One of the reasons that Bayonne is truly the capital of chocolate in France is that is represents all the different sides of the story. You can get the traditional (Casenave), the more modern takes (L.Raux) and they also have their own bean to bar chocolate maker, Monsieur Txokola. Two friends, Ronan Lagadec and Cyril Pouil started this a few years back and both have quite a lot of experience in the field of chocolate. You can watch the whole process of going from bean to bar right here in their tiny shop and both are usually on hand to introduce the brand and their work to customers and answer any questions.
I have been to lots of bean to bar makers. They aren’t all equal. Sure, they may all be going through a similar process but as you can learn here there is a science and art to creating a beautiful chocolate bar. It depends on the cocoa beans (and what happens to the beans before they ever arrive here in the store) but it also depends on what the chocolate makers do with these beans. Monsieur Txokola creates stunning bars using very typical flavours. Apart from the cocoa beans themselves, which are from around the world, all of the ingredients used are from France, including peanuts, salt, almonds etc.
They don’t serve hot chocolate in store, at least not when I was there (they do sell a mix you can make at home), but I made a hot chocolate back at my hotel with their 64% dark chocolate with Piment d’Espelette bar (and ate the rest). Piment d’Espelette is incredibly addictive. It’s a chili from the Basque region that you often see hanging from balconies and houses to dry out especially after the harvest in October. This pepper has replaced black pepper in Basque cuisine and isn’t actually that much stronger than pepper but has a nice smokiness to it. You will see it everywhere.
Monsieur Txokola is located just a few blocks from the river, but they didn’t realise at the time how much they actually struck gold. The building right next to them, which used to be a school, is now being renovated to become what promises to be one of the most important art galleries in all of France and, if you believe our guide, all of Europe and beyond. This is because a local artist, who was sponsored by the city for many years, went on to become extremely successful and with his newfound wealth bought a lot of pieces of art which would go on to become worth quite a bit. These have since been donated to the city of Bayonne, along with the artists own works and several other art works from other well known artists. So everyone coming to Bayonne will visit the gallery, and everyone who visits the gallery will have to stop at Monsieur Txokola. Perfect.
There are many other chocolate stops in Bayonne to consider before leaving. L’Atelier du Chocolate is quite famous, although a bit more like a chocolate Disney land. You can watch them tempering chocolate here and there are quite a few educational displays. They make a decadent hot chocolate, complete with chards of chocolate. This brand started in Bayonne but there are now 35 locations around France.
Another must stop is Maison Paries. Here try a mouchou, their version of a macarons which are also originally from this region. Their most famous treats though are the Kanougas, little soft chocolate caramels flavoured with nuts, coffee, vanilla, peanuts or Espelette peppers. Highly addictive.
The A2 bus leaves from just next to the Tourism Office every 15 minutes and costs only 1 euro. It takes 30 minutes to wind its way to Biarritz, another one of my favourite places on the planet and the site of next week’s hot chocolate.
Monsieur Txokola, 11 rue Jacques Laffitte, Bayonne, France