Belgians get through a lot of chocolate – several kilograms per person every year – but considering how good it is here, it’s a wonder it isn’t more. The Belgians picked up their love of chocolate via the most circuitous of historical routes. The Aztecs of Mexico were drinking chocolate, which they believed gave them wisdom and power, when Hernando Cortéz’s Spanish conquistadors turned up in 1519. Cortéz took a liking to the stuff and, after butchering the locals, brought cocoa beans back to Spain as a novelty gift for the Emperor Charles V in 1528. Within a few years its consumption had spread across Charles’s empire, including today’s Belgium and Luxembourg. At first the making of chocolate was confined to a few Spanish monasteries, but eventually Belgians got into the act and they now produce what are generally regarded as the best chocolates in the world. There are around two thousand chocolate shops around the country and even the smallest town or village will have at least one. Some brands are everywhere – Leonidas is perhaps the most ubiquitous; others include Godiva, Neuhaus and Moeder Babelutte – and you won’t go far wrong buying from one of these places (it’s worth remembering that Belgian chocolates are cheaper in Belgium!). But try also to seek out the independent producers, for example Wittamer or Pierre Marcolini in Brussels, or Chocolate Line in Bruges, which may be a little more expensive but will often be higher quality and more interesting.

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