Belgium: A Chocoholic's Dream Vacation [caption id="attachment_10769" align="aligncenter" width="330" caption="Chocolate versions of Pis Mannekin pop up everywhere in Belgium (Photo: Doug O'Neill)"] [/caption] I once raised the ire of a publican in Brighton, England, by suggesting that Welsh beer is superior to the pints poured in the south of England. I worry that I'm about to land myself in the proverbial soup once more by declaring that Belgian chocolate pleases my taste buds far more than Swiss-made chocolates. (Oh dear, there's no going back now.) [caption id="attachment_10770" align="aligncenter" width="330" caption="Row on row of chocolates (Photo: Doug O'Neill)"] [/caption] I had the pleasure recently, during a visit to Belgium, to sample the finest cocoa butter products throughout the city of Brussels. I spent the better part of one day popping into various fine chocolate shops, inquiring about the history of the establishment, feigning interest in the origins of the building while practically salivating as I leaned over the glass counters. Pyramids of pralines and perfectly appointed platters piled high with truffles greeted my bug-eyed stare at each venue. Budget tip: it turned out to be an inexpensive way to see the city. If you've maxed out the museums and castles and really want to get down and intimate with a city, pick a passion (in this case chocolate), save yourself the costs of museum passes, and just bop about the place eating bon bons. Every chocolate shop I visited was more than happy to sell me just one or two at a time. And remember, there's almost always a plate of free samples. [caption id="attachment_10771" align="aligncenter" width="330" caption="Pyramids of chocolate pleasure (Photo: Doug O'Neill)"] [/caption] You can't really visit Brussels without eventually sauntering through les Royal Galeries of Saint-Hubert, a beautiful glass-roofed arcade in the center of Brussels which was the first covered shopping "mall" in Europe. It's an architectural wonder, and situated close to numerous historic buildings of Brussels. The gallery consists of two major sections, the Galerie du Roi (Koningsgalerij), the King's Gallery, and its counterpart, Galerie de la Reine (Koninginnegalerij), the Queen's Gallery, plus a smaller corridor, Galerie des Princes (Prinsengalerij), the Gallery of the Princes. Picture a Versailles designed for shoppers. [caption id="attachment_11004" align="aligncenter" width="330" caption="Belgian chocolatiers refine their craft (Photo: Doug O'Neill)"] [/caption] In addition to $500 handbags and designer garments for sale in the chic shops within Galeries Saint-Hubert, you'll find the place choc-a-block (okay, pun intended) with sweet shops - but not just any sweet shop. Here's a partial list of the chocolatiers you'll want to patronize while in Brussels, many of them located in the Royal Galeries of Saint Hubert and in the nearby cobbled streets of Brussels: • Neuhaus Chocoate (the pralines melt in your mouth) • Corné Port Royal Chocolatier (treat yourself to Truffe marc de champagne, a truffle that marries butter cream with champagne) • Belgique Gourmande (they also have a shop in Bruges) • Godiva Chocolates (they've been refining chocolates since 1926) • Mary Chocolatier (they do amazing things with marzipan!) • Pierre Marcolini (this long-standing vendor is renown for using chocolate from all around the world.) • The House of Wittamer (great place for afternoon tea) • Leonidas French Belgian Chocolates (ask to sample their Speculos ice cream) ...and no doubt you'll find a lot more. [caption id="attachment_10774" align="aligncenter" width="330" caption="Purests who are averse to white chocolate will be forever changed! (Photo: Doug O"] [/caption] Should you decide to visit a museum, opt for one: the Museum of Cocoa & Chocolate. It's in Rue de la Tete, within walking distance of the main square at the Grand Palace. Heads-up: You will, in your rambles, stumble upon scores of chocolate reproductions of ‘ Manneken Pis (the little pee boy) throughout the city. Sometime he'll have delightfully prepared confections over his privates. [caption id="attachment_11001" align="aligncenter" width="220" caption="Travellers admire the edible bits of an obviously sweet boy! (Photo: Doug O'Neill)"] [/caption] If you're planning a chocolate-themed visit, check out Visit Flanders ( www.visitflanders.com) where you'll find details on the Belgium for Chocolate Lovers itinerary. Then again, you can also just follow your nose and taste buds! So, what about you? Belgium or Swiss Chocolate? Who makes the best?