If you love chocolate, and who doesn’t, then you’ll love going on a motoring tour to France and Belgium to search out some of the best chocolate in the world. After all, Belgian chocolate is renowned for it. Not surprising given Belgium produces more than 170,000 tons of the stuff each year and has an estimated 2,000 chocolate shops throughout the country.
If you’re going on a short trip then the place to head for is Bruges, where you’ll find the city is as gorgeous as the chocolate you’re about to discover.
Bruges is a pretty medieval city with cobbled streets and beautiful architecture and is about an hour’s drive from the Calais ferry port.
Leave the car in one of the many Bruges car parks as you’ll find most of the places are all within walking distance. You’ll also be able to take in exactly how lovely the city is as you walk along the narrow streets, over the canals and through the squares.
We suggest your first port of call is The Chocolate Story Museum, as here you’ll find out all about the history of chocolate from Aztec times to the present day and, for those who really want to delve in deep, there’s even a library of books on the subject.
Now it’s time for the best bit, to visit some chocolate makers, like Godiva. They’re one of the largest producers in Belgium, named after the famous lady who rode naked through the streets of Coventry – not sure why but you could ask when you get there!
One of the smaller producers is Temmerman, a traditional confectioner making their own beautifully crafted chocolates, biscuits, sweets and spice-breads.
Roose’s Chocolate World is an attraction especially for groups, and includes a brief demonstration of the production of praline, a film and a chance to sample some.
Later in the year you could visit Bruges when the annual Chocolate Festival is happening as this is always a great experience. It takes place over a weekend in November but you’ll need to check the exact dates as they differ slightly each year. You could combine a ferry trip as part of your Christmas shopping, but go with an empty boot – luckily there’s no baggage allowance when you travel on a ferry to France!
If you’re thinking of a longer trip, and want to take in more than just Bruges, then there are plenty of other chocolate discoveries. Head off into the Belgian countryside to Erezee and visit the Chocolaterie de Froidmont. Watch a film showing the production process, see a chocolate maker at work, inspect the moulds and of course, taste some wonderful pralines. There’s a shop there so you can load up the boot!
Alternatively, there’s the Musée de Chocolat Jacques at Eupen. They’ll tell you all about the cultivation of cocoa and chocolate production before taking you on a tour of the factory. A similar experience can be had at Cyril Chocolat at La Roche en Ardenne.
And finally, we have to mention Brussels. The capital of Belgium is also the chocolate capital – you could say it’s covered in Chocolate! Fabulous restaurants sit alongside chocolate factories, shops and a dedicated museum.
Neuhaus is an old established factory dating back to 1857, established by Jean Neuhaus who ran it from 1912 and is said to have invented the first filled chocolates which are now known as Pralines. There are a number of shops in Brussels but the elegant 19th century glass-domed arcade is probably the one to visit.
Corné Port-Royal is a brand that uses the finest GM-free ingredients including Portuguese almonds, and French hazelnuts. Adults can enjoy caramel and champagne centres while children are catered for with Choco-Safari and Choco-Pirate boxes.
Pierre Marcolini is a specialist chocolatier producing elegant chocolates and pastries and is highly regarded for his attention to detail and refined flavours.
There are of course many more, which you’re bound to discover as you wander the streets of this lovely city.
Having satisfied your taste buds make sure you see some of the stunning countryside as you head back to catch the cross channel ferry. The rural landscape hasn’t changed in years and it’s easy to turn onto a small side road to find a picnic spot or a small town or village with a lovely local restaurant – enjoy!