To celebrate International Chocolate Day [quite possibly the best international day of all time 😉 ] , I thought it would be fitting to put together a guide for the ultimate chocolate lover’s city — Brussels.
History of Belgian Chocolate
From Godiva to Neuhaus and truffles to praline, Belgium is world-renowned for its high-quality chocolate. Although Belgium is roughly the size of Maryland, there are over 2,000 chocolatiers in the country. Not to mention the museums devoted to the history of chocolate in both Brussels and Bruge.
Chocolate from the Americas (we have the Mayans and Aztecs to thank for cocoa cultivation!) was introduced to European courts by Spanish explorers in the 16th and 17th century. At the time, Belgium was under the control of the Spanish court and cocoa was initially popularized as a luxury drink for nobility. In the late 1800’s Belgium’s King Leopold II colonized Congo, which gave Belgium control of a major share of the global the cocoa trade.
The Swiss may be famous for their milk chocolate and developing the technique to create solid bars, but its Belgian brands that are credited for inventing and refining gourmet dark chocolate indulgences. Swiss entrepreneur Jean Neuhaus opened a pharmacy in Brussels in 1857 that also sold bars of bitter chocolate — thus creating the first chocolate shop. Later his grandson created the “praline” by filling a hard chocolate outer shell with sweet fillings.
To this day, Belgian companies transport chocolate in sophisticated heated supply chains to retain flavor and avoid using vegetable shortening like other mass producers.
Chocolate Lover’s Workshops and Tours in Brussels
In my opinion, all trips to Brussels should be centered around chocolate – whether it is chocolate making, tasting, or shopping. The Visit Belgium website includes a comprehensive list of tours and workshops in Brussels that will delight any chocolate lover. Major tour operators such as Viator and Expedia also offer walking tours if you don’t want to plan out your own itinerary.
On a recent girls trip to Brussels, my friends and I tried our hands at creating some sweet treats ourselves at Zaabar. Every Wednesday and Saturday, the chocolate factory at Zaabar offers a demonstration followed by a hands-on workshop for 25 Euros.
We were able to try are hands at making truffles, personalized chocolate bars, and mediants (chocolate discs garnished with dried fruit or nuts).
At the end of the workshop you get to take home your chocolate creations!
Zaabar is conveniently located near the Avenue Louise metro. I would recommend booking early for the Saturday workshop – especially if you are visiting during a holiday weekend.
Where to Find Top Chocolatiers
Place du Grand Sablon: Several top Belgian chocolatiers are located in the chic Sablon neighborhood, which also hosts a popular weekend antique market. The Piere Marcolini flagship store was a visual treat and is an instagram favorite! The brand is renowned for its innovative and exotic flavor combinations, created by sourcing top quality ingredients from around the world.
Grand Place: The UNESCO designated World Heritage Site is filled with individual chocolate and patisserie houses as well as shops that carry a range of Belgian chocolate brands that cater to every budget. One of my favorite places in Grand Place is La Belgique Gourmande. What is not to love about a store that has a chocolate fountain at the entrance? You can find the perfect gifts for children or have the shopkeepers box up a variety of chocolate flavors by the weight.
Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert: Centrally located near Grand Place, the covered shopping arcade is filled with master chocolatiers and luxury boutiques. We stopped in at least two different Pierre Marcolini shops during a weekend stay. One shop keeper claimed that the Pierre Marcolini macaroons were better than La Ladurée. We were skeptical but blown away in the end. The speculoos and seasonal fruit flavors (including currant) were amazing! We wound up buying the pretty Pierre Marcolini insulated bags to transport more treats back home.
Do you have a favorite chocolatier in Brussels?
- Chocolate Museum: http://choco-story-brussels.be/
- Visit Belgium: http://www.visitbelgium.com/?page=chocolate-lovers
- Zaabar Tours and Workshops: http://www.zaabar.com/blog/visites-et-cours