What better way to absorb European culture than to experience firsthand the making of the products that contribute to Europe’s identity?
This two-part guide describes defining European manufacturing processes, some quaint and some modern, and advises the tourist where to go to watch them. Part I describes food manufacturing tours and Part II describes manufacturing tours of factories producing non-edible consumer goods.
Salt was once considered more valuable than gold. What makes salt so special? It’s sought after as both a preservative and a flavor enhancer. Before the advent of refrigeration and artificial preservatives, salt was the way to keep food fresh. Finding and mining it required extensive efforts and, once mined, it was hard to transport due to its solubility. Accordingly, it was expensive.
These three saltworks from three different countries offer families visiting Europe fun-filled opportunities to explore the salt-making process at their factory tours:
Mines De Sel de Bex, Bex, Switzerland
At Mines de Sel de Bex, the salt mines owe their discovery to a goat, a thirsty goat whose preference for specific springs prompted the goat herder to wonder, then experiment, and finally discover the salt crystals. (Special note for kids: next time your teacher mentions groups whose discoveries historically have not received due credit, remember to mention goats!) Bex is a working mine and produces 150 tons of salt each day. Ride a miniature train to the heart of the mine, then complete a one-hour walking circuit through passages, shafts and caverns, discovering along the way how salt springs are identified and how rock is desalinated. If you’re up for a long hike, the mines offer a choice of 5 guided tours lasting 3 ½-5 hours, some with a hot raclette, the traditional Swiss grated potato dish, at the end. The factory tour charges admission. The Bex salt mines are 69 miles south of Bern.
Mines de Sel de Bex
Route des Mines de Sel
P.O. Box 277
Tel. 41 024 463 03 30
Bad Dürrnberg, Hallein, Austria
Wearing traditional white miners’ overalls, hop aboard the salt mine train for a factory tour of the Bad Dürrnberg Hallein salt mine. Slip-slide down a series of chutes to the depths of the mine, then raft across an eerie underground salinated lake. Learn how this “white gold” distinguished the Salzburg area. There’s an admission charge, with family discounts offered.
Tel. 43 6132 20 02 400
Luisenhall Saltworks, Göttingen, Germany
The Luisenhall Saltworks lets visitors inspect the salt extraction and baking process. Luisenhall is the last remaining saltworks in Europe using a 150 year old pan simmering process to crystallize salt. They make salts for therapeutic baths as well as table salt. Best of all, they’ve recently built a bathhouse for visitors. The kids will do cartwheels when they hear about this pool opportunity- the salinated water will hold them aloft, just like the Great Salt Lake in the United States of America.
37081 Göttingen, Germany
Tel. 0551 930 26
To the eternal gratitude of humanity, chocolate-making is ubiquitous in Europe. Opportunities to observe chocolate making are plentiful. So whether you’re in Belgium, Switzerland or Italy, there’s a chocolate factory on the horizon.
Belgian chocolate is reputedly the best in the world. Considering that Belgium produces over 170,000 tons of it each year, the reputation undoubtedly has some merit. Belgian chocolate has intense flavor as it lacks the filler wax used to soften typical American chocolate. The carefully sculpted shell shapes of its hallmark filled pralines are still made by hand in many towns. Alluring flavors unexpectedly complicate the buyer’s choice: violet, red pepper, jasmine, and ginger are among some of the uncommon delights offered. Several chocolate manufacturers in Belgium provide factory tours with tastings. In Brussels, these include:
La Maison du Chocolate
rue des Eperonniers 42-44
Schedule: three tours daily except Sunday at 1, 2, and 3 pm.
rue des Chardons 19
Reservations for groups only. Admission is charged.
Le Chocolatier Manon
rue Tilmont 64
1 ½ hour guided tour; advance reservation required. Admission charge includes a box of chocolates.
rue du Lombard 24
Two hour demonstration of chocolate molding, in French.
Tiny Switzerland is the top country for chocolate consumption, with its natives and visitors gobbling up an annual average in excess of 87,000 tons of chocolate. Several factories in Switzerland offer tours of their chocolate production.
Via Rompada 36
Call to arrange visit weekdays 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. No weekend tours. This combined museum and factory tour allows visitors to watch factory workers mix ingredients and mold chocolate while inhaling delicious chocolate aromas.
Tel. 062 836 26 26
The regular 3 hour factory tour is geared toward groups and does not admit children under 14. However, beginning in March, 2007, a new family factory tour will be added. This 2 hour tour will be offered on Wednesday afternoons beginning at 2 p.m. for family groups of six or less. The tour will be suitable for children ages 4 and up.
Schoggi Land Maestrani
9230 Flawil, Switzerland
Tel. 41 0 71 228 38 88
This tour features video terminals, a gallery and tasting.
Hours: Monday – Friday 9 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m.- 6:00 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Friday afternoon and Saturday hours include do not include actual observation of chocolate production as the factory is closed.
The famous Perugina chocolate empire has been subsumed into the Nestlé family. The guided tour at the factory combines a museum experience with an opportunity to watch the manufacturing process from a catwalk above the factory floor. Sampling the chocolate is an integral part of this tour.Stabilimento Nestlé
San Sisto, Italy
Tel. 075 527 66 35
Call in advance to request an English speaking tour.
Hours of operation: Monday through Friday 9:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. – 6:30pm; Saturday or Sunday 9 a.m. -1 p.m. and 2 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. Admission is free.
Different European countries make delightfully unique cheeses. At these cheese making operations, visitors can observe the different stages of the cheese making process and taste the resulting product.
The famed Roquefort region of France invites tourists to learn about its cheese production methods with a visit to one of the caves where the cheese is made and aged.
Tel. 33 5 65 59 93 30
From the caves to the table, learn about the process used to make distinctive Roquefort cheese and taste a sample. The Roquefort Société charges admission for its tour. Warm clothing recommended. Tour hours vary.
Fromagerie Roquefort Papillon
8 bis avenue de Lauras
Tel. 33 0 5 65 58 50 00
Check the hours for visiting the caves and make reservations on the website.
Tourists can watch the ultimate fondue cheese being made in Gruyere.
La Maison du Gruyere
Tel. 41 0 26 921 84 00
Admission charged. Three to four tours daily; call for seasonal schedule.
Combine a 12th century monastery tour with observation of the monks’ cheese-making process in Engelberg:
Engelberg-Titlis Tourismus AG
Tel. 41 0 41 639 77 77
Tour hours: Wednesday – Saturday 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., reduced hours in May and from October- December.
Tel. 034 435 1611
What makes this cheesemaking experience outstanding is the opportunity for tourists to try their hand at cheese-making (by reservation.) At the two daily tours, one in the morning and one in the afternoon., visitors can see 4 generations of cheese-making equipment. Affoltern is 22 miles northeast of Bern
Tel.033 975 12 36
See cheese being made in the canton’s most modern plant, taste whey and cottage cheese straight from the vat, and then sample the final product.
Well-fed tourists make happy tourists. In Part II, those well-fed happy tourists can move onto factory tours of non-edible consumer products chosen for their ability to captivate a wide audience.