April 5, 2017

chocolate_1 Tuck in to delicious, luxury chocolates when you drive through Belgium and France.

 

One of Europe’s most delicious delicacies (and there are many) is its chocolate. France and Belgium are famed throughout the world for their cocoa delights. Come with us on a delicious adventure to discover the history of French and Belgian chocolate!      

Belgian Chocolate   

I love to drive through Belgium, especially when I get to stop off and treat myself to a sweet treat or two. Belgium is famed for its chocolates, but where did it all start? It turns out, it’s a tale of kings and innovative creations that turned Belgium into the ‘Chocolate Capital of the World’.     

Early History of Belgian Chocolate 

chocolate_2 These are the Belgian chocolates we all know and love, but where did they come from? Credit: KLMircea


It was in the 17th century that Belgium first started its love affair with chocolate. Back then, it was still ruled by the Spanish, who had explorers travelling around South America - the home of the cocoa bean. The explorers brought these magical beans to Belgium, and they were immediately met with the adoration that chocolate deserves.     

Chocolate was initially a luxury, reserved only for the wealthy. It was first used primarily for hot chocolate, designed to impress visitors and nobility. One of the nobles who was served this velvety drink was Henri Escher, the mayor of Zurich. He was bowled over by the chocolatey goodness, and as soon as he returned to his native Switzerland, he introduced his people to it, too. As a result of this, Belgium and Switzerland are now major competitors in the world of chocolate making.  

When Belgium colonized the Congo, they stepped up their chocolate-making game. It was here that they discovered a huge number of cocoa beans. Their ruler King Leopold III quickly took advantage of this, and Belgium became the main trader of cocoa and chocolate.    

Where to go for Belgium’s Best Hot Chocolate

Frederic Blondeel. 2 hours from Calais.    

Head to Frederic Blondeel on Baksteenkaai 24, Brussels, for a hot chocolate created with Belgian-made chocolate in their factory. This is the home of true chocolatiers, so you might find yourself leaving with more treats than just a hot chocolate.    

The Invention of Praline   

chocolate_3 Belgium is famous for Praline chocolates, invented in 1912. Credit: Paul Wilkinson

 

When we think about Belgian chocolates, we think of pralines, and it was actually the Swiss migrant Jean Neuhaus who was responsible for Belgium becoming famous for its delectable pralines. He originally opened an apothecary, and started coating medicines in chocolate so they could be handled by patients more easily. As you can imagine, these proved to be popular, and soon enough, chocolate treats replaced the medicines.     

However, it was Jean’s son (also named Jean) who first created the praline. In 1912, the same year Jean Sr. died, he created the soft, creamy centre covered in a chocolate shell. Unsurprisingly, these were also instantly adored by the public.     

It wasn’t just the men of the Neuhaus family who were interested in inventing. Jean Jr.’s wife noticed that these softer treats were getting easily crushed, which is not what you want from a praline! She and her husband invented a box to carry the chocolates in, keeping them in one piece. This box was called a ballotin and it is still used today!    

Visit the Home of the Praline 

Neuhaus, Galerie de la Reine. Just over 2 hours from Calais 

chocolate_6 Neuhaus is one of the iconic chocolate staples of Belgium. Credit: Joseph Brent

 

Obviously as the success of Neuhaus grew, so did the number of stores. There are plenty you can visit all over Belgium, but my favourite is located at the beautiful Galerie de la Reine - the original location for the Neuhaus store.     

Discover the Secrets of Belgian Chocolate

Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate. 2 hours, 55 minute drive from Calais  

Many independent chocolatiers in Belgium (and the bigger names, like Neuhaus) use traditional methods to make their chocolates. They keep their recipes closely guarded- nobody wants their competitors to learn their secrets, after all!     

You can, however, uncover some information on the making of Belgian chocolate at the Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate. Located near the main market square in Brussels, the Grand Place, come here for chocolate making demonstrations, and discover even more interesting facts about the history of Belgian chocolate. The seductive aroma of melting chocolate is reason alone to visit!

French Chocolate

It’s not just Belgium that takes the art of chocolate seriously; France is also famed for their chocolat. Their aristocracy were responsible for bringing chocolate to the country, and it was first introduced as early as 1615, when Anne of Austria gifted it to her fiancé, King Louis XIII. Just like in Belgium at the time, chocolate was considered a real luxury meant only for the very wealthy. This gift was considered so exquisite, it was kept locked away inside a chest!

Obviously as the success of Neuhaus grew, so did the number of stores. There are plenty you can visit all over Belgium, but my favourite is located at the beautiful Galerie de la Reine - the original location for the Neuhaus store.  

Discover the Secrets of Belgian Chocolate

Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate. 2 hours, 55 minute drive from Calais   

Many independent chocolatiers in Belgium (and the bigger names, like Neuhaus) use traditional methods to make their chocolates. They keep their recipes closely guarded- nobody wants their competitors to learn their secrets, after all!    

You can, however, uncover some information on the making of Belgian chocolate at the Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate. Located near the main market square in Brussels, the Grand Place, come here for chocolate making demonstrations, and discover even more interesting facts about the history of Belgian chocolate. The seductive aroma of melting chocolate is reason alone to visit!    

French Chocolate 

It’s not just Belgium that takes the art of chocolate seriously; France is also famed for their chocolat. Their aristocracy were responsible for bringing chocolate to the country, and it was first introduced as early as 1615, when Anne of Austria gifted it to her fiancé, King Louis XIII. Just like in Belgium at the time, chocolate was considered a real luxury meant only for the very wealthy. This gift was considered so exquisite, it was kept locked away inside a chest!  

chocolate_4 We have the iconic Marie Antoinette to thank for the popularity of hot chocolate.


In France, chocolate was also first consumed as a drink. Marie Antoinette was such a fan of hot chocolate, that when she first moved to the Palace of Versailles, she brought her very own chocolatier with her. He was known for adding exotic flavours to the traditional hot chocolate recipe, which was originally created by Louis XV, made with chocolate, water and egg. Marie Antoinette added delectable flavours to her own version, such as orange blossom, and almond.    

Where to go for France’s Best Hot Chocolate

Bernachon, Lyon. 7 hours drive from Calais    

If you’re spending your holiday in the beautiful city of Lyon, you must visit the famous chocolatiers, Bernachon, for a hot chocolate. Their chocolates are made in the shop, and are highly sought after for a reason! Stop here for a delicious cup of chocolat chaud, but make sure you keep some room spare for a mouth-watering chocolate bonbon (or two!).   

The Pain au Chocolat 

chocolate_5 The French tradition of a pain au chocolat for breakfast is one the whole world should embrace! Credit: Joy

 

We all know that no French breakfast is complete without a classic pain au chocolat. This buttery, chocolate croissant is one of France’s most famous delicacies and is loved worldwide.

The pain au chocolat is a variant on the traditional croissant, which first made its way into French cuisine in 1839, when Austrian soldier August Zang opened a Viennese bakery in Paris. Here, he sold the popular Austrian pastry the ‘Kipferl’ (also known as a kifli). French patissiers recreated this, opting for pastry instead of the Austrian tradition of dough. It was immensely popular, and once they put chocolate inside it, the pain au chocolat was born!   

A pain au chocolat with a hot cup of chocolat chaud, sitting outside of a small French café off the beaten track… is there anything dreamier than that?

 

Indulge in the world of chocolate with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle. It only takes 35 minutes from Folkstone to Calais. Imagine how many chocolates you could eat!

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