“We don’t just make pastries, we also make dreams.”
I knew it was a quest the moment the bus driver stopped the bus in the middle of the road to get out and deliver a package to the warehouse across the street. We exchanged bewildered glances with the other passengers as the door of the bus stood ajar and the ignition still on.
We were in route to Rute, a remote village in the mountains of Córdoba. Rute’s claim to fame is its plethora of creative museums, such as, the Jamón Museum, the Turrón Museum, the Sugar Museum, and the Chocolate Museum. During the year, it is a quiet town. During Christmas, its streets fill with tourists from all over Andalusia, eager to discover the answer to the question you probably have too — what on Earth is in a Sugar Museum? By car, it’s about an hour away. By bus, it’s 2 (if you’re lucky.)
They say that every great quest begins with an objective and ours was to see the famed “Biggest Chocolate Nativity Scene in the World,” located at the Chocolate Museum. It was a no-brainer; I love chocolate and I love nativity scenes. Of course I was going to see it.
With a strong Catholic tradition, religious holidays are a big deal in Spain and Christmas is an Event. By mid-November, the Christmas Market was already set up in the Plaza de Tendillas and they had already finished hanging all the lights in the streets. Let’s remember that Christmas isn’t until December 25th, everyone.
So if you’re thinking about planning your day trip to Rute, let me give you a list of not-to-miss highlights:
This awesome restaurant/bar featuring an Italian chef with Italian-approved pizza. Here’s where we took shelter after my roommate became so motion-sick she was convinced she was going to die. (Don’t worry, Monica was just fine after a quick stop in at the local ER.)
Both the patrons and the owners were so kind to us, they even called the chef to come in early when we begged them to cook us dinner at the unheard of hour of 8 pm. We may have had to endure 2 hours of nonstop Bob Marley playing over the speakers, but it was some of the best pizza I’ve had in a while.
The restaurant was also located right in front of the bus stop where we waited for the last bus out of Rute, at 9:10, only to be told (by pure chance) that we were at the wrong stop and if the kindly stranger had not passed by at that exact time we would have effectively been stranded until the next day.
2. The A-331 Highway
When we finally entered the town, I had glanced out the window and noticed that we were passing the Chocolate Museum and that it was not, in fact, located neatly in the center of town. It was on the side of the highway and was rapidly receding behind us.
I asked the waiter at the Italian place, “So, uh, how do we get to the Chocolate Museum?”
He looked down the street and squinted.
“You just follow this road and it’s straight down the hill.”
In this instance, naturally, road=curvy, mountain highway.
“Can we walk? Isn’t it dangerous?”
He gave me a look. “Yeah, of course you can.”
So we walked alongside the highway like nomadic hitchhikers, clutching the side of the guardrail and channeling our inner mountain goat as the ground slowly disappeared beneath our feet.
The good thing about walking alongside a highway is that it gives you a great opportunity to take in the lovely scenery all around you… just make sure you watch out for the passing tractors.
4. Pope Francis aka Papa Francisco
Though this is called a “museum,” it’s actually just a factory. You enter the building and climb the stairs, grooving to cheerful rumbas music and can peer down onto the factory floor which is kind of anti-climatic, to be honest. There were a lot of boxes and few people and a couple sheets of dough out on an assembly line.
You move along the walkway and enter another room. The soft, lilting strands of Ave Maria greet you as you catch a glimpse of the guests of honor – the royal family. Made entire of chocolate.
But what’s with the “Ave Maria”? you wonder. Isn’t that a little dramatic? And then you see the white chocolate Pope and it all makes sense. That’s right. Pope Francis aka Papa Francisco is life-sized, smiling, and made from 320 kilograms of finely sculpted chocolate. Did I mention the room smells amazing?
4. The Biggest Chocolate Nativity Scene in the World
From the hallowed hall of chocolate figurines, you climb down a flight of stairs and walk into another room and you see it: the Biggest Chocolate Nativity Scene in the World. In Spanish, these are called “portales de Belén” and are everywhere. But they’re most certainly not always made of chocolate.
I was blown away. You almost miss Jesus in the manager amongst the five wonders of the world, including the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, just to name a few. Let’s keep in mind that everything in this 52 square meter display is made of 1,400 kg chocolate–we’re talking chocolate pottery, chocolate trees, chocolate shoes, chocolate street vendors, chocolate fruit, chocolate bread loaves!
If there’s anything to make you feel like a little kid again, it’s a huge block of chocolate. We had to restrain ourselves from pressing our noses up against the glass because we couldn’t believe the intricacy and craftsmanship of this incredible creation.
But the best part is that, at the end of the Christmas season, the museum melts down their hard work into hot chocolate and uses it to feed more that 800 children in local schools. Awww.
So was it all worth it?
Absolutely not. To be honest, now every time I hear the name “Rute,” I have a little involuntary shiver of fear.
That being said, we still managed to have a good time. Why, you may ask? Because we never lost our ability to laugh. And that’s the key to everything, my friends.
(Also chocolate helps.)
If you find yourself so inspired to go forth and experience this for yourself, Rute is accessible from Cordoba by the Autocares Carrera bus line. The Chocolate Museum is open October – December, everyday from 10-2 and 5-7.