In the 1994 Academy Award-winning film Forrest Gump, the title character sat at a bus stop and passed along a simple life lesson—“Mama always said, ‘Life is like a box of chocolates: You never know what you’re gonna get.’” With that in mind, Forrest Gump (played by Tom Hanks) took on new adventures and met a host of interesting people along the way.
In that same spirit of exploration and chocolate surprises, the Bed & Breakfast Inns of the Scenic St. Croix River Valley is once again holding its annual Chocolate March this month.
Dan Jarvis, co-owner of The Afton House in Afton, Minn., says Inns of the Valley formed 17 years ago “to create opportunities for some of the smaller inns along the river, from Marine to Hastings, to work together to promote tourism in the St. Croix Valley and to ensure our guests have the best experiences possible.”
The Chocolate March came out of that collaboration. “We started this event 13 years ago because we thought it would be a perfect time of the year to do a chocolate tasting and room tours, and to give people the opportunity to tour the different inns. We hoped that people would be interested in coming back to stay with us sometime,” Jarvis says. “The event has grown every year since we started it. We typically sell it out with roughly 500 visitors each weekend.”
According to Kathy Jarvis, co-owner of The Afton House, they typically offer petit fours, a chocolate fountain and house-made chocolate truffles by chef Ryan Kaliher.
“In addition, local sponsors will offer wine tastings, and there is always a historic stop each weekend,” Kathy Jarvis says. “And, if you do decide to spend a night at one of the venues [during the month of March], you receive a complimentary ticket for the tour.”
In addition to bringing people to the St Croix Valley, the event is a way for the participating inns to give back to their communities. “We donate a portion of the chocolate tour’s proceeds to two local charities, Second Harvest Heartland and Animal Ark,” Kathy Jarvis says.
Joining the Chocolate March was an easy decision for Mary Ellen and Rich Cox, innkeepers at The Phipps Inn in Hudson, Wis. After all, the couple is so fond of chocolate that their lodging guests always receive dessert as part of a decadent morning breakfast. “Our Chocolate March menu always includes Knoke’s Chocolates, locally made in Hudson, as well as items I bake from scratch, such as cookies, bars or chocolate mousse,” Mary Ellen Cox says.
The Phipps Inn is a luxurious 1884 Victorian mansion located on Hudson’s historic Third Street. “I’m proud of our historic home and enjoy sharing it with people. We like to say we’re close to home, yet 100 years away,” says Cox, who lives and works onsite. “We’re located near downtown Hudson, so it’s very easy for our guests to find a good restaurant or shopping while they’re here.”
Another spot on the tour is The Water Street Inn in downtown Stillwater, Minn., located in the Lumber Exchange Building, which was constructed in 1890 by lumber barons and renovated, then opened, as a historic hotel in 1995. Its innkeeper, Chuck Dougherty, says the event “gets people to go out in March and see some of the different locations in the area. Not to mention, people always love chocolate.” The inn’s restaurant, Charlie’s Irish Restaurant and Pub, will prepare an assortment of desserts for the tour. In years past, the inn has offered chocolate truffles, dipped strawberries, ganache-filled chocolate cups and chocolate-dipped biscotti.
“Many of the locations on the tour will offer wine with the chocolate. Since we have an Irish pub, our guests will be able to sample Guinness,” Dougherty says. When asked if the Irish dry stout pairs best with dark chocolate, he laughs: “Guinness goes with everything.”
Tickets are limited and available at innsofthevalley.com or by calling 651.998.0185. Advance tickets cost $26/person; cost is $30/person on day of event. Each ticket includes a self-guided tour with chocolate and wine tastings, and room tours at each location.