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Summer Travel Series : Visiting Belgium? See The Grand Place

This month, ChezSlaughter Chocolate of Shreveport-Bossier City, LA is featuring the country of Belgium in a ‘Summer Travel Series’ on The Chocolate Blog. With this post we feature The Grand Place, which some call the most beautiful square in all of Europe.

Why Belgium?
For starters, we lived there for 15 years and want to share some of the wonders of this small country nestled between France, Germany and The Netherlands. But perhaps more pertinent to this website, Belgium is known as the ‘chocolate capital of the world.’

Belgium hosts one of the most progressive chocolate industries in the world. The country sets the standard for couverture chocolate and knowing exactly what to do with it as evidenced by the 300+ chocolate companies in a country with only 11 million residents!

Over the next several weeks, we’re going to cover a number of stories about Belgium.  We’ll write about chocolate, food make recommendations on what you should see and do if and when you visit the country. We hope you enjoy our Belgium Summer Travel Series!

Introducing The Grand Place ::
Brussels’ Unsung Hero
While Brussels is known around the world for its beer, waffles, chocolate, frites, tapestry and lace, the architecture comprising the Grand Place is the city’s unsung hero.

Anchored by the Hotel de Ville (City Hall) which covers much of the south side, and the Maison du Roi (King’s House) to the north, a collection of opulent houses comprises the remaining borders of the Grand Place. These houses were built by merchant guilds and originally constructed with wood. They were adorned with gilded statues and symbols reflecting the various trades. After most of the houses were ruined beyond repair during the 1695 French bombardment, the guilds rebuilt them with stone.

In-between the quadrangle of buildings is a paved cobblestone area roughly the size of a football field. Here, painters sell their portraits of all things Belgian, florists set up flower markets and tourists snap photos in front of the beautiful buildings. At times, special events and exhibits inhabit the center of the Grand Place – offering a majestic tone to even the most minimal affair.

More Than Meets The Eye
The buildings and the cobblestoned square are the centerpieces of the area, there’s more to the Grand Place than bricks and mortar.

The purpose of the Grand Place has evolved over the centuries, but today it stands as a monument to all that is Grand about Brussels. Locals frequent the Grand Place to eat at one of the many restaurants, down their favorite Belgian beer, or enjoy a bite of Belgian chocolate. Tourists wander the surrounding streets giggling at the Mannekin Pis, sampling a Belgian waffle and shopping for Belgian tapestry and lace.

More than 175 restaurants, bars and cafes are located on the Place and surrounding streets, offering a place to eat, drink and be merry. The area is home to 38 Belgian chocolate shops, nine Belgian waffles shops and four ice cream shops. You’ll also find four bakeries, and two ‘friteries’ where you can have your Belgian frites (fries) to go – complete with your choice of sauce.

If you’re in a shopping mood, there is a mall, a covered shopping gallery and hundreds of small shops lining the surrounding streets. You can find everything from clothes, shoes and jewelry, to collectibles, crystal and musical instruments.

And if you’re looking for a memorable gift for that special someone, there are 12 shops selling Belgian lace and tapestries, plus specialty stores offering French Provencal soaps, lotions and perfumes. You’ll also find a shop offering fresh-baked Belgian goodies and one that makes and sells Spanish artisanal candy.

For small souvenirs, visit one of the 38 shops offering refrigerator magnets, collectible spoons, and all things Mannekin Pis, as well as Belgian and European Union inspired shirts, hats and umbrellas.

Tired of eating and shopping and ready to do something?

You can visit one of five museums, see an independent film at a nearby cinema or enjoy a Belgian puppet show. Or you can visit one of three tourist offices for information about Brussels and beyond or book a walking or bus tour. And you can also have your hair coiffed, your back massaged, and a get a tattoo – all while visiting the Grand Place area.

Indeed, the Grand Place lives up to its name. But don’t just take our word for it.

What Others Say
“The Grand Place is the most beautiful square in the world,” said writer Victor Hugo, who once made his home in a building on the Grand Place.

“A splendid stage” is how French poet, novelist, playwright and filmmaker Jean Cocteau described it.

“Never have I seen something so beautiful and exquisite as the town square of the city where the town hall rises up into the sky,” said Archduchess Isabella in 1599.

“At the town hall in Brussels, I have seen the four pieces in the golden room, which the great master Rogier van der Weyden painted. I never saw such beautiful things that reminded me of the paradise and gave me pleasure. In Brussels is a very beautiful town hall, large and beautifully carved stone, built with a delicious illustrious tower. ” (Erasmus) Quote provided by Jan Dorp- mans, www.brusselswalks.com

“The Grand Place is like a film set for western movies. I once walked through some tourist shop selling Brussels lace. The back windows were shattered, I nearly fell through the stairs and above lay a moldy mattress, there were manholes in the bloor, and the rusty remains of an iron bed. Ten meters behind the gold leafed facades of one of the most prestigious squares in the world did little nettles, ferns and fungi do their stubborn work. (Geert van Istendael, Flemish writer)” Quote provided by Jan Dorpman, www.brusselswalks.com

Not only do rich, famous and historical figures adore the Grand Place, but so do everyday people. In fact, the Grand Place won hands down when a survey asked more than 1,000 participants to name their favorite European square.

And finally, who can argue with UNESCO? The Grand Place was inscribed as an official UNESCO World Heritage site in 1998. Their conclusion: “The Grand-Place is an outstanding example of the eclectic and highly successful blending of architectural and artistic styles that characterizes the culture and society of this region. Through the nature and quality of its architecture and of its outstanding quality as a public open space, the Grand-Place illustrates in an exceptional way the evolution and achievements of a highly successful mercantile city of northern Europe at the height of its prosperity.”

We couldn’t have said it better.

When To Visit
Anytime is a good time to visit the Grand Place! If you want some solitude to wander and ponder, get there in the morning for a cup of coffee and a croissant in one of the restaurants on the Place. Unless there’s a festival, event or it’s the summer tourist season, you’re more likely to bind the Place quiet in the morning.

As the day progresses, tourists and locals alike bind their way to the Place, billing the streets, shops and outside café tables. You’ll bind more folks on the Place in the evening, on weekends, on national holidays, during the summer and special events like festivals, concerts and the bi-annual blower carpet.

If possible, you should visit the Place during the day as well as the evening. A daytime visit allows you take in the architectural details of the buildings and grasp the breadth and scope of the Place. Visit in the evening and you’ll enjoy the Place glowing in gold and white lights…a mystical and magical treat anytime of the year.

ChezSlaughter Chocolate of Shreveport-Bossier City, LA is a roving artisan chocolate company. We make chocolate confections from premium Belgian chocolate and handcraft artisan caramels and cookies such as Biscotti. We also offer chocolate workshops and chocolate-themed parties.

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