Exploring Brussels with a Chocolate Walking Tour and Workshop

January 12, 2015 by

Europe, Food, Drink & Travel, Foodie Tours, Places to Go, Things to Do, Travel Advice & Inspiration

Beautiful Brussels

Beautiful Brussels

When in Belgium, eat as the Belgians do – which, if tourist lore is to be believed, is a diet consisting of fries and waffles, washed down with beer and polished off with a buffet of chocolate. And so I had two goals when I arrived in Brussels. To try all the local delicacies on offer – I didn’t want to be rude, after all! – and to be able to button my pants upon departure. Thus, I signed up for Viator’s Chocolate Walking Tour and Workshop –the perfect combination of indulgence and activity.

I smiled when I saw the tour’s departure point – the world’s first Godiva chocolate store, which first opened its doors in 1926 in the city’s grand Grote Markt. But upon arrival, our guide Nadia, who won me over immediately with her charming accent and her affinity for winking, confided we wouldn’t be going inside. No, she assured us, we were going to chocolate stores with names we’d never heard of and flavors we could only dream of.

Chocolates at Elisabeth

Chocolates at Elisabeth

And did she ever deliver. Our cacao crawl brought us to gems like Corné, a pharmacy turned chocolatique in the elegant shopping arcade Galerie de la Reine, where we were inoculated with almond hazelnut pralines; and Elisabeth, a laid back but charming shop with a penchant for adorable packaging, and a tray full of truffles awaiting our arrival.

But it wasn’t all about consuming – we were going to do some creating, too. Halfway through our tour, we ducked down a dingy alley and up a flight of industrial stairs, and arrived in a light-filled workshop that smelled faintly of chocolate. Sidling up to the oversized oak table, we donned aprons and watched studiously as Nadia’s colleague demonstrated the art of praline making. Then it was our turn to play with food – chocolate, fruit, nuts, salts and spices, to be specific – while a documentary on cacao farming played in the background. Later, at the end of the day, our creations would be pressed into our hands as we all hugged goodbye.

Chocolate samples at Pierre Marcolini

Chocolate samples at Pierre Marcolini

Suffice it to say, we had worked up a proper appetite by the time we returned to the road. Competition soon became fierce – the remaining three stops of the day would eventually enter an unbreakable tie for the hotly contested title of my favorite chocolate shop in Belgium. I was originally suspicious that a store called Chocopolis might be a tad unsophisticated, but the mango passion fruit milk chocolate I sampled was anything but basic. On the other end of the spectrum, I wondered if Pierre Marcolini might be a bit too highbrow for me, but the macaroons I purchased in addition to our complimentary tasting of dark chocolate reminded me that sometimes, you do get what you pay for. And Mary’s? Everything about Mary’s looked divine – the same adjective I’d use to describe the champagne truffles we were offered. Sometimes, you can judge a chocolate shop by its cover – er – window display.

At our chocolate workshop

At our chocolate workshop

But this tour was more than just the sum of the many treats we’d totaled. It was the back alleys we’d ducked down, the cobblestone streets we’d covered, and the enthusiastic insights into life in Brussels that Nadia provided. Nadia was, in fact, one of the greatest tour guides I’ve ever had – wistful about her destination, obsessed with her subject, and easy to mistake for an old friend. And so she taught us: When in Belgium, eat as the Belgians do – with passion.

Contributed by Alex Baackes

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