Belgium is well-known for its chocolate - think names such as Godiva, Leonidas and Neuhaus, whose boutiques line the tourist areas of the major cities and transport hubs. Down a side street in Brussels, however, is a less conspicuous place in the Brussels Chocolate Museum. In homage to both the history of chocolate and its modern day incarnation, Choco Story is a wonderful hidden gem of a museum well worth visiting.
This place is part museum, part demonstration range. As you wander round, absolutely incredible, intricate chocolate designs abound, ready to astound you. They're far too good to eat.
When you first arrive, you're offered a sample of warm chocolate. The fact that this is a working museum means that all your senses are drawn in, as the smell and taste of chocolate reinforce the visual wonder.
At various points in the day you can watch a demonstration of chocolate making. Starting with the big blocks of raw materials, the skilled chocolatiers will show you how it all becomes the tasty shapes we see so beautifully packaged.
The advice about only letting chocolate go to particular temperatures when working with it only works when you've got the space and machinery of a kitchen like this one. Watch the melted chocolate swirl around and be poured into the waiting moulds.
The chocolate is carefully tempered, poured into moulds, scrapped clear of the plastic, and allowed to set. Different cocoa percentages require different temperatures, and the knowledgable staff can talk you through these as well as many other aspects of the process.
Going round the rest of the museum, different rooms give you different approaches to chocolate. There is a display on the history of it, showing beans and explaining their origins and how they are processed. Particularly as we care increasingly about ethical food and fair trade, it's really useful to learn more about the sources for one of the most popular foods around.
The museum is small, but well worth visiting. They also open for specific activities, which you need to book in advance, but which would be amazing for party ideas.
• Workshop at the museum: 15 euros per person guide.
• Workshop at the chocolate-maker's Laurent Gerbaud.
• Children's birthday party
• Beer and chocolate tasting
• Chocolate rally.
• Text message treasure hunt.
• Chocolate bar rally.
The museum is a short walk from the centre of Brussels. As it's based in an old house, you have charm, but perhaps not practical comfort. It would not be particularly easy for pushchairs or wheelchairs.
In French the museum is called the Musée du Cacao et du Chocolat, so look out for this on signs. The present museum is relatively new, having developed from earlier establishments, the joint efforts of the Van Belle and Van Lierde - Draps families. Their joint efforts in creating this magnificent tribute to chocolate makes for a fabulous afternoon out.