From Brussels with chocolate
This story was written after my chocolate trail in Belgian ‘chocolateries’ during my last month in a place I called home for more than three years. Thus, it was my way of honoring Brussels, my adoptive city.
Bruxelles is for me the city of chocolate, Art Nouveau, European Institutions, smurfs and bande dessinée. I will cover for now only chocolate. It will be the pricey one because in Belgium quality comes with a (high) price.
My French teacher always told us in class (with a tad bit of sarcasm) that Belgium is the land of surrealism – ‘La Belgique c’est le pays du surréalisme.’ Oui mais … non, Belgium is surreal and witty, as Magritte’s art, but we have to agree that Belgium is the land of chocolate. Am I right, right? 🙂
Nevertheless, in Brussels, I attended several running marathons and one architecture marathon during the Biennale of Art Nouveau and Art Deco, basically Victor Horta. The most delicious was the chocolate one. The other two were great to burn the calories.
First stop – Grand Place
Grand Place is THE square and is a heaven for chocolate lovers, with many chocolate shops per square meter.
Alors, I started my chocolaty marathon in Grand Place and then went to my favorite gallery, Les Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, that includes three galleries: Galerie de la Reine, Galerie du Roi and Galerie du Prince (Gallery of the Queen, King’s Gallery and Prince’s Gallery). Then I had a quick detour on Rue Royale no 73.
Next, I returned to the city center, in Place Saint Catherine and ended up in beautiful Place du Grand Sablon.
Last stop – Mont des Arts or Kunstberg (in Flemish, the other language of the country).
Neuhaus – eat pralines and call it a day
Neuhaus aka inventor of the praline! Yes, Charles Neuhaus was a pharmacist, and in 1912 he invented the praline.
You can find the brand in Grand Place. The original shop is the most beautiful and is located inside the Royal Galleries. The store made me think of Juliette Binoche on the movie set of “Chocolat.”
As an architecture lover, this shop is one of those unique Art Nouveau sites you must see. Plus, walking in the Galleries along the arcades in the evening is pure joy!
Fun facts – The original shop is the old pharmacy of Neuhaus where he was working and perhaps created the praline. The sales persons were happy when they realized I knew this piece of information.
Moreover, his wife invented the chocolate boxes we use today, which she names “ballotins.” One creative couple.
Address: Grand Place 27, 1000 Bruxelles
Galerie du Roi 5, 1000 Bruxelles
Royal chocolate – MARY Chocolatier Confiseur
Madame Marie Delluc is the “grand dame of Belgium chocolates.” She founded in 1919 MARY Chocolatier Confiseur and became a Royal Family favorite.
And you notice this the moment you enter her shops. MARY chocolatier is different; there is something special about that chocolate shop. Personally, I think the royal feeling is in the details – the light, the decorations, the chocolate boxes.
Yes, the chocolate boxes! Hers are sophisticated, handcrafted, beautifully decorated and they can easily be mistaken with a jewelry box. My chocolate ballotin became the little box I keep my earrings now.
Fun fact – the original MARY’s was located at Rue Royale 180 and moved to the flagship store in 1990. To experience the real feeling, I recommend going to the flagship shop located on Rue Royale no. 73.
Two words – Piere Marcolini
Pierre Marcolini is one brave innovator as he brought exotic ingredients as pepper or patchouli in the traditional Belgian chocolate world. I have to admit the chocolate here is even more expensive but is worth it. The brand is famous in Asia too. When I was showing Brussels to Miyoko, she told me that back home in Tokio, Pierre Marcolini chocolates are three times more expensive. Wow. Maybe I should complain less about prices, shouldn’t I?
In the Royal Galleries, you have two Piere Marcolini shops, one even next to Neuhaus (talk about location). But a much bigger store is located in Place du Grand Sablon. You can’t miss it if you arrive in the square.
Address: Place du Grand Sablon 39, 1000 Bruxelles
Another hidden gem in the city is close – Place du Petite Sablon with a little park I went literally hundred times because I used to live 2 minutes away. One lucky girl.
Been there, ate that. Three insiders tips.
Of course, you see everywhere also GODIVA shops (exquisite chocolate) and Leonidas (good and most important, budget-friendly), both delicious, but I would like to share three special chocolatiers original from Brussels and to go beyond the touristic trail.
1. The real deal – Frederic Blondeel
Sir Blondeel is a true bruxellois. You can find the brand in Brussels ONLY, and l’atelier is behind the counters. If you go, you might even see mister Blondeel working. I was surprised how many of my friends living for years in Brussels didn’t know about this place. What’s the point in living here? 🙂
Fun fact – There are two shops one next to the other. The second one also has delicious ice cream with interesting flavors. Plus, you get to hang around Place Saint Catherine and pass by Rue Antoine Dansaert, only the trendiest street in Brussels.
Address: Quai aux Briques 24, 1000 Bruxelles
2. Next – Chocolate Wittamer
The Wittamer family opened their chocolate shop over 100 years ago in the same famous Sablon neighborhood. Interestingly enough, Pierre Marcolini was at one point chef-pâtisseur at Wittamer.
Inside, you can have a peak of l’atelier where they create the chocolate pieces. And next door, you can find the Wittamer café, with a lovely terrace overlooking Grand Sablon. The kindest salesperson told me that the Wittamer family has only two shops in the world – Brussels, and Tokio! Miyoko was very happy to hear.
Address: Place du Grand Sablon 6-12-13, 1000 Bruxelles.
3. Last stop – Laurent Gerbaud Chocolatier
You won’t regret the calories here, promise! Laurent himself organizes chocolate workshops, a nice way to spend an afternoon.
This place is located next to Mont des Arts (meaning mountain of the arts), because is surrounded by museums, including René Magritte Museum. And Mont des Arts is another spot with a beautiful view over Brussels.
Fun fact: Laurent Gerbaud is also creating the chocolate for the famous speculoos biscuits Dandoy. Speculoos being another Belgian specialty.
Address: Rue Ravenstein 2D, 1000 Bruxelles.
Last, but not least, Brussels also has two museums dedicated to chocolate – the ‘petite’ one near Grand Place and a new place in town called Choco-Story Brussels.
First one is named Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate (surprise) and is a delight. I’ve been there twice, always in the fall during the Museum Nocturnes event, where certain museums are open until late on Thursday evenings.
To the second one, I went together with my friend Cynthia to attend a chocolaty workshop (also during the Nocturnes, different year) where the chef even wrote my name in chocolate. That’s one way to impress a lady. 😉
Sorry, as a Brussels enthusiast, I can’t help it. If you are in Brussels, it’s a pity to miss the Atomium and the European Parliament. Only one time I was inside the Atomium when my parents visited me, and we all loved it, but it’s fun to go just to see it from the outside (or make silly pictures like me and Georgi).
As a former stagiaire at the European Parliament, this place was a mandatory non-negotiable stop on my tour city for my dear visitors, even if they were exhausted or it was raining (Angie can confirm). Just like them, don’t miss the Parlamentarium, the interactive museum with free access.
For the love of coffee
After all this chocolate and visits, if you need a place to get your caffeine fix, I can recommend going to the last floor of the Museum of Musical Instruments for a coffee with a view (another beautiful Art Nouveau building). The museum is near Mont des Arts and Laurent Gerbaud shop (where we had our last chocolate stop).
Or why not, stay for a cup of coffee at Frederic Blondel in Saint Catherine (you will receive two complimentary pieces of chocolate, always a plus) or buy a hot chocolate to go from Neuhaus or Pierre Marcolini in the pretty Royal Galleries. Enjoy!
Text and picture credit: Aida Mola