Eat your way around the world with tours to tempt the taste buds, says Katie McGonagle
What do Delia, Jamie and Nigella have in common with Kylie?
These chefs have attained sufficient celebrity status to be instantly recognisable with just one name – and no wonder, since it’s almost impossible to turn on a TV without seeing one of them whipping up a culinary marvel in a matter of minutes.
From Masterchefs-in-the-making to armchair gourmets, food is our new obsession, and it’s starting to affect holiday habits too.
Food and travel have always been inextricably linked – there’s no better way to the heart of a culture than through its cooking – but operators are tapping into the trend and theming entire itineraries around local grub.
Intrepid Travel has just introduced ‘food adventures’: 20 trips ranging from two-week tours showcasing a country’s cuisine to shorter ‘bite-sized breaks’ in a single region or even half-day ‘urban food safaris’ around cities such as Istanbul, Kuala Lumpur and Delhi.
Whet your appetite with the lowdown on how to cater to your customers’ tastes while still leaving them hungry for more.
ITALY AND SPAIN
Known for its healthy diet and diverse flavours, the Mediterranean is prime foodie territory. Great Rail Journeys’ Gastronomic Italy, an 11-day tour introduced last year, is a hit for its ‘agroturismo’ lunch in the Tuscan countryside, cookery course in Bologna, visits to watch Parmesan cheese and Parma ham being made and wine estate tour (from £1,895 including first-class rail travel).
Insight Vacations has added Country Roads & Vineyards of Italy, departing in September. See how vintage Brunello wines in Montalcino compare to the lighter Nebbiolo-grape reds of Barolo in Piedmont, or Moscato Bianco grapes that make sparkling Asti. In between, learn the history of olive oil and find out why the best balsamic vinegars can be as pricey as fine wine. The 15-day tour costs from £2,867 land-only.
Singles specialist Solos’ six-day trip, A Taste of Piceno, costs from £1,069 with flights and includes tours of a winery in Offida, an oil mill in Spinetoli where olives are still ground using old-fashioned millstones, and the chance to make maccheroncini di campofilone before tucking into a plateful of the fine egg pasta.
Venice and Galicia are among Intrepid’s ‘bite-sized’ breaks, and the name is apt since the former focuses on cicchetti, tapas-like nibbles, served in bars known as bacari, plus a class in cooking typical Venetian fare and tastings of local cheeses, and salami. The latter sees artisan food producers at work in Santiago de Compostela, baking bread with the locals at a community oven, and sampling the fiery local liquor (from £630 each excluding flights).
In northern Spain, Explore has added a 10-day Wine, Walks and Tapas tour from £1,216 including flights. From Bilbao, travel through the Rioja region to Logroño, which boasts more than 50 tapas restaurants in four square blocks, then sample wine in Montblanc, cava at Cordoníu vineyard, and finish with Barcelona’s famed food market La Boqueria.
Food and wine go hand-in-hand in France, so Great Rail Journeys has added Alsace and the Route des Vins this year, with wine-tasting and dinner at a Michelin-starred restaurant. Connoisseurs will love specialist operator Arblaster & Clarke Wine Tours, which offer commission on wine-focused itineraries to destinations as diverse as the Douro Valley, South Africa, Chile and California.
Closer to home, its Classic Alsace & Baden includes Alsatian wines plus a trip across the Rhine to two of Baden’s biggest estates (from £1,799, including flights). Check out the operator’s range of champagne weekends for your clients’ next special occasion too.
Vary the tipple with Grand UK’s Flavours of Austria, which has a glimpse inside the 300-year-old wine cellar of Seggau Palace, but adds beer-tasting at a private brewery and a visit to the Alt Wiener Schnapps Museum in Vienna (12 days from £899).
We Brits aren’t known for our culinary traditions, but you can’t beat a good Cornish pasty, which is why Shearings has introduced A Taste of Cornwall, a five-day break also featuring Cornish cider and ice cream, from £229.
Hot and spicy or sweet and sour, Asian cuisine is a feast for the eyes and the taste buds with colourful food markets and fresh flavours. Aspiring curry cooks can learn a thing or two on the eight-day Cooking Course in Goa from On the Go Tours. There are hands-on cooking classes showcasing India’s different regions, plus a spice garden excursion, from £649 land-only.
Venturing into Vietnam, Wendy Wu’s Living Traditions Cooking Tour will have guests shopping for local produce in street markets then learning how to cook it (from £1,390 land-only). Similarly, Travel Indochina’s three Culinary Discovery tours – Vietnam, Vietnam and Cambodia, and China – each include local markets, cooking classes and mouthwatering meals.
Of course a good meal is nothing without good surroundings, so Cosmos Tours & Cruises includes a cooking demonstration on board an overnight cruise around Halong Bay in its Simply Vietnam tour, which also features a cooking class in Hoi An (from £2,079 with flights and – new this year – door-to-door pick-ups in the UK).
If learning to create dishes isn’t enough, find out how to make the ingredients on Cox & Kings’ China Experience. Make noodles at a village farmhouse by the foot of the Great Wall, make dumplings in Yangshou, and take tea with a family in Beijing.
The nine-night tour also includes lunches typical of each region, such as Shaanxi-style pork burgers in Guilin (from £2,295 with flights). Tea also plays a part in the operator’s Japan Explorer itinerary, with a traditional tea ceremony, a stay in a ryokan with kushiage dinner, and sushi-making class in Kyoto (from £4,745 for 11 nights).
Argentina is has plenty to recommend it, but it doesn’t get much better than kicking back with a dinner plate-sized steak and a glass of Malbec. Travel 2’s 12-day Argentina & Chile Gourmet Adventure adds a culinary tour of Santiago, full-day wineries tour in the Maipo Valley plus more vineyards in Mendoza, Argentina (from £2,789 with flights).
The Very Best of South America, an epic 23-day tour from Journeys of Distinction, also visits Chile and Argentina’s Andean winelands, with foodie highlights including home-cooking at a hacienda near Cusco and lunch in an Argentinian wine estate (from £6,995 with flights).
Anyone who’s heard the buzz about London restaurant Wahaca will love Intrepid’s Real Food Adventure Mexico; restaurant founder Thomasina Miers helped design the itinerary, which includes a late-night taco crawl through Mexico City, a cooking class in Puebla making spicy chicken tinga and mole poblano, and sampling regional specialities such as grasshoppers at Oaxaca’s Asbastos Markets. The eight-day tour costs £820 without flights.
There are many flavours to be found in the multicultural United States, where Trafalgar has launched its Taste of North America programme: four itineraries each featuring cooking classes, locally-produced foods, farm and winery visits. Tour a cranberry farm, a Cabot Creamery dairy, a cidery and – for dessert – a Ben & Jerry’s factory, on the 11-day New York Zest and New England’s Best (from £2,950 including flights).
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