It’s a short, 1-hour train ride from Brussels to Bruges. The train picks you up in the centre of Brussels and drops you off just a few steps away from the primarily pedestrian centre of town. You need to come mentally and physically prepared when you visit Belgium because there is chocolate everywhere and a whole lot of it is in Bruges. Most of the big chocolate names have smaller outposts here but don’t bother with them as you have probably already had your fill, or will while in Brussels. There is a lot of good looking chocolate, but be warned that not all of it is good so it is worth being a bit picky as you go around.
I followed my map as it told me to walk left, then right, then left, then right to my first and primary reason for being in Bruges: The Old Chocolate Shop. This little shop is a family business run by Françoise Thomaes which she opened in 1997. Soon after that, three of her children joined the business. Around 2008, they had the idea of starting a tea-room where you could drink a proper hot chocolate because the only hot chocolates they found when they went for walks in the winter were cups of heated cocoa powder drinks that were very sweet (we hear ya). Walk in, up the rickety and narrow wooden staircase to their hot chocolate room.
Many times I sip my hot chocolates alone just because I am often travelling alone, but this is the place to come with someone you like a lot. That seems to be what everyone else, tourists and locals, had done and because of that it had this very serene yet joyous feel to it. The details everywhere, from the walls to the beautiful stained glass windows, make you feel as if you are in a small museum. The best seats are the ones next to these windows. You really couldn’t create a more beautiful space to sip hot chocolate. Everything is picture perfect.
So picture this my fellow hot chocolate lovers. You are sitting on your little table and after a few minutes are presented with a menu of hot chocolates. Yes, there is a whole menu of hot chocolates. Let me guide you through this as it is like a hot chocolate bible. Make sure you go through the whole menu before you choose as most people stop on the first page filled with tourist trap hot chocolates and never venture further into the good stuff. You can choose from a range of signature “The Old Chocolate House Favourites” such as salty caramel, aztek (cinnamon and chili). Naomi’s favourite is Dominican Republic white chocolate with cinnamon and chili while the Families Favourite is milk chocolate with a speculoos ganache. You can add any extra toppings for a euro. They have hot chocolates with alcohol added. They also have single origin hot chocolates from many different countries and several different companies as well. You can have a very simple hot chocolate and just focus in on the flavours of the chocolate itself, or go a bit crazy. I was tempted by the Winnie The Pooh made with fairtrade dark chocolate, lavender flowers with honey and organic honeycomb from the Pyrenees but decided to save that for another day.
I could have easily settled in to sip a whole selection of hot chocolates but ended up choosing a single origin hot chocolate. I also chose this spot to have lunch: a Belgium waffle topped whip cream (this was that kind of a trip). The hot chocolate was presented in a giant mug with the chocolate chips on the side, accompanied by a tiny whisk for a “do it yourself” experience. After you finish, be sure to have a quick walk through their shop downstairs. It is overwhelming how much chocolate they have jam packed into such a tiny space.
Bruges is a popular tourist destination because of its museums and beautiful historic buildings. An important stop is the Choco Story: Bruges Chocolate Museum which, for under 10 euros, is a good overview of the history of chocolate in Belgium. The Chocolate Line nearby is an interesting and popular chocolate stop and I enjoyed trying some of the interesting chocolates on offer (including one with rum, cognac and Cuban tobacco leaves). Another good one is Dumon. The whole town feels like a dream, a dream dipped in chocolate. If, after all this, you still want more, there are over 20 different chocolate shops unique to Bruges and all walkable (if you want more ideas have a read of this fantastic list). Just pick a direction and walk and you will find them all easily. They are all hiding in plain sight. My favourite, non chocolate stop whenever I am here is Dille & Kamille, a beautiful home goods store a block away.
Verdict: There are a growing handful of places around the world that have taken hot chocolate and turned it into a religion, and their cafes a place to worship them. This is on that list. There are many reasons to take a day trip to Bruges, but this should be your primary reason. The Old Chocolate Shop, Mariastraat 10, Bruges