Sharing a villa with friends in Tuscany to glean kitchen techniques from one of the region’s acclaimed chefs. Joining locals at work in Spain’s saffron harvest, then tasting the fruits of your labor in a bowl of fresh paella. Leisurely cruising along the Rhône, stopping to visit the gently rolling vineyards and sample fine Syrahs with your guest wine expert. Culinary tourism is hotter than a habanero pepper and many fabulous hotels, tours and cruises are designing tasty ways for you to travel.
As Cece Drummond, director of tours and On-Sites for Virtuoso, puts it, “There really is no better way to explore a country or city than through the sampling of the local cuisine, wine, beer and more. Travelers today want to get to know local people and customs and culinary tourism provides those intensely local experiences.”
To prepare for trips, today’s travelers refer to the Food Network as much as they do a Fodor’s Guide. Popular programs such as “Spain … On the Road Again,” which takes a look at Spanish cuisine featuring actress Gwyneth Paltrow, introduce viewers to the culinary delights of a specific region but also inspire people to experience a local culture through its cuisine beyond dining at a city’s most famous restaurant.
“The food of a particular region is at the heart of the culture,” says Jeffrey Bershaw of Avanti Destinations, a tour operator in Portland, Oregon. “Our palates have become more curious and we want authentic meals in restaurants that the locals prefer.”
Marcy Forman, vice president of Valesa Cultural Services in Madrid, Spain, says her company has always included regional gastronomy in tours of Spain and Portugal. Some of Valesa’s more distinctive offerings include taking part in the saffron or wine harvests; meeting prestigious Iberian ham producers to learn about their artisan cured meats; and visiting an octopus market in Portugal’s Algarve.
Of course Italy is renowned for delicious pastas, breads and wines and Virtuoso On-Site tour operators offer a plethora of tasty travels there. I.D.I. Tours has a vast array of customizable culinary experiences, from cooking classes to wine tastings with the most renowned chefs. IC Bellagio, another Virtuoso On-Site, offers a market tour, cooking class and wine tasting at the Culinary Institute of Florence “Apicius.” From a truffle hunting expedition to a vineyard tour to visiting an olive oil press, foodies can learn about Italian culinary delicacies right where they are grown.
France is arguably the original culinary grand dame. Delicate crème brûlée, flakey croissants, rich coq au vin or elegant Escargots are only a few of the gifts French gourmands have in store. You can explore French cuisine on river cruises through the waterways of France, elite dining in Michelin-starred restaurants of Paris, or touring chateaux and vineyards of the countryside. It would be difficult for a foodie to be disappointed with the culinary options of France.
Italy and France, however grand, are hardly uncharted territory for culinary travelers. As for untapped markets, Forman mentions Galicia in northern Spain and Portugal, as well as the Basque Country: “We have the most Michelin-starred restaurants outside of France.” Bershaw suggests Peru. “Many travelers are unaware that Peruvian cuisine is outstanding and diverse, with the mixture of so many native and international cultures.” The gastronomy of Japan is fresh and healthy, born of an ancient heritage, while Australian and Chilean cuisine capitalize on their ranch and vineyard stock. The point is that food is a window to the local way of life and is a bit different in each destination.
Spices from Thai chili powder to Moroccan ras el hanout, and dishes from hearty Russian borscht to sophisticated French Foie Gras bring the customs and traditions of a foreign culture to the palate. If you would like to enrich your travel through an exploration of local food, let Covington Travel’s expert vacation advisors design a culinary journey that will tempt your taste buds.
Quote source: Virtuoso
Header photo credit: Jeremy Fenske, courtesy of Outstanding in the Field