Luxury Travel Review
Luxury Travel Review

Matching US handcrafted fine pens an indulgence when traveling

By Elena del Valle

Photos by Gary Cox

Each pen was packaged in an attractive, sturdy box.

While electronic devices have reduced our need for handwriting to almost nothing they can’t replace the pleasure of holding a fine writing instrument. A tiny bit of joy fills me with every letter I write using a pen or better yet a fountain pen. There is something about the weight of a pen resting between my fingers and the smooth flow of ink onto paper that transports me to a higher plane.

The pocket clip was set with a tiny blue sapphire from Swarovski Gems.

Usually disposable pens are safest when traveling. At the same time, leisure trips sometimes provide opportunities to indulge in writing for pleasure and I miss my nice pens. So it was that I chanced on an idea recently: to take a matching set of handcrafted pens, a rollerball and a fountain pen, William Henry Cabernet RB8-1101 and William Henry Cabernet F8-1101 respectively, from William Henry (William Henry, 3200 NE Rivergate St, McMinnville, Oregon 97128, +1 503 434-9700, www.williamhenry.com, sales@williamhenry.com) on a local trip. As of this writing the fountain pen has been discontinued.

With their caps on I was unable to tell the two pens apart. Once the caps were off it was immediately clear which was which.

I tried the rollerball pen, which retails for $1,600, first. It felt solid yet not heavy and wrote with ease. When a road trip popped up I decided to take both pens rather than leave the untested fountain pen behind. I happened to have a fuchsia leather pen case for two in which they fit.

One of my favorite features was the patent-pending Wavelock™ cap closure system.

The fountain pen (now discontinued) had a dual tone white and yellow 18 karat gold nib.

During the trip, I charged the fountain pen with the single black ink cartridge that came in the case. It took a couple of tries until the ink came out. And, it seemed to require more pressure than I use on my other fountain pens. Once I became accustomed to it I liked the fine elegant letters I was able to form thanks to the German made dual tone white and yellow 18 karat gold medium nib. After a few hours it required several tries to get the fountain pen ink to flow. Placing it in a sealed snack size plastic bag when not using helped a bit, but as of today it still requires scribbling for a few minutes with little to show for it or placing the tip in cold water or running water. This has happened to a lesser extent with other fountain pens.

I liked the understated unisex style of the pens, which require four months to make. Stabilizing the coral takes time, a spokesperson explained by email. In both pens the pocket clip was set with a tiny blue sapphire from Swarovski Gems. The sapphires are from Nigeria, Madagascar or Sri Lanka.

I took both pens on a road trip in a fuchsia leather pen case for two I had.

The pens were made with rare materials, 100,000 year-old fossil coral from the Florida Keys for the barrel and aerospace grade titanium and aluminum. The accents on the carbon fiber cap were from Mokume Gane, a Japanese metalworking procedure, which produces a mixed-metal laminate with distinctive layered patterns, and hand forged Damascus steel. William Henry only manufactured 250 pens in each of the two models.

One of my favorite features was the patent-pending Wavelock™ cap closure system, “a ring of chromium steel balls embedded in a titanium ring captured in wave-shaped grooves in titanium collars for closed and post positions.” The design meant there was always a place for the pen caps, which if I paid attention when I attached them to the pen body always remained secure in place whether the pen was open or closed.

Ink spills and stained leather cases have taught me to avoid flying with fountain pens. Still I miss them during extended trips. Perhaps in the future I will take only the rollerball when I fly, hoping its outer appearance will keep me from missing its fountain pen partner too much.

I was hesitant about selecting a product from a men’s catalog, wondering if the pens would be masculine, heavy or bulky. I need not have given it a thought. I later discovered that about 23 percent of William Henry customers are women. According to a spokesperson, some 75 percent of them purchase a gift, while one quarter purchase for themselves.

There were many features I appreciated about the pens and the company behind them. It began with the distinctive limited production pens themselves as well as the company policies. One of the first to catch my attention was that the products were completed and shipped from the William Henry studio in Oregon. From the hefty case each pen arrived in to the details of the sapphire on the clip and a WH on the top of the pen cap the products were as pretty in person as on the website. And they felt solid yet well balanced when writing. The rollerball is now the first pen I reach for among the many writing instruments on my desk.

William Henry, a small maker of artisan products in Oregon, was founded in 1997 by Matt Conable, the brand’s creative director. The company seeks to work with “some of the most skilled and talented craftsmen, artists and engravers in the world to create products that are timeless, exclusive and strike a personal chord with their owners.” William and Henry are the middle names of the two company founders.

 

Why I liked natural first aid ointment

Article by Scott S. Smith
Photos by Gary Cox

Curoxen was made by an Italian homeopathic medicine company, according to the manufacturer’s website.

A couple of days after receiving a half-ounce tube of Curoxen: First Aid Ointment in the mail, I accidentally cut myself. The ointment soothed the cut immediately. My skin seemed to heal so fast I wasn’t even sure exactly when it happened, perhaps faster than my standard antibiotic ointment. A week later, I couldn’t even remember exactly where the cut had been. I would take Curoxen First Aid with me on my next trip, rather than my usual ointment.

The Curoxen tube said it uses a natural approach as an alternative to conventional treatments to prevent infection, heal and reduce pain for minor wounds, burns, cuts, and scrapes while relying on homeopathy, a European philosophy of “likes cures like” developed in the 18th century. I agree, as the box notes, that “overuse of antibiotics is a global problem.”

According to the company website, Curoxen is available over-the-counter at pharmacies. The half-ounce tube retailed for $9.99 and the one ounce size for $14.99. The active ingredients, per the package were olive extract “2X HPUS and calendula 3X HPUS.” This refers to the standards of the Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States. Homeopathy uses minute amounts of organic substances, which homeopathic doctors believe help specific problems. The 2X and 3X indicate the number of times the ingredient was diluted in the process of making it, so that there is one percent of the olive extract and just one-tenth of a percent of the calendula. The inactive ingredients were oxygenated olive oil and pure essential oil of lavender. The box indicated there were no petroleum products or preservatives. 

The back of the package listed the active homeopathic ingredients and other important information.

According to the website of Curoxen’s parent company OrganiCare (2101 E. St. Elmo Road, Austin Texas 78744, +1 512-401-3572, www.curoxen.com, info@organicare.com), independent in vitro lab tests show that this product “kills over five times more bacteria than antibiotic ointments.” The formula was based on an Italian university discovery of the healing benefits of olive oil when combined with oxygen. Curoxen was manufactured by an Italian homeopathic medicine company, according to the website (I could not find the country of manufacture on the package).

Per her bio, Caroline Goodner, chief executive officer, OrganiCare, founded two genetics companies and was chief executive of a firm specializing in wellness products for new moms. David Shockley, chairman, was described as a biologist focused on innovation in medical devices. Eleanor Piel Womack, M.D. was listed as board certified in internal medicine and anti-aging and regenerative medicine and the company’s medical advisor on the Curoxen website.

Having worked with integrative doctors, who relied on conventional and unorthodox medicine, I have heard of many patients claims to be helped by homeopathy. Also, I have heard anecdotes from pilots who swore by the formula for jet lag, and people who massaged painful legs with an ointment they claimed worked better than anything else. While I don’t believe the effectiveness of homeopathy has been proven in humans, it’s hard for me to dismiss my experience with this ointment as purely psychosomatic.

Rose Garden unexpected and fragrant delight during Ringling visit

By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox*

On a spring visit to the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Florida we discovered the Mable Ringling Rose Garden (John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, 5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota, Florida 34243, +1 941-359-5700 ext 2109, https://www.ringling.org/, Karen.smith@ringling.org). It was one of those sunny yet chilly and breezy days that is perfect for outdoor strolling. We saw the garden on our way to John and Mable’s storied home, now a museum, and made a point of stopping.

A signs described the history of the rose garden.

It was one of the highlights of our visit. I especially enjoyed the often fragrant flowers in 18 hues (the American Rose Society recognizes 18 colors of roses, a Ringling spokesperson explained by email), each with a name tag at the foot of the bush. The new name tags indicated if the rose was fragrant, Karen Smith, MSc., curator since 2015, Mable Ringling Rose Garden, explained when I asked about a particular flower a volunteer had suggested I see.

Flower fragrance is not a straightforward matter it turns out. It varies, according to the ratings of the American Rose Society, from Strong, Moderate and Mild, to None. So many roses were scented I was not surprised to discover 81 percent of the roses had some scent.

One of the paths lined with statues

At the time of our visit, excluding the miniatures and miniflora’s, 40 percent of the roses had a Strong scent, 19 percent Moderate, 22 percent Mild and 19 percent had no fragrance.

Ms. Smith is a former research scientist in the neuroscience field. Throughout thirty years in science, horticulture was always a part of her life. Care of the garden was no accident. Although she was the only employee dedicated to the garden when needed six estate gardeners were available to lend a hand. And 26 volunteers, including 15 seasonal visitors to the area, worked in the garden from three to 12 hours per month.

Karen Smith, MSc., curator, Mable Ringling Rose Garden

There are many challenges and stresses that can affect rose plants, the garden curator explained. She relies on Best Management Practices and a weekly monitoring system during which more than 100 bushes are inspected each week.

“A rating is given for pests and diseases,” she said by email. “If it is determined that the disease or pest is at a level that is unacceptable, treatment occurs. We use the safest treatment possible for each situation. For example when the weather is cool enough we will use Neem Oil as our pesticide for Aphids, Mites, Thrip, and Scale. Every spring we remove the old mulch and bring in 75 cubic yards of compost, fertilize, and re-mulch

When asked for fertilizer specifics she shared details generously, “Currently for fertilizer we use a 4-3-4 Turkey Manure (Mighty Grow) and 16-0-0 Blood meal – each four times a year. Supplement with a Sul-Po-Mag (0-0-22) twice a year. For example to fertilize once using the Mighty Grow takes 650 lbs.”

What are the best months to see the roses in bloom and at their most fragrant? December and January as well as March and April. In 2017 Hurricane Irma caused some damage to the garden so it was not at its prettiest during our visit.

“We have two cut-backs a year, one in February and one in September, the garden curator said. “The large blooms occur approximately 8 weeks after cutback. It take us 3 weeks to complete the cutback- therefore the bloom is in phases comparable to the cutback.”

Many visitors strolled through the garden on the day of our visit.

We later discovered the garden dates back to 1913. Sadly, none of the plants from Mable’s era remain. The garden consists of 1,200 rose plants introduced between 1793 and 2002, among them Tree Roses, Hybrid Teas, Floribundas, Grandifloras, miniature roses, shrubs, Old Garden Roses (varieties introduced prior to 1867). Among them was a rose dedicated to Mable.

The Italian inspired Rose Garden has a circular wagon wheel design.

(Click photo to view full size)

The 27,225 square foot Italian inspired Rose Garden has a circular wagon wheel design and pathways lined with garden sculptures of courting couples in pastoral scenes. By the late 1930s the estate and the garden fell into disrepair. Many years passed before it returned to a state similar to the one we saw during our visit. By 2004 the garden was restored thanks to the efforts of the resident horticulturist, Ron Mallory and the volunteers he recruited.

It received accreditation from the All-American Rose Selections in 2004, and recognition in 2006 as the most outstanding All-American Rose Selections Public Rose Garden in the nation.

*Aerial photo of the Rose Garden (date unknown) courtesy of the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art

Luxury is workout facilities on safari

By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox

We go on safari to see nature. Thankfully that does not always mean missing out on exercise.

While on safari safety is a priority. Frequently wild animals, some of them dangerous, roam freely near the luxury lodges where guests stay. They may stroll through the property. This means that in many places staff escorts are required for guests at night and sometimes in the early morning around dawn. At the dozens of properties where I have stayed, with some exceptions, jogging and running were discouraged or not allowed. This makes exercising beyond in-room basic stretching difficult.

The two swimming pools at Singita Ebony were large enough for laps.

The workout room at Lukimbi was open air.

I suspect that many fitness aficionados smile with pleasure on discovering somewhere to safely stretch their legs while in the African bush. Yet running, jogging and exercise in general were difficult or not possible in many of the Big Five properties I have visited, especially in those without electric fences surrounding the property itself. That is why I remember the lodges with a full length swimming pool or a dedicated workout area with particular fondness.

While at Fitzpatrick’s Lodge at Jock Safari Lodge we had access to the Jock exercise room a short drive away.

The open air workout area at Camp Jabulani was covered

While on safari days fly by in a blur of activities, mainly twice daily game drives and sometimes guided walks. Early mornings and three course dinners make finding time to exercise a challenge. For those willing to do so having a pool to swim laps, treadmill, elliptical machine or free weights can be the ultimate luxury. On our  2017 trip to South Africa, several five star safari lodges, Lukimbi Safari Lodge, Fitzpatrick’s Lodge at Jock Safari Lodge (www.jocksafarilodge.com, +27 (0) 13 010 0019, Fax  +27 (0) 86 601 9961, Reservations@jocksafarilodge.com), Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge, Singita Ebony, Simbambili Game Lodge, and Camp Jabulani, had fitness facilities.

The air conditioned exercise room at Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge with a pretty view was a favorite.

The workout room at Jock’s had a rack of dumbbells and a slanted bench

Lukimbi, on the southern end of the well known Kruger National Park, had an open air fitness and treatment room facing the lawn and bush across the Lwakahle River. The pool was visible from the workout room as well. The room housed a workout space with weights station, Running Machine, Cycle, and Step Machine.

I liked the glass wall at the air conditioned Singita Ebony workout room, which was in the same building as the spa.

Earth lodge featured a variety of aerobic machines and a resistance circuit machine.

As a guest at Fitzpatrick’s I had access to the small workout room within the Jock’s Safari Lodge 150 square meter spa building. The sister properties were within a two minute drive. Anelda, our friendly host, kindly drove me over from Fitzpatrick’s to Jock’s. The visit also provided me an opportunity to browse in the curio shop as Fitzpatrick’s was too small for its own shopping space. When I was ready to return I asked the staff person at Jock’s to call her. Within minutes she picked me up. Thanks to the room’s glass wall I enjoyed bush views during my workout. A thirty minute careful jog along the property’s wet pathways (it rained during most of our three night stay) rounded out my morning.

Simbambili had an indoor workout room in the same building as its meeting room.

While this cub could exercise safely in the reserve the humans had to stay indoors.

Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge, one of our favorite properties on that trip, had a dedicated air conditioned 50 square meter (5 meter by 10 meter) workout room in a stand alone building. Some of the workout room’s glass walls faced the bush and a water feature. I especially enjoyed watching the many birds attracted by the water feature in the morning during my workout. The fitness room housed two treadmills (Impulse AC2970), spinning bicycle (Gym Source Tour), water rower (Water Rower Club), Multigym (Impact FIT200 Classic), freestanding bench, Kettle Bells in two kilo increments ranging from four to eight kilos, two Pilates balls, three yoga mats. Amenities include chilled sparkling and still mineral water, Powerade, hand towels, sanitizing spray and paper rolls. I later found out there is an adjoining shower for guests who wish to freshen up.

“The beauty of the location of the gym is such is that it does not impact on the main lodge but is hidden away and also blends into the environment,” said Heath Thompson, lodge manager, via email when asked what makes the gym stand out. “The structure is built with the same concept as that of the main lodge with a natural, organic type structure and the majority of the gym is glass, with views of a waterhole – allowing for uninterrupted views of the bush veld whilst training or exercising. We have often had remarks from our guests who have spotted elephant drinking from the waterhole. The bird life is also phenomenal due to the availability of a water source.”

A fan of bush walks he added, “Whilst this performs the mainstream basis of keeping fit (from all that delicious food of course), there is also the opportunity to go on one of our environmental awareness walking safaris, so whilst this is not traditionally an ‘exercise’ based excursion and the idea behind this is to expose guests to a safari from a different angle and experience the “small stuff” that one generally misses whilst out on a an open vehicle, it does nonetheless necessitate walking (up to 1.5 hours). So whilst gaining a holistic experience of the African bush from a walking perspective, one’s body also benefits from the walking.”

The workout machines at Camp Jabulani were under thatch next to the massage area.

Singita Ebony’s fitness room shared a building with the spa. The air conditioned space had wood floors, a row of machines, and a bush facing glass wall. In addition to our en suite heated private plunge pools (a favorite) Singita Ebony also had two common area swimming pools. Although the water was chilly it was wonderful to have a midday swim to offset the blistering summer heat.

“Singita Ebony Lodge has a very unique bush spa with gym attached,” said Chantelle Maritz, co-manager, Singita Ebony Lodge. “The two rooms at the spa are comfortable and decorated alongside the classic safari look with sliding doors that open. The gym side is a rock wall with large glass windows.”

The 49 square meter (11.3 meter by 4.3 meter) gym was stocked with individual size bottled water and coconut water, towels, television and two showers (shared with spa guests).

As of May 2018 the gym offered the following weights in kilos: 10 to 20 sizes, kettle bells in 4, 8 and 16 kilos, medicine balls in 3 and 5 kilos. There were: foam roller, five floor mats, yoga block, two wellness balls and Technogym equipment: bench, two treadmills, two exercise bicycles, multi-functional trainer, shoulder press machine, chest press machine, cable station, leg extension, and vertical traction machine.

While seeing the animals is still the best part being able to exercise is healthful. 

Camp Jabulani had a steam room and sauna.

Our three-bedroom, three bathroom Zindoga Villa accommodations at Camp Jabulani were so spacious and comfortable I had little need to spend time in the common areas with the exception was the dining room at meal times. The pretty 53 square meter open air workout area, equipped with: Johnson multipurpose machine, static bicycle and Johnson rowing machine, Trojan treadmill, six sets of free weight Trojan dumbbells and Detecto scale, was inviting. There was also a new looking six square meter sauna with a glass wall. Had we spent another night at the property I would have made time to work out; and should we plan a future safari trip to the area Camp Jabulani will be high on my list, among other reasons, for its workout facility. For more South Africa safari properties with workout facilities when we were there see Safari properties that offered exercise facilities among favorites.

New book inspired me to expand my travel bucket list

By Scott S. Smith*

Atlas of Empires

I’ve been hooked on visiting destinations that played some important role in history from the moment I first set foot on foreign soil at 19 in what was then called West Germany (where my jaw stayed dropped for two years just looking at the ancient architecture). I’ve been fortunate in having had a chance to write extensively about the events and leaders of the past, and I’ve learned that there is no book, film, or website that can replace the 3-D experience of being at ground zero of some world-changing moment (usually served by a cutting-edge local museum that can thrive at a place of pilgrimage for history buffs).

That said, Atlas of Empires: The World’s Great Powers from Ancient Times to Today by Peter Davidson (Fox Chapel Publishing, $19.99), a 240-page paperback published in 2018, comes close to being a time machine that immersed me in its pages. When I read history in hard copy, I’m used to having to highlight the text I think I will need when I write (or if it’s an overview covering a topic I think I know, I listen to CDs when on long drives or stuck in traffic, usually from the estimable Teaching Company). I found myself underlining passages on almost every page of Davidson’s tome.

What I don’t tend to do with books is study the graphics, unless they involve battlefield movements. But this Atlas was a revelation of global history for me. Its text and pictures prompted me to make connections between empires and events, reminding me of facts I had forgotten, and enriching my future travels, even illuminating my past trips. Davidson (co-author of Milestones of History and a director of documentaries for the History Channel) wrote a remarkably concise yet thorough summary of the major events of world history, describing how each civilization grew and the causes for its disappearance or its evolution into today’s nations.

Circa 2005, detail showing the destruction of the black Africans painted on the box of stuccoed wood, from the tomb of the pharaoh Tutankhamun. (Image by ©Robert Harding World Imagery/Corbis)

It’s one thing to recall that Egypt’s Old Kingdom, whose pharaohs built the first pyramids, lasted five centuries, B.C. 2686 to 2181 (BCE for the politically correct). But even though I had made my first book report on Egypt in third grade and had the honor of having the country’s head of antiquities, Zahi Hawas, as our guide through the stunning Cairo Museum, I had forgotten that the Middle and New Kingdoms also lasted a half century each. The thumbnail sketches of the great pharaohs highlight their astonishingly long reigns. For example, Thutmose III, who was constantly on the front lines and expanded the empire to its farthest reaches, died after 54 years on the throne. Rameses II built many of the great monuments during his 67 years in power. Yet Tutankhamun, whose treasures are touring the United States as I write, only lasted nine years as pharaoh.

The chapter on Persia is a reminder of how well some far-flung ancient empires were managed, despite staggering challenges in communications, logistics, and cultural differences. The godfather of the study of modern business management, Peter Drucker, was once asked who the greatest leader in history was. His answer surprised many (and implied it’s been downhill since): Cyrus the Great, who became leader of the Persian tribes in 559 B.C. and died in battle in today’s Kazakhstan in 530. He fostered goodwill and loyalty by promoting religious tolerance and is mentioned 22 times in the Bible, having freed the Jews to return to Israel in 538 after 48 years of captivity in Babylonia (Cyrus is said to be the only gentile who was ever declared a “messiah”). With Iran constantly in the news for the past four decades, it’s helpful to know how it fits into the Persian empire it identifies with. That stretched north to include what is now Uzbekistan (the city of Samarkand is one of the world’s great and largely undiscovered destinations), east to encompass Afghanistan and Pakistan, and west to take in part of modern Greece, Turkey, and Egypt.

The text is full of facts that surprised me: Sparta’s population was 80 percent slaves (compared to Athens’ 30 percent); celibacy was only insisted on for all clergy by the pope in 1074; 240,000 were killed in the final battle for the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan; the Inca empire, which stretched 3,000 miles, was managed without writing; 20,000 of the African American slaves who fought against the colonists during the American Revolution left with the British afterwards; in 1839, the Chinese dumped 20,000 chests of opium into the sea, which had been delivered by British traders, so the United Kingdom’s government retaliated by sending gunships to annex Hong Kong and open five new ports.

Use of Greek Fire: Byzantine manuscript illumination from the Skylitzes Codex, 13th-14th centuries.

 

While the book’s art is often eye-catching (such as statues depicting Genghis Kahn’s mounted warriors near Mongolia’s capital of Ulaanbaatar, Byzantine sailors spraying Arab ships with mysterious “liquid fire”), the reason this volume is essential for me as a serious history traveler is the maps. By using different shades to denote where and when empires expanded, even newbies to historical geography can quickly grasp the flow of conquest or assimilation. There are also symbols that show what the most important economic resources were for the region, including slaves, obsidian, and hemp. Gold made Mansa Musa of the Kingdom of Mali in northwest Africa the wealthiest man of all time with $400 billion in today’s money (ruling from 1312 to 1337 A.D. BCE). Davidson is particularly good at working in business history, such as how and where tiny Netherlands created a far-flung commercial empire by taking advantage of new technology and financial systems.

The maps make clear the vast territory that the Mongols conquered (from eastern Europe east, including most of the Middle East, Central Asia, Russia, and China), where precisely the first global empire, Spain’s, was located; and what it meant for the sun to never set over land where the British queen reigned. The maps that break down Chinese history helped me as a non-specialist understand the territory ruled by the dynasties of the Qin, Han, Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming, and Qing, and how they were culturally different (under the Ming, Admiral Zheng’s large fleets sailed as far as Africa. I think Gavin Menzies makes compelling arguments for his foray across the Pacific in 1421: The Year China Discovered America).

The Second British Empire (click to enlarge)

Also valuable is the recommended list of books for each chapter for readers who would like to know more about the people, stories, and meaning of history without being drowned in the details of scholarship. I plan to give this book the time it deserves by taking it on a trip to read the short chapters and study the maps in spare moments, like waiting in line at the airport. If I wasn’t making historical destinations a priority before, I have a much longer bucket list now that I finished reading it.

*Photos courtesy Fox Chapel Publishing

Our Artisanal Dark Chocolate Tasting

Article by Margot Liebman
Photos by Aaron Lubarsky*

The selection of Solstice bars I tasted.

When a small box appeared in the mail one afternoon in late December, I was pleasantly surprised. Inside were eight sleek bars of chocolate from Solstice Chocolate, a premier American artisan chocolate maker in Salt Lake City, Utah (Solstice Chocolate, Inc., 469 West Century Drive, Salt Lake City, Utah 84123, +1- 801-871-5935, www.solsticechocolate.com, info@solsticechocolate.com). Each bar was dressed in a smooth, thick paper and foil package that resealed at the top to keep the chocolate inside fresh; and color coded with bold type indicating its origin, cacao percentage, and brand name.

The packaging described the source of the cacao beans used to make it. 

The Solstice website, describes its products as a “bean-to-bar chocolate” that is handcrafted using the finest single origin cacao from all over the world. With names like India, Madagascar, and Tanzania, it was easy to know where a bar’s beans originated. I imagined that each bar would taste quite different, but quickly learned that the differences were subtle. From bean delivery to getting packaged bars out the door Solstice allotted between seven and ten days for production.

“Our chocolate is known for having bright flavors. Our origin varieties range from fruity to earthy; there’s something for everyone,” said DeAnn Wallin, owner, Solstice Chocolate when asked by email what distinguishes Solstice products from those of other chocolate makers. “Our bars stand out, each having its own personality, so to speak, and each can be distinguished from the others. Our style is also reflected through uncluttered packaging with bold colors.”

As a milk chocolate lover, it took me a while to appreciate the dark, intense flavor of the Solstice Chocolates. Most of the bars tasted earthy and bitter, and were almost waxy in consistency. Save the one bar of milk chocolate, all the bars boasted 70 percent cacao. That said, it was fascinating to savor the different notes in each bar, and to think about the harvesting conditions that must play a role in how the beans grow.

The bars displayed the percentage of cocoa.

I first tasted Uganda, which had a bitter tone that left hints of berries on my palette. Second I sampled Ecuador. When I looked on the Solstice website, I saw that Ecuador was handcrafted from cacao grown by Camino Verde Estate, a farm located near the southern coastline of Ecuador with an unusual fermentation method. It was a strong flavor, with sweet aromatics and hints of banana and cream. The next one was Bolivia. At first bite, a wave of nostalgia rushed over me. I quickly realized the bar reminded me of baking chocolate. It tasted of honey, nuts, and favorite memories of making chocolate desserts.

When asked how her company selects the beans Wallin replied, “Networking through trusted sources. We receive cacao samples on a regular basis. If one interests us then we test it, research it and decide if we want to invest in using it.”

Tanzania was fruitier, smoother and a bit more tart than the previous bars. Wasatch was exciting, and had an unexpected spiciness. India was more complex than some of the others, with tangy flavor notes and hints of earthy spice. Madagascar was more of a slow experience, as most of the flavors came to me a few moments after the piece had already melted on my tongue. There was a strong citrus tone, and when I looked at the Solstice website I learned that those flavors are believed to be a result of former fruit plantations enriching the soil during French Colonial times.

The bars were molded with a sunburst shape in the center of each square.

For my last delicious morsel, I saved the milk chocolate. The package indicated that the bar was 54 percent cacao, where the dark chocolates were 70 percent cacao. The flavor was denser, and not as milky in texture as other milk chocolates I have sampled. I tasted subtle hints of graham cracker, but that may have been wishful thinking for a s’more.

Solstice Chocolate bars were lovely to look at. The packaging employed a celebratory color palette, and each bar was clearly labeled. A white dot on the country of origin map on the back of the package indicated where the beans were farmed. Knowing where the beans were sourced helped me enjoy the chocolate bars in a different way. I found myself looking for subtleties and thinking about the story of each chocolate in an interesting way. Based on my experience, I would recommend Solstice Chocolate to my friends who like dark chocolate.

The packaging included a closure to reseal it after opening. 

Editor’s note: We asked two of our contributors who are dark chocolate lovers to sample Solstice chocolates in February 2018 as well. Here is what they found.

We compared the Solstice Chocolate Madagascar 70 percent Sambirano, a 2.3 ounce bar, with a well-known premium European dark chocolate bar with a similar cacao content and were stunned by the difference in the two. We blended each with hot water and tasted them side by side. Where the hot drink made from the European bar was almost lumpy in texture, had a milky undertone and muted flat flavor the Solstice hot drink was smooth in texture and taste, with a layered tart flavor that was rich with just a hint of pleasant bitterness. It remains memorable after several weeks.

Melting the chocolate into a couple of ounces of hot water created a delectable drink. 

We also liked the Bolivia 70 percent Palos Blancos, which came in a 2.3 ounce bar. For a contrast we also sampled the Solstice Chocolate Coconut American Artisan White Chocolate, a 2.2 ounce bar. The coconut burst through immediately past the sweet and buttery texture of the butter colored pieces to become an instant favorite.

We appreciated the simplicity of the ingredients. The Sambirano and Palos Blancos ingredients were organic cacao bean, organic cane sugar and organic cocoa butter. The white chocolate was made with cocoa butter, whole milk, organic coconut, organic cane sugar, and pure vanilla extract.

*The final photo is by Gary Cox.

"First hand information and photos of outstanding destinations, luxurious accommodations, voyages, products, restaurants, spas and attractions for the discriminating traveler. "

Subscribe to our Newsletter


Sponsors