At Chocolate Nation, a new museum in Antwerp, Belgium, you get to the good stuff right away. A dispenser filled with chocolate candies awaits visitors in the first of 14 themed rooms, putting them in the mood to learn about the country’s famous export. The best part? There are even more chocolate tastings to come.
The hourlong-plus journey, which visitors do with an audio guide, starts in the cocoa plantations around the equator and tracks the bean to the world’s largest cocoa storage port in Antwerp. During the technology-rich experience, which includes automatically opening doors and light and sound effects, videos show how chocolate is made and where its taste comes from.
“We decided a few years ago to give Belgium a place where this world-famous product gets the honor it deserves, in our opinion,” said Jeroen Jespers, who cofounded the privately funded attraction, conveniently located near the city’s magnificent central train station. “Belgian chocolate is, after all, creative, innovative, elegant, full of traditions, and naturally very tasty.”
The tour also includes chocolate traditions, history, brands, products, and innovations. One area is devoted to molds and another to fantastic and sometimes fantastical chocolate sculptures and iconic candies. Not only can museumgoers view chocolate-making demonstrations in the production department, they can book private workshops in advance to learn to create pralines, mendiants, and other sweets. The chocolate department is headed up by master chocolate maker Patrick Aubrion, who worked with famed chocolatier Pierre Marcolini for many years and also helped launch Callebaut’s Ruby RB1, a naturally pink chocolate variety.
Visitors can sample Ruby chocolate and many others in the final room, where vats of melted chocolate are available to taste from. Just turn the lever and let the liquid drip onto your tasting spoon. Varieties go from the very dark to blended to milk, with labels describing the process and flavors, akin to a wine tasting, though suitable for all ages.
For those left wanting more, there is of course a gift shop, partly stocked with chocolates made at the museum’s production facility and an adjacent fine-dining restaurant called Octave, which features dishes that contain chocolate, as well as homemade desserts and ice cream and even cocoa-infused cocktails.
Koningin Astridplein 7
Open daily from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. (last tour starts at 7:30 p.m.)
Admission is about $18.50 for adults; $17 for students, youth, and seniors older than 66; $13 for children 4-11; and free for children under 4. Prices include audio guides and chocolate tastings.