Like many people, I’m a little addicted to chocolate. But until recently, I’d always resisted the temptation to snort it.
That changed when I visited Bruges and had the pleasure of meeting Dominique Persoone, a self-styled ‘shock-olatier’ and the city’s very own Willy Wonka.
Last June, he was asked to do a dessert for the joint birthday party of Rolling Stones Ronnie Wood (60) and Charlie Watts (66). The veteran rockers were rehearsing in nearby Brussels at the time.
Dominique created a strawberry and chocolate dish with a twist – the twist being that you actually snorted the chocolate.
He recreated the scene for my wife and I at his city centre shop, the appropriately-named Chocolate Line, which is in the Michelin Guide.
Dominique sprinkled a mixture of cocoa powder and various spices onto a small, plastic, spring-loaded contraption. He carefully took aim, then released as we sharply inhaled.
It sent shockwaves through us and the chocolaty sensation lingered for hours.
Dominique pairs chocolate with all kinds of ingredients including chilli peppers, peas, cauliflower, vinegar, radish, chives and even cheese.
It sounds crazy but try it and your taste buds will love you forever.
We also tried an unusual tequila liqueur. A little salt was embedded on the side of a bowl-shaped chocolate within which rested a pipette of tequila. We licked the salt, squirted the tequila directly into our mouths then ate the chocolates.
‘Shock-olatier’ Dominique Persoone
Further down the same street, Katelijnestraat, you’ll find Chocolaterie Sukerbuyc, a traditional, family-run chocolate shop that last month celebrated its 30th anniversary.
Like many shops, the chocolates are made and sold exclusively on the premises. The only exporting they do is to the family’s tea rooms right across the street.
At the tea rooms, we enjoyed mugs of hot chocolate. Unusually, the hot milk is served separately from the melted chocolate. You mix it in yourself and it’s delicious.
Bruges is Belgium’s leading chocolate city. There are 49 officially recognised confectionery shops and the rich aroma wafts through the medieval streets all year round.
For further evidence of a city’s willingness to experiment with ‘brown gold’, pop into one of the 10 restaurants where chocolate is cleverly worked into a variety of recipes.
We’re not just talking desserts here but many main courses, too.
Since January 2006, the city has had an official chocolate – the Bruges Swan (swans are to Bruges what ravens are to the Tower of London).
The exact recipe is a secret but amongst the key ingredients are almond paste, gruut (a type of local spiced flour) and kletskoppen (a Bruges biscuit).
They are packed in an exclusive box and come with a guarantee that they have been hand-made by members of the recently-formed Bruges Chocolate Guild.
Still not had your fill?
Two-hour Chocolate Walks with an English speaking guide take place every Tuesday and Thursday. Tickets are 9 euros but you get to sample chocolates and other goodies, served up with fascinating facts.
For a further insight, visit the Choco-Story Museum.
It has more than 1,000 authentic artefacts demonstrating how chocolate has developed throughout the centuries and in the demonstration area you can eat your fill of the museum’s own creations.
Once you’ve indulged your tastebuds, you can treat your body.
Apparently, cocoa contains natural anti-oxidants which can improve both your mood and your blood circulation while cocoa butter helps soften, nourish and protect your skin.
There are several places where you can experience ‘choco-therapy’ including cocoa face masks and creamy chocolate massages (tasting allowed!).
On February 9 and 10, the Chocolate Guild is staging its very first Chocolate Market. Each confectioner will demonstrate his own particular speciality which visitors will be able to sample.
Entry is 2 euros (proceeds to charity) and to give the event a Valentine’s feel, the chocolatiers will be teaming up to create the world’s largest chocolate heart.
And there are not many better places for a romantic break than Bruges.
Stroll or take a horse and cart along its charming streets, admiring windmills, lofty spires and pretty step-gabled houses. There’s even a Lake Of Love.
Plus, Bruges’ meandering canals have earned it the nickname Venice of the North.
But no matter how delightful the surroundings, it won’t be long, I bet, until your eyes are once again drawn to a mouth-watering display in a chocolate shop window.
For more information on Bruges, click onto the Visit Flanders website
Travellers to Bruges can stay three nights for the price of two until March 13.
Prices start from 50 euros per night (100 euros for three nights) for a double or twin room, including breakfast, for arrivals on Sundays, Mondays or Tuesdays, subject to availability.
As part of this promotion, travellers will also receive many further benefits, including:
- Free tickets for a Winter Walk and a Chocolate Walk (value 9 euros per person) and free quartet tickets to see the work of the Flemish Primitives at four Bruges museums (value 14 euros per person)
- Reduced priced tickets to Choco-Story (4.80 euros instead of 6 euros) and the Diamond Museum (4.50 euros instead 6 euros, or 7.50 euros instead of 9 euros for a visit with a cutting/polishing display)
- A 20% reduction on organ recitals, theatre shows and all purchases made at the shops of Bruges Municipal Museums.
For further details and to book call 0032 (0) 50 44 46 46 or log onto www.bruges.be/winter
Midlanders can now travel all the way to Bruges on just one train ticket after Eurostar linked up with the ticketing systems of seven UK train operators including Virgin, Chiltern and London Midland.
This means you can book one fare that’s valid for your entire journey from the Midlands to the new Eurostar terminal at London St Pancras, then onwards to the Belgium capital of Brussels, where you change for local services to Bruges.
There are seven daily services from St Pancras to Brussels Midi station. The travelling time is 1hr 51mins. Bruges is under an hour away and trains depart half-hourly. Standard class, return Eurostar fares to Brussels start from £67 and the price includes onward journeys to any station in Belgium.
If you’d prefer to travel south by car your best bet is to catch your Eurostar train at the new Ebbsfleet station, just two miles off the M25, near Gravesend in Kent. Parking here is £11.50 a day. For more information visit Eurostar or call 08705 186 186.