Bite: Belgian Chocolate Village
It’s been 10 years in the making, but a new €2 million Mecca for chocolate lovers is about to open in Brussels
Robyn Boyle on Flemish food and drink
In 2005, the Brussels district of Koekelberg purchased the central part of the old Victoria building, an architectural gem that housed the Victoria biscuit and chocolate factory from 1896. Although Victoria quickly acquired world fame for its eponymous chocolate brand, the factory closed after it was taken over by the General Biscuits Company in 1970. The building remained, destined to be turned into yet another block of trendy apartments.
The idea to transform part of the factory into a chocolate wonderland came from Koekelberg mayor Philippe Pivin. He saw in the old building a Mecca for chocolate lovers, complete with colourful interactive exhibitions, an elegant tasting room and even lush greenhouses filled with cacao trees and vanilla beans.
Sounds divine, but it was a project that would drag on for years.
Realising a dream
Getting his dream off the ground was anything but easy for Pivin, partially due to the planning permits and renovations involved, but also due in large part to fierce resistance from a number of parties, political and otherwise.
Koekelberg is historically linked to chocolate... I want to protect that heritage
Opposition parties accused Pivin of gimmickry and gave him a hard time over the project’s €2 million price tag. One Socialist party councillor, for example, said: “The residents of Koekelberg need child-care centres, homes, sports and cultural venues. They’ve no need for a Chocolate Village.”
But Pivin was steadfast in defending his plan for the site. “Koekelberg is historically linked to chocolate,” he told brusselnieuws.be. “In addition to Victoria, more big names such as Godiva, Côte d’Or, Meurisse and Jacques have produced chocolate here. I want to protect that heritage.”
He wasn’t trying to compete, he said, with the Chocolate Museum on the Grote Markt. “This is more of a chocolate outlet, but much less commercial because we want to give an overview of the history of chocolate and exhibit all kinds of machinery.”
True to Pivin’s vision, the Chocolate Village is an area of 900 square metres spread over three floors, detailing the history, culture and production of chocolate. At the heart of the village is a unique tropical greenhouse that reproduces the conditions needed to grow cacao and banana trees and more exotic plants used to flavour chocolate such, as turmeric, chilli, pepper, vanilla and ginger.
An interactive self-guided tour tells the rich heritage of local chocolate making. On the ground floor is a movie about the history of Belgian chocolate. There is also a hands-on workshop where visitors of all ages are invited to create their own chocolate, as well as information about the origin of different types of chocolate. Tastings are held on the first floor, where several chocolatiers have their products on display.