My fiancee and I have planned our next European vacation with our two respective "loves" in mind. While most guidebooks have no shortage of recommendations for both chocolatiers and pubs/breweries, I figured nothing assures me quite like a firsthand testomonial. The places we will be visiting are the following: Amsterdam, Utrecht (day trip), Antwerp, Brugge, Gent (day trip), Brussels (possible day trip to either Dinant or Leuven) and finally Paris. Worthy of note, we will not be renting a car so we will likely miss out on some wonderful Monastic breweries (sheds tear)...
Hi Ken. Some of the best chocolate I ever had was in Belgium, from a dinky drugstore of all places. (The town is called Louvain-le-Neuve, as in New Leuven.) The chocolate is called Jacques and comes in big bars - dark chocolate with a creamy raspberry filling. I've been unable to find it anywhere else - not in various European countries or in the States. I know you're interested in gourmet chocolatiers but do take a look in drugstores; you will be pleasantly surprised at the variety and quality of chocolate.
Chocolate in Brussels: IMO there are four absolute top names: Marcolini, Wittamer, Blondeel, and Mary's. Wittamer and Marcolini glare at one another across the place de Grand Sablon, Blondeel is on quai aux Briques in the otherwise fish-centred Saint Catherine district, and Mary's is up near the Congress area on top of the ridge. Of those, Wittamer and Mary's are more traditional and Blondeel and Marcolini slightly more avant garde and pretentious. There are also the chains in Brussels: the top ones are Neuhaus (my personal favourite of the chains), Corne Port Royal, and Galler. Leonidas and Godiva are well below those three, I'd say. Also go into a newsagent and get a bar of Cote d'Or. Realise that this is lowest-common-denominator corner-shop chocolate in Belgian and realise just how awful chocolate is in the English-speaking world. In Paris look out for Maison du Chocolate branches. I also really like the Cacao et Chocolate chain which has a pseudo-Aztec image. There are a few single-boutique places: my favourites are Richart in boulevard St Germain (try their "Hesperides" citrus assortment) and Jacques Genin on the NE fringe of the Marais in rue de Turenne.
Chocolates in Brussels, Wittamer and do not forget to have one of the wonderful liege waffles on the street. In Brugge, I do not remember the name of the chocolate shop. However, it was on the square - if facing the bell tower on the right. We enjoyed a Belgian brew in almost any pub or restaurant.
Ken, I had only a day and a half in Brugge and ended up spending 1/3 or it in the Zot Beer Garden. It was a very hot day and I did the tour right after lunch. I met some people on the tour and the three of us just settled in. ; ) Amsterdam was wonderful. I stayed at the hotel Brouwer. I had a wonderful dinner at a restaurant that was at the corner of the Heren Gracht and Prins Heren. The restaurant offered Belgian food paired with Belgian Beers. It was a great meal. I wish I could remember the name. When I was in Paris a few years ago, I needed to meet my whisky need and found a Scottish pub that also, of course, serves beer. ; ) It's in the Marais and you might want to check it out. http://www.theauldalliance.com/ I'm beginning to think that we should have a Madison WI meet up sometime soon. I've seen several Madison WI posts. ; ) Pam
Two suggestions for you regarding beer. Check out Beermapping and pick up the book 100 Belgian Beers to try before you Die. If you can't get your hands on a Westvleteren while your in Belgium, check out a Sint Bernardus Abt 12. Also, if you want to pick up some for the trip back, or just stand in reverent awe, go to De Bier Tempel.
"so we will likely miss out on some wonderful Monastic breweries (sheds tear)..." Don't worry, in Belgium very few breweries, trappist or otherwise, offer regular tours to the general public anyway. My chocolate recommendation for Brugge would be Moeder Babelutte. They're located on Wollestraat a few minutes walk from the Memling museum. They also have a branch in Brussels near he Mannekin Pis, but for some reason they sell different chocolate there, and in my opinion, not as good. If you choose Leuven over Dinant, go in the evening and grab a beer at one of the cafes on the Oude Markt (note, this is a different square than the Grote Markt, which is where the town hall and cathedral sit). If the university is in session, you'll share company with thousands of students... and you'll be the only Americans. It's a much more civilized drinking atmosphere than I remember from college and the beer is definitely better! Dinant is certainly prettier than Leuven, but Leuven is much more lively. Although you didn't mention fries, if in Utrecht, try them with the delicious peanut satay sauce (I think it's listed as "pindersaus"). I've also seen it available in Amsterdam, but not in Belgium.
On our trip to Benelux, we bought a book called "The Good Beer Guide to Belgium and Holland." There's some used copies for sale on Amazon. It was our bible for that trip.
Thanks to all. We will be staying in the 4e/Marais while in Paris, so those suggestions will certainly be taken to heart. As far as the last suggestion for satay sauce and frites... I can't think of much more I am looking forward to than beer, but that might be now among it.
I was in Brugge fairly recently. There are many, many chocolate shops there and I think I sampled from just about all of them. It's pretty hard to find bad chocolate there, so you really can't go wrong. I believe my favorite was The Chocolate Line. Enjoy.
We just returned from our first visit to Amsterdam, Brugge and Brussels. My husband loves beer, particularly Belgian, though I don't. His favorite beer place on the trip was in Brussels, at Moeder Lambic, Place Fontainas 8, http://www.moederlambic.eu/. They serve a bunch of artisanal beers, all on tap. Both times we went, the servers were great, and VERY enthusiastic about their beer, and in fact, everything else on the menu. Even their non-alcoholic drinks, and their cheese and other foods, are from artisan sorts of places. In Brugge, we went several times to Bierbrasserie Cambrinus, Phillip Stockstraat 19, http://www.cambrinus.eu/english.htm. The staff (all female) was busy and unsmiling, but the beer menu is huge, and the food was quite good, too. In Amsterdam, we didn't focus so much on beer, but enjoyed the following cafes/bars:
Café Schiller, Rembrandtplein 36, good beer list, it's more of a grownup place, with Art Deco decor and jazz playing in the background. 't Smalle, Egelantiersgracht 12, just plain cute (and small). It's nice inside, and they have a great waterfront terrace. I used this website to locate great beer places (hubby has me to thank for the places in Brugge and Brussles): http://www.ratebeer.com/. You'll find names of fantastic chocolatiers everywhere, especially for Belgium - you'll have to sample until you find your favorites. We liked Galler and Neuhaus in Brussels, and The Chocolate Line in Brugge. Sorry, no help for Paris - we drink wine and eat pastries there!
I've had the best hot chocolate of my life at Angelina's in Paris, near the Tuileries. Can't give better directions than that, it's been years, but I just googled it cuz I couldn't remember the name. It was DECADENT, and I'm not even that big of a hot chocolate lover. Don't miss it!
in Brussels, you may want to check out the Delirium Cafe- I think they are up to 2500+ beers now. They played old American rock music and are located near the Grand Place. Bruges- Dumon chocolate was really good. Paris- I picked up some Maison au Chocolat at the airport...only was there for 1 day and night- drank wine. L'Écume St. Honoré was a nice place for some oysters if you like those. It's a seafood shop that has a few tables for people to eat lunch. general chocolate recommendat- Amedei! from Tuscany
Here's another recommendation while in the Netherlands. Try some of the black licorice drops they sell at candy stores. I can't say I like all, or even most, of the flavours, but it definately is something unique you won't find anywhere else. The one variety I do like are the one's shaped... um... like a woman's breasts. I swear, it's because of the flavour, not the shape!
Right, Tom ;) FWIW, the best chocolate I found in Tuscany was "Chocolat Sas Di Tadeucci Benedetta" (Just looked that up, certainly wouldn't have remembered that name...) on the main drag in Lucca; though we never came across Amedei. Something tells me we won't be disappointed in whatever we find. Regarding chocolate in the US/UK, I am definitely noticing many more artisinal chocolatiers here in Madison, year by year. And that's for a city that's only around 250-300K people, though I don't know if this is a national trend akin to the craft beer movement 10 years ago. (and if you're ever here in Madison, Candinas on the capital square is not to be missed)
In Bruges, Dumon & The Chocolate Line were our favorites. Dumon has several locations, but the one just off the market square is adorable. You'll see all Rick Steve's Christmas cards hanging on the wall. Chocolate Line has all the incredible exotic flavors. Make sure to do the beer tour. In Brussels, we sat outside at Grand Place and sampled several beers recommended by our waiter. All had their own special glass. So much fun people watching too. If you make it to Rue Cler (7th)in Paris, go to Davoli's and pick up food to have a picnic in Champs de Mars (eiffel tower park). Ask what they recommend. Everything we tried was delicious! The Paris street markets also have delicious food and you'll be buying what the locals also buy-not touristy.
The best ice cream/gelato I've ever had was in Paris at a small brasserie or cafe very close to Notre Dame. I don't remember the name, but this kind of gelato might be found all over the city. It was chocolate, with a strong rum content, and mixed in were dark chocolate flakes. AMAZING. It's been over 3 years and I still think about that stuff!
My favorite cities are Amsterdam and Gent. I liked Gent much more than Brugge. Belgium is the place for beer - my sister and I just returned and had a blast. I loved Gent - great vibe and great bars. Even sitting by the canal drinking cans of beer at sunset was great. For beer drinking Gent is my numer one destination.
Was that Berthillon ice cream? Their sorbets are brilliant.
I got some chocolates from Leonida's in Brussels - only to forget them in our room when we were leaving for the airport! Still sad about that. Then again, that probably happened because I had quite a bit of Belgian beer the night before. Definitely stop by Delirium pub - it's a few blocks away from De Broukere and just north of Grand Place. You can choose from 2000+ beers (not all on tap, but still), which you can't really beat.