Bruges is a chocoholic’s paradise – get a taste of its many delights and maybe you’ll be tempted to head over in time for a Christmas or Easter cruise holiday
When in Bruges… eat chocolate!
No doubt about it, Bruges (tours from Zeebrugge) is chocolate-box pretty. Its tiny UNESCO-listed medieval centre is renowned for its alluring mix of art treasures, stepped-gable houses, cobbled streets and beautiful canals. And dotted about this compact city are more than 50 chocolate shops, often little works of art in themselves. Behind the enticing facades with their tempting displays and heavenly aromas are workshops where hundreds of kilos of exquisite pralines, truffles and ganaches are made every week by elite chocolatiers.
Follow the bean
Look out for the orange and red cocoa bean motif – that sign means the shop is one of 20 or so in town that are members of the Guild of the Bruges Chocolatiers. Only they can make the unique Brugsch Swaentje, or Bruges Swan. Invented in 2006, it was originally made with very particular ingredients – including gruut (mixed spices) and kletskoppen (a local biscuit) – and was always encased in dark chocolate. But emulating the waterways of the city and its beautiful Minnewater, Bruges’ chocolate shops now offer numerous flavours of swans, including white and milk chocolate varieties filled with everything from lavender and almond paste to rum ganache and cuberdon (the raspberry cone-shaped sweets unique to Belgium).
Get a taste
Explore this jewel-like city either on your own or on a shore experience. Fans of cult film In Bruges will recognize the looming 13th-century belfry on Markt Square, which Colin Farrell’s character refuses to climb as he can see the great view just fine from “down here”. Make the effort though and you’ll find everything laid out before you, just like a piece of the ornate lacework that the city is famous for. Peer into the adjacent Burg Square with its 14th-century city hall and the Basilica of the Holy Blood and, if you have keen eyes, clock the most alluring cafés serving mugs of foaming ale for later. Whatever you do, save the notoriously strong beers for after your climb!
Love is in the air
Feeling romantic? Or just in need of a nice sit-down? Head to the lovely Minnewater Park on the southern outskirts of Bruges. Local legend has it that if you cross the Minnewater Bridge with your sweetheart, you will love each other forever – much like the paired-up swans that can be seen here on the Minnewater, known as the Lake of Love.
Top choc shops – where to try and buy
This traditional chocolatier sells incredible edible chocolate boxes. Adorned with scenes of Bruges or beautiful poppies, they make perfect presents or souvenirs. The teashop opposite is also famous for its hot chocolate.
Established in 1958, today’s shop is streamlined and modern with eye-catching window displays. You must try the secret-recipe truffles invented by founder Alfons Depla and now made exclusively by his son, Pol. The shop is known for its chocolate and mallow teacakes, but also makes around 70-80 different kinds of chocolate.
Stefan Dumon’s sleek shop is full of temptations but hone in on the Gran Cru, a dark chocolate praline with a single-origin extra dark 75 per cent ganache from Brazilian cocoa beans. Along with some 70 pralines, there is also a range of 10 arresting ‘colour cubes’, with enticing flavours like fruits of the forest, Champagne cassis and verbena.
This old-fashioned-looking store is at odds with the rock n’ roll madness within, with its skull-and lip-shaped chocolates and wasabi, cola, Havana cigar and hempseed flavours. Try Asian Confetti, a crazy mix of caramel, rice vinegar, soy sauce, sesame praline, sansho pepper and popping candy.
Did you know?
80 million chocolate eggs are sold in the United Kingdom each year.