The Mayans may have invented chocolate long ago, but Belgium is today its world headquarters, and nowhere more so than Brussels, whose temples to the art of the brown stuff are second to none. It’s not just a tourist thing, although within the vicinity of the Grande-Place you could be forgiven for thinking so. Chocolate is massively popular in Belgium, and even the smallest town has at least a couple of chocolate shops; in fact, the country has two thousand all told, and produces 172,000 tonnes of chocolate every year. You may think that this would make for a nation of obese lardcakes, especially as Belgium’s other favourite thing is beer (not even mentioning the country’s obsession with pommes frites). However, whatever your doctor may tell you, chocolate in moderation is quite healthy. It reduces cholesterol and is easily digested; some claim it’s an aphrodisiac as well.
So what are you waiting for? Everyone has their favourite chocolatier – some swear by Neuhaus, while others rely on good old Leonidas, which has a shop on every corner in Brussels – but Godiva is perhaps the best-known Belgian name, formed in the early 1900s by Joseph Draps, one of whose descendants now runs a chocolate museum on the Grande-Place. Once you’ve checked that out (and gobbled down a few free samples), make for the elegant Place du Grand Sablon, with not only a Godiva outlet, but also the stylish shop of Pierre Marcolini, who produces some of the best chocs in the city, if not the world. Wittamer, also on Place du Grand Sablon, doesn’t just do chocolates, and in fact you can sip coffee and munch on a chocolate-covered choux pastry at its rather nice café; you’re probably best off saving that big box of Wittamer’s delicious pralines for later… though trying just a few now surely can’t hurt. If you’re not feeling queasy by this point, stop at Planète Chocolate, on rue du Lombard, where you can find the city’s most exotic and adventurous flavours – pepper, rose, various kinds of tea – as well as watch the chocolate-making process in action, followed by (what else?) the obligatory tasting. Moderation be damned.
Godiva, Place du Grand Sablon 47– 48; Pierre Marcolini, rue des Minimes 1; Wittamer, Place du Grand Sablon 12; Planète Chocolate, rue du Lombard 24.