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Choco Story: Brussels' new-look chocolate museum reopens on Monday
One of the most heartening moments visiting Choco Story, the new iteration of Brussels' oldest chocolate museum, is when we find out how good chocolate is for our health.
It diminishes the risk of a stroke, stimulates vigilance, slows fatigue and works as an anti-depressant, decreases the risk of cardiac attack, ensures optimal circulation in the vascular system, keeps the heart in good condition, is rich in fluoride, tannins and phosphates which reduce tooth decay, relieves coughing, is rich in antioxidants, decreases the formation of blood clots in the arteries and improves endurance and muscle contraction during exercise. It's almost a duty to eat some.
The new-look museum, which reopens on Monday, is still in central Brussels, just steps from the Grand-Place but it now fills 1,800m² of three interconnected buildings dating from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.
Created in 1998 by the Van Lierde family, co-founders of Godiva, the museum welcomed 95,000 visitors last year, 30% from Belgium, 70% from the rest of the world. Peggy Van Lierde, daughter of the founder, took over the museum in 2014 and partnered with the Van Belle family to create this new version.
The Van Belle, with chocolate museums in Bruges, Paris, Prague and Uxmal have filled the museum with objects from the Van Belle collection, pre-Columbian pieces from Meso America including a mortar unearthed in Ecuador with the oldest discovered trace of cocoa: 3500 BC, antique Belgian chocolate moulds and other historical objects and documents.
"Both families have been involved with chocolate for generations," said Cedric Van Belle. "It started with Peggy’s grandfather and my father spent his whole life in the chocolate business. We put everything together to have this new museum."
Peggy Van Lierde added: "This new space allows us to not only showcase an industry that is one of Belgium's great prides, but also to offer visitors an immersive, fun and tasty experience."
The museum also includes recreations of a Mayan temple, a room at Versailles and a Spanish galleon and large chocolate sculptures including a 250-pound statue of comic book hero Obélix.
There are interactive screens in each room that allow visitors to play games and vie for top scores among all the visitors, a videomapping film by celebrated studio Dirty Monitor and in one room visitors can dress as Mayans, Conquistadors or chocolatiers and create photos of themselves in appropriate settings.
Beyond the standard visit, you can book chocolate-centred tours of central Brussels, guided tours of the museum, view a 15-minute virtual reality film by AlfaVision which puts the spectator in the middle of the action with a 16th century Spanish explorer in the jungles and Mayan temples of Yucatan, or take masterclasses in chocolate making.
The audio guides are available in Chinese, Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Russian and Spanish. The museum, appropriate for all ages, is completely accessible to people with reduced mobility and the gift store has a large assortment of chocolates.
Choco Story, reopens 18 February, Rue de l'Etuve 41, Brussels