When researching what to do in Brussels, I (naturally) reached out to my blogger friends, Jess (Jess-on-Thames), Sandy (SMarkstheSpots), and Sunny (MostlySunny) for advice.
A reoccurring theme? Chocolate. Or, as Jess put it in her sweet email to me, "all the chocolate" (italics hers, not mine).
Udita dissolved into fits of giggles as she read the email out loud on the Eurostar: "We have to buy all the chocolate!"
This, I was told, could be discovered in the magical area of The Sablon (although we later discovered that chocolate shops are pretty much everywhere), which is famous for its chocolatiers and confectioners.
Our first stop was Pierre Marcolini, which had been included in virtually every email and tweet I'd received about Brussels. We stepped into the sleek, dark shop and were instantly enamoured by the delicate, bite-sized chocolates made from Venezuelan and Madagascan cocoa beans.
After a freezing cold (but delicious lunch) outside in Sainte-Catherine, we needed something hot to warm our cockles, so when I spied the chocolat chaud stirring in the corner, I ordered two cups for us to enjoy while we browsed the shop ... I think we both made it about halfway through our cups before realizing that one between the two of us would have been plenty - it was exquisitely rich and oh-so-divine!
While ogling the beautiful displays of chocolate, this adorable but quirky keepsake box (to be filled with macarons of your choice) designed by Olympia Le-Tan caught my eye. I decided that it'd make a great souvenir - a reminder of a fun and fantastic trip with my best friend.
I carefully chose my 12 macarons (including some intriguing flavors such as speculoos - a spiced biscuit similar to gingerbread - and bergamot) and turned for half a second to have a look at another display while my box was being wrapped. No sooner had I returned to pay, when I noticed that Udita had somehow managed to surreptitiously hand her card to the shop assistant instead! I protested loudly and we had one of our embarrassing, "WHY? STOP! NO!" arguments and I walked out of Pierre Marcolini feeling extremely spoiled.
I love the box as much as the macarons themselves; I plan to use it as a keepsake/jewellery box (perhaps a place to store our ticket stubs from the trip?).
From there, we made a beeline to Laduree, as I'd seen Jess's photos of the magnificent interiors before, but wanted to see them for myself.
Please tell me I'm not the only one who immediately imagines powdered wigs, fake moles, and strains of harpsichord music when walking into this room? I mean, we didn't even try to pretend to buy anything (okay, I picked up a couple of candles to sniff) - just gawked and took photos. But oh my goodness. This might be the most beautiful room I've ever stood in.
After reluctantly making our way out of Laduree, we headed to Neuhaus (first photo above), where Udita bought some crunchy hazelnut spread (just in case she runs out of her personalized Nutella) and we marvelled at the sheer range of colorful chocolate eggs.
From there, we timidly stepped into Patrick Roger - who had a decidedly artistic (if not, somewhat, acquired) take on chocolate and sweets:
Feeling slightly intimidated by the "Please do not touch" signs, we showed ourselves out after a quick tour, and headed straight into Maison Dandoy for some speculoos biscuits, which I purchased for John.
The shop smelled delicious; I can only imagine how festive it must be around Christmas-time!
By now, our chocolate high had waned, and we collapsed into a taxi with our copious bags filled with macarons, truffles, and speculoos.
Sprawled on the bed back at the hotel, my eyes about to close for an afternoon nap, I suddenly shot up and looked at Udita: "I didn't buy any chocolate!"
She started laughing.