On the hunt for a unique day trip to celebrate the holidays, Johanna Payton jumped on the Eurostar and went Easter chocolate shopping in Brussels
Religious significance aside, having an excuse to stuff my face with chocolate makes the Easter holiday a wonderful thing.
A total choc-o-holic, I’ve been quietly addicted to Belgian seashells since I went on my first European coach holiday to Ostend circa 1984. So the chance to hop on a Eurostar for a March jaunt to Brussels promised to be a veritable feast.
All the biggest Belgian brands have lavish Easter treats presented in a sensational way
And the day trip did not disappoint: Brussels may be known for its European parliamentary credentials (indeed, a well-known MP was on my 8am train from St. Pancras), but it’s also a chocolate Mecca. As such, Easter is a huge deal here.
As soon as I reached the town centre – after the chippy two-hour train journey and a not-too-taxing 15-minute walk from Brussels Midi station – I knew I was in for a sweet treat.
In the tourist-centric Rue de l’Etuve, starting at the Manneken Pis (the teeny bronze statue of a urinating boy that no one really understands), every one of the copious chocolate emporiums had a mouth-watering Easter window display. All the biggest Belgian brands are here including Godiva, Neuhaus and Leonidas, all with lavish Easter treats presented in a sensational way. Step inside any choc-shop and you’ll be offered samples of freshly handmade chocolate: the silky sweet waft as you walk through the door is enough to floor a chocolate lover.
After wandering through the gorgeous Grand Place (usually awash with flowers but rather quiet on the freezing first day of March) more indulgent chocolate shops are to be found on Rue du Marché aux Herbes including Chocopolis, Café-Tasse Store and La Maison du Chocolat. All delicious, all packed with special Easter confections.
All the gazing at candy eggs and chocolate rabbits got a bit too much, so I ducked into Georgette on Rue de la Fourche for coffee: if you’re looking for a hipster espresso to fuel your chocolate shopping, consider Peck 47 on Rue Marché Aux Poulets.
Tempting as it was to stay in cosy Georgette for lunch, I was after some traditional Belgian sustenance. ‘T Kelderke is a vaulted, 17th-century dining room in the Grand Place serving reasonably priced, delicious Belgian food, perfect for warming the cockles. I ordered a classic lunch of stoemp with country sausages: top class comfort food delivered by friendly English and French speaking staff.
Once I’d emerged from the cosy cellar, more choco-shopping was in order. The upmarket chocolate delights of Brussels are to be found in the chic area of Sablon, an uphill 10-minute stroll from the Grand Place. Wittamer is regarded by many as the best chocolate brand in Brussels and its bright, funky chickens and punky Easter eggs certainly turned my head. Patrick Roger is as much an artist as he is a chocolatier: the life-size chocolate gorilla in the window of his studio must be seen to be believed. Other chocolate hot-spots I’d recommend drooling in are Passion Chocolat, Chocolatier Pierre Marcolini and Belvas. While you’re in the ‘hood, check out Sablon’s antique stores and pay the Palais de Justice a visit, an imposing folly that pays homage to law-based megalomania. It’s another baffling Belgian landmark.
A good thirst had been worked up by the time I’d walked back down the hill into town. Cafe Le Lombard was just the ticket. If you’re up for sampling Belgian beer (when in Brussels…) there is a huge menu here. When I ordered the one “zero alcohol” option, the barman exclaimed “really? In Belgium?” But the guilt-free Jupiler tipple really hit the spot.
With time to spare for one more chocolate fix, I hit Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, one of Europe’s oldest shopping arcades. With its lofty glass roof and myriad chocolate shops, it’s a grand and indulgent experience. I let my inner chocolate addict run free, loading up on seashells from Leonidas and enough mini chocolate Manneken Pis’s from Belgique Gourmande to sink a small ship. After a last-minute splurge on foil-wrapped mini eggs served in an egg box from Café-Tasse, it was time to amble back to the train station.
With a departure time of 19:52, there had been plenty of time for tea in Brussels, but I was saving myself for supper on the train home. As I travelled back to London with a Standard Premier class ticket, drinks and a lovely meal were served en route (and the USB charger in the comfortable single seat went down a treat after a long day’s chocolate browsing).
I’m now fully stocked for the Easter hols. If you get the chance to pop over to Brussels this month, you could do the same. For chocolate lovers, this really is the ultimate day trip destination for Easter gifts and treats and – as ever – the fast and super-slick Eurostar service makes a day trip not just possible, but relaxing and leisurely, too.
How to get to Brussels without flying:
Johanna travelled on the direct Eurostar service from London St. Pancras to Brussels, leaving at 8:04 and getting back into London at 21:03.
Words: Johanna Payton for Feet on the ground
Images: Johanna Payton (using iPhone 6S)