When traveling to Belgium, there should be two major objectives in mind; Beer and Chocolate. This tiny country located in Western Europe is undoubtedly the capital of both as they produce the highest quality of each commodity that you will find. As you can navigate the streets of the capital, Brussels, on your own to taste its many chocolates and beers, the best way to indulge in the many flavors is with a tour.
The Brussels Journey has been said to be one of, if not the best, food tours through out Europe and I highly agree. Not only will you have the opportunity to sample many different flavors of exquisite chocolates from different chocolatiers, as well as famous beers from extremely old bars, you will explore the gorgeous streets with a fun group of people in a bar crawl type style expedition.
In August, I had the opportunity to join one of The Brussels Journey’s popular food tours. The 5 hour tour was undoubtedly the highlight and most memorable experience of my time in Brussels. I explored the streets on my own in the days leading up to the tour, but I never truly experienced them in the way the tour allowed me to. Julia, an excellent and informative guide, led the way among a group of strangers along on this foodie adventure. She was able to unite a group of complete strangers into a team of people having fun together with ease. There is already enough amusement in consuming beer in chocolate in general, but doing it with others makes it even better. Julia’s charisma and knowledge of Brussels and its different locations we visited was one of the major details that truly sets The Brussels Journey apart from other food tours.
One of the most important aspects of The Brussels Journey is that they only introduce their clients to local and artisan chocolates, nothing commercial such as Godiva. While Godiva is obviously excellent chocolate, it can be bought all around the world in different airports or shopping malls. You come to Belgium for its one of a kind chocolate, and The Brussels Journey makes sure you have the opportunity to sample as much as possible.
The foodie expedition leads you all over Brussels, visiting some of its most popular destinations while stuffing your face with calories. The tour begins at Chocopolis, a chocolate shop very close to the center. This is where the first taste of chocolate hits your lips. While sampling some of the businesses’ different chocolates, Julia spits out some interesting facts about Chocopolis as well as chocolates from Belgium in general. Her explanation of the different cacao beans and ingredients only adds to the explosion of flavor.
We tried three different pieces to start the day off strong. The first was a basic chocolate praline, the most famous kind of chocolate in Belgium. Very easy to eat with a smooth and rich flavor. The second had a Mayan theme while each bite was followed by a little spice a few seconds later from the chili inside. The final and my favorite piece was a Speculos, a common flavor of praline sold in Brussels. These chocolates are filled with a ginger ganache that adds the perfect touch of sweet and spice.
Next, we made our way to the Royal Gallery, a strip mall in the center of town packed with artisan chocolates and cafes among designer watches and jewelry. Yes, the chocolates here can be extremely expensive, but the tastes are worth it. We entered Méert, a French cafe that was first opened in 1671 in Lilles, France.
These delicious French treats are so good that they supply the Royal Family with desserts and cakes. We were each allowed to sample two chocolates of our choice. The Amelie, a salted caramel was hard to pass on, but the ginger praline stole the show as its sugar pearl added a unique and sweet crunch.
After igniting our French tastebuds, we moved onto what is said to be the best chocolate in the world, Marcolini. Maison Pierre Marcolini is a master chocolatier that treats chocolate making as fashion. The shop itself looks so much like a high end jewelry shop that the locals often call it “Chocochanel”. Here we sampled three separate chocolates, each igniting a different region of your palate.
Marcolini specializes in single origin chocolates, which uses specific beans based on their different geographical location. With the first sample, we were able to taste the unique flavor from an Ecuadorian cacao bean. The flavor was a little bit earthy and 73% dark. It has an extremely smooth dark finesse to it that could make anyone enjoy a dark chocolate. The second praline was made of milk chocolate with an earl grey tea fusion of ganache. It was the best tea I have ever had.
Lastly, we tried the best seller, apply named the “Melted Hug”. This nickname derives from the aftertaste that makes you want to curl into a ball by the fire, cuddle up and hug a pillow. This chocolate truly takes you to another state of mind. This specific chocolate was filled with some caramel and a crunch, so good that my teammate walked directly to the cash register and bought 40 to take home.
On our way to the last chocolatier of the day, we made a pit stop in a bar across the street from the famous Manneken Pis, a unique statue of a little boy peeing into a small pool. The statue is decorated on different days based on seasons, holidays or ongoing events. We were able to get a good view of him peeing in front of the public from the top window of Manneken Pis Cafe.
This old and beautiful bar gave us our first opportunity to test out some of the amazing Belgian beers. We were each given the gift of one blond beer which easily went down like water while Julia engaged the group in story time about Manneken Pis.
After a quick beer chug, the group was on its way to the final chocolate experience of the day. Don’t worry about packing on any extra weight from all of the chocolate and beer calories as you will have plenty of time to walk it off. The walk was about 15 minutes, which allowed Julia plenty of time to point out some unique architecture as well as present some great facts about the history of Brussels.
Atelier, would be our last chocolate stop of the day, but possibly the best. This shop was truly authentic and one of a kind to Brussels as it sat quietly on the top of a hill, away from the city center. Each piece of chocolate is handmade with a delicate touch and exquisite flavor.
We were offered a wide variety of chocolates at Atelier as I sampled about 8 different pieces in total. The first chocolate was made using and Indian bean. The taste had some hints of cherry and was very easy to enjoy. For the second chocolate we were given an option as I chose a cayenne pepper based dark praline. It had a nice kick of spice that went well with its smooth cacao. Next, those in the group that desired the taste of 100% dark chocolate from Mexico like myself, were given a small piece. Although very dry as 100% dark chocolate is, the tiny bite was extremely flavorful. Immediately after, we were each given a roasted cacao bean from Cameroon that had a slightly bitter flavor like that of a wine.
While all of the samples were being given out, there were extras on the trays that I was happy to try. You get the point, I quickly started to lose track of my chocolate consumption and was overwhelmed with dynamic flavors. Lastly, we were each given a truffle of our choice. I selected the coconut and admit that it was the best truffle I have ever had. The explosion of chocolate ganache with a coconut cream in the center was truly incredible. The overall consumption of chocolate among the group was at an all time high, but our tour was only half way over. The rest of the adventure was full of Belgian beers.
Julia led us through out Brussels and into its most popular location, The Market Square. The square is one of the largest and most beautiful through out Europe. It is easy to get lost in thought while looking up at the surrounding architecture.
There are so many tiny details upon each building that you could spend days observing each piece. Julia did an excellent job providing some interesting facts and answering any questions from the group about the buildings. While the scenery is breathtaking, the beer was waiting.
The group was led into a few different bars where each person was given different samples of beer. While bar hopping around the center of town, we tried about 6 different beers in total. Each Belgian beer is unique and screaming with flavor. Belgian beers are known to be some of, if not the best, in the world, and for good reason. Each beer is made with precision and some of the recipes have gone unchanged since the 1600’s. Once the ingredients are flawlessly teamed up, why change them? We tried Dubbels, Tripels, Quadrupels, Blonds and the inimitable Trappist. If you are looking for a light beer, then Belgians may not be your thing. It is hard to find a beer under 6-7% alcohol content, with the majority of them sitting around 9%. The alcohol content may be high, but it is difficult to notice it. A 10.2% Trappist can taste like a 6% light beer at times, so make sure to be careful with your consumption.
I quickly grew to love all Belgian beers, but it is hard to beat a Trappist. These incomparable beers are made by monks, while the brewing process is hidden and secret. It is difficult to find Trappist beers around the world as they can be expensive to export, but Brussels is full of them. While I love a Trappist, I am also a huge fan of a Belgian Tripel. These beers are the most famous and popular from Belgium as they are extremely tasty and very, very easy to drink. They range from 8-10% and are always blond in color. A couple of them will quickly put you into party mode. It is simple to find them on draft or in bottle through out the city and you will be able to sample a couple on the tour.
Julia did a great job giving each person an opportunity to discover their favorite kind of Belgian beer, but the Trappists seemed to make everyones’ eyes light up. My final beer of the night was a St. Bernardus 12 Trappist with an ABV of 10%. Not everyone was prepared to sample this as they were a bit off put by the alcohol content, but once it hit their lips, it was gone quickly. If you are a beer geek, there is no reason you should not start booking a trip to Belgium at this very moment.
As the tour came to a close, so did most people’s sobriety. So many different beers were tested and mixed with an overwhelming amount of chocolate that the members of the group were having trouble putting anymore into their stomachs. Sadly, all great things seemingly come to an end, even an incredible foodie tour. I can promise you, if your are a foodie like me, this is one of the best food tours you can possibly embark on. It is impossible to find an opportunity anywhere else where you can sample so many different flavors of chocolates and beers while walking around an old and beautiful town, learning about its history, slightly intoxicated as you make new friends. The mix of these different elements is what sets The Brussels Journey apart, and why you should book this tour now! Follow the information below to book your tour with The Brussels Journey!
Price: 80 euros per person. Make sure to book online ahead of time!
When: Everyday at 3:00 pm
Where: Meeting point at Chocopolis. Rue du Marché Aux Herbes 110, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium to be exact