Kim Copitch visits the Belgian capital to pursue her passion for one of the city’s favourite exports
As a self-confessed chocoholic in need of a city break, I wondered if I could find a location that would keep me happy on both counts.
I found my answer in Brussels.
Famous for its artisan chocolates and Belgian waffles, this charming capital of the EU is also full of culture and is the historic home of Tintin, The Smurfs and other famous comic creations.
Leaving from London St Pancras on Eurostar, we arrived in Brussels’ heart in just two hours.
Our accommodation was the four-star Le Plaza Hotel, near Rue Neuveu, a popular shopping street just a 15-minute walk to the main square, Grande Place.
I was struck by the hotel’s traditional décor, elegant chandelier lighting and opulent furniture. Our spacious room was very comfortable and we took advantage of the hotel’s free Wi-Fi and gym.
The buffet breakfast inside the hotel’s Brasserie L’Esterel (which is also open for lunch and dinner) catered for the hungriest of travellers – and I was pleased to see chocolate on the menu in the form of freshly-made crepes.
We spent many hours wandering the cobbled Brussels streets, gorging on samples of pralines, nougats, fondants, biscuits and macaroons. You don’t have to go far to get your fill, as shopkeepers seem happy to hand out samples of their finely crafted treats.
Our next stop was the Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate, just off the Grande Place, where we enjoyed comparing chocolate buttons, made from pure chocolate to pure cocoa butter and everything along the way. Our mouths watered at a demonstration on making a chocolate praline, and I was encouraged to try my hand at making a chocolate yoghurt pot!
A short distance from the centre, we came across the 1950s Belgian vision of the future. Known as the Atomium, in the aptly-named Atomium Square, this sci-fi structure is a magnified replica of an iron crystal.
Originally built for the World’s Fair in 1958, it is open to the public. Information is displayed within the giant silver bubbles, while visitors can travel the escalator through the structure’s branches.
You can watch your ascent through the glass ceiling in the lift and be transported to the restaurant at the top, from which we surveyed the beauty of Brussels, while enjoying a Belgian waffle.
It was also easy to combine our two other passions – nightlife and Jewish interest – with a visit to The Ultimate Hallucination on Rue Royale where, more than 100 years ago, a local Jew converted his house into a beautiful art nouveau bar on the ground floor, and a conference centre upstairs for a Jewish lodge to host meetings.
The bar – a fascinating mix of neon signs, Victorian dinner party, classy clientele and hoi polloi – provided us with a great opportunity to sample Belgium’s famous variety of flavoured, fruity beers.
Also in Brussels, we saw one of its most talked-about features – the amusing water fountain known as the 17th Century Manneken Pis, which displays a young boy urinating. According to tradition, the statue is dressed in different costumes several times every week, according to a published schedule that is posted on the railings around the fountain.
Many of these can be viewed in a permanent exhibition inside the City Museum in the Grand Place.
Brussels is home to around 10,000 Jews and there are Jewish day schools, as well as thriving synagogue communities. Jews began arriving in Belgium in the 13th and 14th Centuries, having been expelled from England and France.
The Jewish population reached its peak in 1939, after thousands of German Jews sought refuge, but the Nazis transported most of them to Auschwitz – and at least 40,000 Belgian Jews were killed.
Our next stop was the Jewish Museum on Rue Des Minimes, which contains an extensive collection of interesting photographs and religious artifacts.
Finally, we found The Great Synagogue, on Rue de la Regence, which was constructed in 1878 and remains as it did before the Second World War. In 2008, the building was renamed The Great Synagogue of Europe to show EU support for the Jewish community.
After a fantastic two days, it was time to depart this beautiful city. Brussels, with its wide offering of entertainment, culinary delights and Jewish interest, was an excellent choice for a weekend break.