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7 Best Chocolatiers for Sweet Holiday Giving

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We're all guilty of giving one of those grocery-store chocolate samplers when we're stuck for a gift idea. This Valentine's Day, pick up something special for your loved one from one of the world's best chocolatiers while you're on your travels. Here are our top picks.

1. Jean Philippe Patisserie in Las Vegas

The world-class Bellagio resort in Vegas is home to a world-class chocolatier: Jean Philippe Patisserie. Once you get past the awe-inspiring fountain with its cascades of melting chocolate, you can shop for confections created by Executive Pastry Chef Jean Philippe Maury. Signature truffle collections come in an array of sizes with a dizzying choice of flavors like Grand Marnier, praline, and pistachio. Gift idea: the Jean Philippe Patisserie heart-shaped keepsake box, filled with Grand Marnier truffles, cognac truffles, and a red, foil-wrapped praline heart.

2. L. A. Burdick Handmade Chocolates in New York City

You might know L. A. Burdick as the shop that makes those adorable boxes of chocolate mice. The mice make lovely gifts (as do the equally adorable chocolate penguins), but any of the European-inspired chocolate maker's confections would be a special treat, especially considering that they are all made, shaped and decorated by hand. The chocolate assortments come in a multitude of sizes and feature a selection of pretty, unique chocolates, usually with a chocolate mouse or two peeking out. If you're not planning a trip to NYC, the shop has sister locations in Boston and Cambridge, MA, and Walpole, NH. Gift idea: for women looking for chocolate gifts for men, L. A. Burdick's chocolate cigars are the perfect pick.

3. Pierre Hermé in Paris

Vogue magazine called Pierre Hermé the "Picasso of pastry," which testifies to not only his fame as a confectioner but also his unique qualities. While Hermé is heir to a pastry-making tradition that goes back four decades, his chocolates reflect modern tastes and sensibilities with their sleek design and packaging. The truffles, chocolates, and bars marry exquisite chocolate with complementary ingredients like fleur de sel, candied ginger and toasted hazelnuts. The shop also makes candy confections like nougats and caramels for those who want an alternative to chocolate. Gift idea: the Tablette Exubérant, a luxurious creation that is part chocolate bar and part cake, featuring dark chocolate from Venezuela, bits of salted-butter caramel and almonds roasted with salt and pepper.

4. Xocolatti in New York City

Xocolatti's Tower was recently featured as one of Oprah's "Favorite Things" in her popular annual round-up, and it's hard not to love everything about the beautifully stacked, wafer-thin chocolates. The chocolate maker's chocolate, sourced from all over the globe, is just as delicious in other shapes and forms as well, from their truffles to their clusters. Each one is beautiful on its own. The Champagne Brut truffle glistens like silver, while the Orange Tangerine Truffle has a coating reminiscent of a fuzzy peach skin. Gift Idea: the Tiramisu Slate, combining the flavors of everyone's favorite Italian dessert into a brittle slate of chocolate, is an option that's just dying to be snapped in two and enjoyed.

5. Christopher Norman Chocolates in New York City

Fine chocolates are special enough on their own, but it's hard to imagine anything more special than Christopher Norman's creations. Norman brought his art background to his chocolate shop, and so every decorated item is hand painted to look like a true work of art. The result is as beautiful as it is delicious. Keep an eye out for the chocolate pears, each fruit enrobed in hand-marbled chocolate to look like a sculpture. Gift idea: hand-painted chocolate hearts, which can even be personalized for Valentine's Day.

6. Recchiuti Confections in San Francisco

Michael Recchiuti has become one San Francisco's favorite chocolatiers by crafting sweets that range from the simple to the sublime. Customer favorites include the Key lime-infused chocolate-covered pear slices, the lush quadruple chocolate brownies, and the shop-made peppermint patties. The boxed chocolate collections are a delight, filled with classics (some emblazoned with San Francisco landmarks) and unique flavors. Collections include flavors like Burnt Caramel Truffle, Piedmont Hazelnut, and Fleur de Sel Caramel. Gift idea: Champagne Truffles, dusted in powder-white confectioner's sugar and sold in a white box with a crimson ribbon.

7. Daily Chocolate in Vergennes, Vermont

Proof that you don't have to go to the big city to get sophisticated chocolates, Daily Chocolate is nestled instead in a quaint Vermont village. The chocolate shop makes their chocolates daily, as the name suggests, in small batches using locally sourced ingredients like Vermont maple syrup and local dairy cream. You can taste the difference in their popular Black Rum Caramels and Lemon Lavender Bark (the latter made with a creamy white chocolate that contains no corn syrup). The line-up of sweets on offer changes regularly and frequently, but don't despair if your favorite isn't in stock for the day: every creation is delicious. Gift idea: one or two-pound box assortment of the just-made chocolates on hand.

As long as you're traveling in cool or moderate climates, chocolate travels perfectly well in your suitcase so you can surprise your loved one when you return home for Valentine's Day. Don't forget travel insurance, though! Allianz Travel Insurance also takes the worry out of shopping for gifts away from home. If your luggage is lost or stolen, they'll reimburse you up to $1,000 to cover your items.

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Feb 03, 2017