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Treat Your Sweet Tooth to Maryland's Candy Land

Sunday, September 28, 2008

WHERE: Harford County, Md.

WHY: Chocolate crabs, ice cream fresh from the cow and free dessert.

HOW FAR: About 22 miles from start to finish, and about 65 miles from Washington.

Maryland is known for crabs, but Harford County is the place for chocolate crabs.

Located about 20 miles northeast of Baltimore and where the Susquehanna River meets the Chesapeake Bay, the Maryland county has more family-owned bakeries, homemade-chocolate stores, creameries and sweet shops than should be permitted in one jurisdiction. (Let's hope they have an inordinate number of dentists, too.)

The towns there include Bel Air, Aberdeen and Havre de Grace. Each has its own flavor, but all move at a wonderfully slow pace, like a lazy chocolate river in Candy Land. Bel Air, the county seat, has a lively, recently redeveloped Main Street and, most important, is the site of the annual Bel Air Chocolate Festival in March. Aberdeen is the home of the Ripken baseball dynasty and Ripken Stadium, where you can find peanuts, Cracker Jack and cotton candy. And Havre de Grace, on the waterfront, is filled with antiques shops, boutiques and duck decoys.

Despite the towns' differences, they all share a taste for the sweet things in life. "It's unusual to have chocolate shops or old-fashioned bakeries these days," says Jimmy Hamilton, owner of the 54-year-old Bel Air Bakery. "They're kind of a thing of the past." Fortunately, candy never goes out of style.

-- Melanie D.G. Kaplan

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