Brussels and I got off to a rough start. But I can never hold grudges for long — especially against a country as delicious as this one. Ask any traveler with a Belgian stamp in their passport about their experience and it’s likely they’ll get a hazy look in their eye as they dreamily recall waffles, beer, fries, and most ubiquitously — chocolate.
So when I was researching things to do in Brussels and I came across Viator’s Chocolate Walking Tour and Workshop, I knew it was a non-negotiable must.
On my first sunny day in the city — a good omen for a great tour if I’ve ever known one — our small group gathered in the stunning Grand Place, or Grote Markt. Our meeting point in the famous square was the world’s very first Godiva chocolate store, which opened its doors in 1926. I immediately fell just a little bit in love with our guide, Nadia, whose accent was as charming as her winking descriptions and bubbly insights into life in Brussels.
We didn’t linger long — there was chocolate to be eaten, after all.
Our first stop was at Corné, an old pharmacy turned chocolatier in one of Brussels’ grandest shopping arcades. To get there, we’d popped down a hidden alley I’d never have noticed had I’d been on my own, peeked in the window of the city’s oldest (and, according to Nadia, most expensive) bar, and ducked through an 80’s-tastic strip mall. In just a few minutes I felt I’d seen more of Brussels than I had in the several days I’d already been in the city.
So by the time we plucked our almond hazelnut pralines off the elegant tray that was presented to us at Corné, we’d worked up a proper appetite. (Right? Right.)
While I adored window shopping around the elegant shops of the arcade, Corné wasn’t my favorite stop of the day. That was just fine though, as I was about to meet an unlikely but formidable contender. I raised an eyebrow when we paused outside Chocopolis. It didn’t seem to have much in common with the sophisticated chocolate stops I’d seen scattered around Brussels. But you know what they say, never judge a
book candy shop by it’s cover ridiculous name, so I braved on inside.
And what do you know? The mango passionfruit milk chocolate — yes, mango passionfruit — was one of my favorite treats of the day, and I would soon become somewhat of a regular around good ‘ol Chocopolis.
Next up was a pause from the choco-boutique browsing for a more hands on portion of the day — the mini chocolate making workshop. As we were ushered into the tour headquarters, it felt like we were arriving at the cozy apartment of a friend. We took our seats along an oversized wooden table and watched transfixed as Nadia’s colleague artfully demonstrated how to make pralines. Then, while a documentary on the production of cacao played in the background, we played with the treats on the table in front of us — chocolate, fruit, nuts, salts and spices, and more.
And soon we were back on the streets, pounding the pavement in search of the most irresistible chocolate Belgium has to offer. And from the gushing descriptions of our next stop, I was confident that at the very least, we were about to try our tour guide’s favorite.
Pierre Marcolini is the Lamborghini of luxury chocolates. (Sidenote: I literally had to Google “luxury car brands” in order to make that analogy. Wherever the loop is I am out of it.) It just smelled opulent in this place. I have to hand it to them, when it comes to branding, packaging, and creating a beautiful product, Pierre Marcolini was the winner of the day.
While our complimentary tasting was of a selection of the shop’s dark chocolate specialties, as soon as I saw the specialty macaroon counter I knew there was no way I was leaving without a rainbow-colored selection. And holy WOW — it was the first of three separate trips I’d make to that counter over the next week, each one as blissfully extravagant as the last.
Personally, thanks to a lifetime of training, my body can withstand amounts of sugar that would tranquilize a small child. However, I know others can be sensitive to so many sweets, which is why I found this tour to be the perfect balance of snacking and walking off the indulgence.
Unsurprisingly, our route brought us by Brussels’ bizarre mascot Mannequin Pis.
Next on the docket was Elisabeth, which charmed me with its casually elegant atmosphere. We stayed just long enough to taste a truffle and then move on, as the tiny shop didn’t have enough room for both us and the eager customers hoping to stock up on adorably-packaged treats.
All too soon, it was our final stop of the day. And in many ways, we saved the best for last. I still get shivers just thinking about the champagne truffles we tasted at Mary’s — another item that quickly made it into my rotation of Brussels daily indulgences.
As we all started to hug goodbye — yes, hugs were given after just a few hours, that’s how awesome this group was — our creations from the workshop earlier in the day were hand delivered to the door.
I truly can’t describe how much I loved this tour, and how positively it colored by time in Brussels. I’ve taken Viator tours around the world, from swimming with manatees in Florida to white-water rafting in Bali, and this was by far the most outstanding of them all. Much of that credit goes to our fabulous guide Nadia, who is all the things any good tour guide should be — passionate about her subject, genuinely happy to be spending time with her clients, and madly in love with her city.
After this tour, I could start to see Brussels through that lens — quirky and delightfully delicious. And I don’t think it was just the sugar rush talking.
Are you booking a flight to Belgium yet?