Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this post.
As a surprise treat for our ten month wedding anniversary, K booked places for the two of us to join a Walking Chocolate Tour of the home of some of the world’s finest chocolate – Brussels. Run by the group Global Enterprises, this tour can be purchased directly on their website or through a third-party website like Viator which will occasionally do discounts. Note – neither of the above links are affiliate links, I just want to share the love!
The problem that many visitors to Belgium have is that there’s simply too much choice when it comes to chocolatiers. With boutique artisan chocolatiers on nearly every street in the centre of Brussels (not to mention other cities like Bruges as well!), it’s difficult to know which are actually the ones to visit, and the ones worth trying. What distinguishes a good chocolatier from one who produces for tourists?
Over the course of a morning, our tour guide Avo (self-described as the Armenian George Clooney) took our group of 16 chocolate enthusiasts to five of Brussels best chocolatiers and a chocolate workshop. Brussels put on its typical intermittent rain showers for us throughout the day, but even that couldn’t dampen our enthusiasm for the tour.
We started our tour at the Galerie de la Reine – the famous glass-ceilinged shopping arcade in Brussels that was the first of its kind in Europe. Before we entered the first stop, Avo informed us that the tour would be structured in a hierarchy – the very best chocolatier would be saved as the last stop on the tour. While the first and second stops would still be very good by Brussels standards, they were not considered the best. As such, we were advised to keep that into consideration and not go too crazy with buying chocolate right from the start!
So, the five stops we went to (from first/worst to last/best) were:
- Corne Port-Royal, Galerie de la Reine 5
- Chocopolis, Rue du Marché aux Herbes 110
- Pierre Marcolini, Rue des Minimes 1
- Frederic Blondeel, Quai aux Briques 24
- Mary’s, 36 Galerie de la Reine
We had tastings at each stop – at the first two, we had the opportunity to try a chocolate of our own choosing. My sea salt chocolate at Chocopolis was outstanding, and the nod of approval from the salesperson indicated that it was his favourite as well.
At Pierre Marcolini, we were treated to their Madagascar chocolate, and the Earl Grey Tea. While both chocolates were excellent, my interest was more piqued by their selection of macarons and eclairs, as Pierre Marcolini was actually originally known for his excellence as a patissier before he turned his hand to chocolate. We ended up going back to Marcolini’s the next day to pick up three eclairs and a tasting box of macarons as a treat – it cost us nearly $30 euro for the lot, but it was well worth the expense!
At Frederic Blondeel, the particular highlight was their Madagascan hot chocolate with vanilla which we got to sample. It was incredibly smooth, creamy and rich with a real depth of cacao flavour. It was so good that we went back the next day to Blondeel’s for another hot chocolate, and to pick up a jar of their hazelnut chocolate spread as a treat for breakfast!
Mary’s however, is apparently the chocolatier of choice for the Belgians, based purely on the fact that they are the preferred chocolatier for the Belgian Royal Family and even hold the warrant as the Royal Chocolatier. Their specialty which we got to sample was the Truffle Champagne Rose – apparently a favourite of the Belgian King, though I found it a little bit heady after my months of teetotalling!
On a side note, you’ll see that the ‘Belgian chocolate’ brands that we have access to in Australia are not featured in the above list – Godiva and Neuhaus don’t rate a mention. As Avo said to us somewhat contemptuously, ‘Godiva to us is like McDonald’s. There’s one on every corner, and it’s not worth the time or money’.
This tour also included a chocolate workshop, where we had the opportunity to create our own chocolates with Belgian couverture chocolate, as well as watch a chocolatier as he made pralines (and got to help by squeezing in the praline centres!). You got to take home everything you made as well, which meant that K and I had two large bags of chocolates which lasted us for weeks into our trip! We may have been a little overenthusiastic in creating new combinations of chocolates…
Overall, while the chocolate tour and workshop could be considered to be a little on the pricey side, I think it’s still worth the expense and recommend it to everyone. You get plenty of samples along the way and get introduced to some of the best chocolatiers in Brussels – we would never have found places like Frederic Blondeel without the tour! Getting to make and take home a bag of chocolates is a nice bonus as well.
In addition to the chocolate side of the tour though, you also get a great overview of the city and its history. While K and I love walking around new cities and pointing out interesting buildings to each other, it really adds something extra when a local is able to join you on the journey and actually give you the background to each different building, monument, or statue. All the pieces of history start to slot in together, and paint a picture of the vivid past of a beautiful city.