique element in action. In addition to the chocolate slabs in the shape of the hotel, some rooms will have hand-made truffles, others chocolate shoes and even chocolate shower and bath gel, though the later is not for human consumption, it adds to the feeling of indulgence and luxury.
Gerry Wilton came to the idea of a themed chocolate hotel as one of the first purveyors of chocolate fountains in the UK. His company Chocolate Delight supplied giant chocolate fountains to glamorous events such as Jordan and Peter André's wedding, a Harry Potter première and many private parties.
In-room fountains are much more to scale, hire one with your choice of chocolate, for the duration of the week-end. It will wait simmering gently on your arrival, complete with halves strawberries and marshmallows for dipping.
The hotel caters for special week-ends, offering a romantic package. Next to the chocolate fountain, guests will find a bottle of Cava and a half kilo slab of chocolate with a personal hand written message. Roo Wilton says, "We had a few, 'Will you marry me?' messages." Just to add a bit of pizazz, the romantic package includes another treat: two chocolate cocktails.
Chocolate cocktails are a big thing, here. The cocktail bar is a weird looking 1960's, neon-lit machine with an amazing automated cocktail machine which mixes potent drinks such as Chocolate Martini, Chocky-Waky-Minty Cocktails and other delicious concoctions dreamt up by the Wiltons.
All of this happens on the day of arrival, more sweet treats await the following morning. Pass the chocolate buttons bowls and the mini-fountains to get to the breakfast room where the walls are decorated with chocolate paintings. The breakfast menu offers a selection of chocolate delicacies.
I turned down the full English and the pains au chocolat, to concentrate on a chocolate pancake. It arrived filled to the brim with melted chocolate and a smiley face wishing me "Good Morning". The message, of course, was drawn in chocolate letters. "You could have had two pancakes," says Roo, who oversees the breakfast preparations each morning.
Another reason why people flock to the Chocolate Boutique Hotel is the chocolate workshops. These master-classes are open to all, you don't have to be a resident to attend. They are so popular that Gerry Wilton and his team of enlisted expert- chocolatiers run one sometimes two truffles making classes every weekend. Each course lasts a couple of hours after which the dedicated students get to take their creations home.
Starting with food for thought, each classes offers a brief history of chocolate and its production process from cocoa beans to bar. This is a way of getting to know the chocolatiers and to break the ice. Usually chocolate tasting of well recognised chocolate brands will follow.
Then, under the watchful eyes of an expert chocolatier, attendees learn to temper and make chocolate truffles, Belgian style. Tempering is simply, the secret to making professional chocolates, compulsory in order to produce tasty, shiny and beautiful home made truffles. The ingredients used during the sessions are Belgian chocolate, 64 percent and cream.
Very recently The Chocolate Boutique Hotel started to collaborate with top Belgian chocolatier Laurent Gerbaud. Gerbaud is well known for his very distinctive products which are heavily inspired by his travels in China. When he runs workshops at the Chocolate Boutique Hotel, Gerbaud offers a different and unique experience involving chocolate, wine and spirit tasting. Here chocolate fans gets the chance to explore the art of pairing, matching the different types of sweet delights with appropriate wines and spirits.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the Chocolate Boutique Hotel - my top tip though is to make sure you're not a diet when you go so can really indulge in this wonderfully chocolate-y hotel.
Find out more at www.thechocolateboutiquehotel.co.uk