by Xanthe Clay, The Telegraph, March 7, 2017
Xanthe Clay suggests the best gourmet holidays, from Tuscan wine tasting to comfort food in the Deep South.
Brazil: food and photos
On a food-focused holiday to Brazil, you’re sure to return home with fabulous memories of adventures in Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, Trancoso and Paraty. Visit street markets, feast on moqueca or fish stew, tuck into a Brazilian BBQ lunch at a churrascaria or steakhouse and learn how to cook traditional Bahian cuisine in Salvador.
A 14-day foodie holiday to Brazil starts from £4,050pp. The price includes good-quality mid-range to first-class hotels, transfers, guided excursions, breakfast, domestic flights in Brazil and direct flights from Heathrow. Journey Latin America (020 8600 1881; journeylatinamerica.co.uk).
Join fellow Telegraph readers in a private villa set in the ravishing Tuscan countryside, for four days of wine, food and cookery. There’s a tour of the food markets of Florence with lunch at a trattoria, two cookery lessons, a Tuscan wine tasting and I’ll be joining you for a question and answer session – can’t wait.
A four-day Telegraph Cooking Tour to Tuscany costs £999pp including flights from Heathrow, all accommodation, meals and wine. Departs March 13.
Overland to antipasti and beyond
Italy in the spring is glorious, and there’s no better time to learn about the finest foods of northern Italy. This gastronomic rail journey whisks you from London to Florence by train, and then on to Bologna in Emilia Romagna, known to Italians as “La Grassa” – the greedy city. A day’s cookery class will ensure you can make pasta just like mamma and there are visits to a Parma ham producer and a Parmesan cheese maker.
A 10-day gastronomic tour of Italy costs from £2,475pp including first class rail, accommodation, wine tasting, cookery class and some meals. Departures in April and September. Great Rail Journeys (01904 521 936; greatrail.com).
The Napa Valley isn’t just about wine – some of the best restaurants in the world are there, including the revered French Laundry, one time holder of the Best Restaurant in the World title. April 18-20 sees the Worlds of Flavor Conference at the Culinary Institute of America, the US’s top chef school, when chefs, producers, food writers and industry types gather for talks, lectures and eating. Even if you don’t book tickets for the event itself, there will be a buzz in town. Check out San Francisco too, with its vibrant Farmers’ Market and craft breweries and cool beaches of of Santa Cruz, then walk it off in Yosemite National Park.
A 10-day self-guided tour includes three days in the Napa Valley, three days in San Francisco, and two in both Santa Cruz and Yosemite. Hayes and Jarvis (01293 831166; hayesandjarvis.co.uk).
Walking and eating in Istria
Istria, a peninsula just east of the top of Italy’s boot that is mostly Croatian, has ancient ports and fishing villages as well as medieval hilltop villages and fresco-filled churches inland, along with a rich food culture of artisan cheese, olive oil and fine seafood as well as highly rated wines. This tour includes stays in the seaside village of Fažana, the hilltop town of Motovun and one night in the Austro Hungarian resort of Opatija. Three meals a day (apart from the first and last day) including a special truffle dinner, but there are good walks of around two hours on six days to work it off.
An-eight day Croatia: Walks in Istria for Orchids and Medieval Frescos costs from £1,940pp, including seven nights’ full-board, and the services of a tour leader, but not flights. Departs May 2. Kudu Travel (01225 436115; kudutravel.com).
A gastronomic cruise around Turkey
Turkish food is some of the most remarkable in the world, thanks in part to the Ottoman heritage, which refined regional dishes while preserving their identities. This trip offers the chance to try Mediterranean specialities, while cruising through the peaceful turquoise waters of the Turkish Mediterranean on a gulet, a traditional wooden sailing ship. Take in cookery demonstrations with locals, a visit to an olive oil mill and bread warm from the wood fired oven. There’s an on board chef, and plenty of culture too, with visits to the sites of Knidos and Kaunos with guide Serdar, a qualified archeologist.
An eight-day Gastronomic Cruise of Turkey costs £2,475pp including full board and transfers in Turkey but not flights. Departs May 26. Peter Sommer (01600 888 220; petersommer.com).
Maple syrup in Canada
Canada isn’t the obvious choice for a gastronomic holiday but there’s quite a buzz about the food scene in cities like Montreal and Toronto. This tour takes in both, as well as Ottawa and Quebec City. Only two meals are included, but that makes it a perfect opportunity for those who want to strike out to the neighbourhood restaurants like the world famous Joe Beef in Montreal. There is lunch at one of the legendary Sugar Shacks, where fresh maple sap was boiled to make maple syrup, and a wine tasting at Konzelmann Winery near Toronto – and yes, you do get to see Niagara Falls.
A nine-day Maple leaf trail costs £1,629 including flights, accommodation, breakfast and two lunches, plus all excursions. Departures between May and October. Mercury Holidays (0800 781 4893; mercuryholidays.co.uk).
Food and jazz in the heart of America
Music and food go hand in hand on the tour of the US from Chicago south to New Orleans. The first full day includes dinner at the iconic Gibson’s Steakhouse in Chicago and the trip continues with a visit to a bourbon distillery in Louisville, as well as the chance to sit in on a live radio recording in Nashville and a pilgrimage to Graceland. There’s a mint julep making class and dinner in a historic inn in Natchez, and a cookery class in New Orleans, before a jazz dinner in the famous Big Easy restaurant Arnaud’s.
A 14-day Sumptuous Soul of America trip costs from £4,755 including breakfasts, one lunch and eight dinners. International flights not included. Departures between May and September. Luxury Gold Vacations (0808 149 9444; luxurygoldvacations.com ).
Marco magic on board the Britannia
Marco Pierre White, the original bad boy genius of food and the man who trained Gordon Ramsey will be on board the Britannia cruise ship as it tours Scandinavia, the Baltic and St Petersburg. There’ll be opportunities to meet MPW and maybe even have dinner with him, plus the onboard cookery school. There’ll be plenty of daylight to play with too: the ship will sail through White Nights, so bright you can read a book on deck at midnight. A bonus is a day in Helsinki harbour: I predict Finnish food is the next big Nordic cuisine.
A 14-night, seven-port cruise of Scandinavia and Russia costs from £1,479 including all meals. P&O (0800 917 1584; pandocruises.com).
Cardigan Bay Seafood Festival
Aberaron is a charming whitewashed Georgian fishing village on Cardigan bay with a fine hotel on the harbourside, and some smashing restaurants – don’t miss the homemade ice cream at Honey on the Quay. The festival sees chefs from all over Wales converging to give fishy demonstrations, and there is live music too, plus regular boat trips offering the chance to see dolphins too. Sit on the harbour wall and eat cracking fish and chips while you watch the tiny fishing vessels bobbing in the harbour, or head for dinner at Michelin starred Ynyshir Hotel.
Porto of call
The Annual Porto Wine Fest runs every July, and can be combined with a luxury trip into the Douro Valley, just two hours drive inland, and one of the most beautiful wine regions in the world. Staying in a luxurious wine resort hotel, visit some of the top Douro wine estates and discover some of the best Portuguese cuisine including tasting menus paired with superb wines at gastronomic restaurants. There’s an afternoon on your own private boat, sipping wine as you admire the view.
Prices from €1,300 per couple per day, including transfers, accommodation and breakfast, lunch/dinner with wine and private winery tours and tastings. Cellar Tours (00 34 91 143 6553; cellartours.com).
Go mad for Copenhagen
The last weekend of August sees the sixth Mad Food Festival. The brainchild of René Redzepi, chef at the sometime Best Restaurant in the World, it’s a meeting of big food minds with talks, discussions, feasts and partying. No surprise it’s sell out every year, and applications for tickets open in the spring – keep an eye on the website for details of when to apply. Even if you can’t get a ticket for the symposium itself, then Copenhagen will be awash with chefs and food writers, so it will be peak-gourmet. Cox and Kings offer a self drive holiday with three nights in Copenhagen, one at the Falsled Kro Inn, considered by many to be the best in Denmark, and one at Broholm Castle.
A five-night self drive Food, Castles and Fairytales trip to Denmark costs from £1,505 per person, including dinner at Falsled Kro and Broholm Castle, car hire and accommodation. Cox and Kings (0203 813 9222; coxandkings.co.uk).
San Sebastian, or Donastia to give it its Basque name, is the hottest food destination in the world right now, this year’s location for the World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards and the home of the chefs’ Gastronomika Conference in October. It’s a fabulous place for a break, and the produce is at its peak in August. A trip that includes a tour around the famous pintxo bars of the Old Town, dinner and a tour around Arzak Restaurant (one of the World’s 50 Best) as well as wine tasting, a visit to a tomato farm and the opportunity to learn about anchovy curing sounds like gastronomic heaven.
A four-day trip from €2,300pp all inclusive in a group of four. Tenedor Tours (00 34 943 422 163; tenedortours.com).
Western Sicily - food and archaeology
Sicily is a foodie and cultural paradise, a melting pot of Arabian and Italian influences under Norman rule. There’s plenty of opportunity to dig into this unpretensious cuisine, full of sweet-sour flavours, citrus fruit, pistachio nuts, seafood and Marsala wine on this trip. Travel to the island of Mozia, and see the Grecian treasure of Selinunte, then head, where up to the cool hilltop town of Erice, making sure to stop off at the patisserie still run by Maria Grammatico, making traditional convent sweets. Sunny days traditionally start with brioche – a bread roll stuffed with gelato or granita, a grainy sorbet. What’s not to love about a country that eats ice cream for breakfast?
An eight-day food and Archaeology tour of Western Sicily costs from £2,295pp including flights, hotels, expert guide lecturers Italian food specialist Rosetta Ferrari and archaeologist Tony O’Connor, tour manager, local travel, all meals included with wine at dinner, entry to all sites in programme and tips. Departs September 30 2018. Andante Travels (01722 713800; andantetravels.co.uk).
You never forget your first percebes aka goose neck barnacles, these prehistoric looking beasts are one of the strangest, and costliest delicacies on the planet, and this trip to Galicis includes the opportunity to eat them as part of a shellfish feast in Finnistere. There’s more iconic moments to savour, including the great octopus dish pulpo a feira, prepared by the chef who regularly fed Graham Greene and Sir Alec Guinness, burning the firewater orujo in a ritual queimada to the sound of bagpipes, and a visit to a country palace in the company of expert lecturer Gijs van Hensbergen.
An-eight day Gastronomic Galicia costs from £3,310 including five-star accommodation in the Parador in Santiago de Compostela and a five-day parador in Pontevedra, most meals with wine, the lecturers’ talks and all tips and taxes. September 17 2018. Martin Randall (020 8742 3355; martinrandall.com).
Peru is the gastronomic hot spot of South America, and it’s the place to go to sample the true ceviche, marinated fish, washed down with a pisco sour. October is the month to be there as from October 7-10 Lima will be hosting Mistura, a fabulous festival of the foods of the nation. On this tour includes aims to bring visitors closer to both modern and traditional Peru through food and drink. Explorers can expect to eat alpaca and guinea pig in the mountains as well as getting to understand a typical Peruvian menu. There’s the chance to dine at “Central”; a world-renowned restaurant which is no 2 in the The World’s 50 Best restaurants, as cookery classes in Cusco and enjoying dinner at Machu Picchu.
An 11-night Culinary Peru itinerary (October 7-10) is available from £2,890pp based on two sharing on a B&B basis including return flights, airport transfers and the dinner at Machu Picchu. Last Frontiers (01296 653000; lastfrontiers.com).
Taste of Palestine
October is olive harvest time in the Middle East, Zaytoun, importers of top notch foods from the region have partnered with human rights organisation The Amos Trust to run a tour based in the kitchens, restaurants and markets of Bethlehem, Sebastia and Nazareth. There is a picnic by the Sea of Galilee, time cooking with families with the opportunity to learn about the issues that face them. Eat your way around Jerusalem and visit some of Ottolenghi’s favourite spots, meet date farmers in the Jordan valley plus, of course, take part in an olive harvest.
A 10-day Taste of Palestine trip costs from £1,500 pp including flights and all meals. Departs October 10 2018. Amos Trust (020 7588 2638; amostrust.org/travel )
Spring time wine in South Africa
Early summer is a perfect time to enjoy the Cape, and this tour which includes nine days of moderate cycling means you can tuck into the spectacular local food and wine without a qualm. Wheeling past the vines of the Stellenbosch region before an afternoon wine tasting, or lunching on local fish cakes in the town of Napier, or heading for the Birkenhead brewery to sample the Laughing Croc or Lazy Leopard beer – it’s a great way to spend a sunny November.
A 15-day cycling holiday of the Cape winelands costs from £2,799 including flights and some meals. Departures between January to November 2018. Exodus (exodus.co.uk; 020 3131 4944).
Autumn leaves in Japan
Never mind the cherry blossom – November is when the Japanese trees are ablaze with red leaves and the shops are full of the country’s famously exquisite produce. The best melons sell for over £100 a piece, but the bright orange kaki will be at their peak, and far more reasonable, as well as fragrant yuzu. On this tour you’ll learn to make soba noodles in a hands-on cooking class, stay in a traditional ryokan (guest house) in Takayama and eat vegetarian shojin ryori (monastic fare) with monks in Koyasan. Trips a tea farm near Kyoto and Tokyo’s famous Tsukiji Fish Market is included – when I visited with a group of British chefs they headed straight for the traditional knife shops for a sharp souvenir.
An 11-night tour of Japan visiting Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Takayama and Kanazawa Costs from £2,737 including 11 breakfasts, 4 lunches, 4 dinners and internal travel but not flights to Japan. Departures March to November. Intrepid (0808 274 5111; intrepidtravel.co.uk ).
Padstow Christmas Festival
Wrap up warm and head for Padstow for the Christmas Festival. The harbour town is in festive mood, packed with chefs and foodies enjoying the demonstrations and indoor market. Rick is in town with his mates too, so you are bound to bump into some familiar faces, especially in the famous Seafood Restaurant on Saturday night – do as Rick does, and order the turbot, for a slab of British seafood at its absolute prime. Much of the town is already booked up for next year’s festival but there are still a few rooms with dinner at the Stein owned Prospect House.
Two nights bed and breakfast at Prospect House with dinner at the Seafood Restaurant costs from £589. December 7-9 2018. Rick Stein (01841 532700; rickstein.com).
Slovenia Christmas markets and gingerbread
Slovenia is magical at Christmas time, and recently it’s been getting a reputation for good cooking too, with chef Ana Ros winning Best Female Chef in the World last year. And what could be more Christmassy than travelling through the snow to eat gingerbread at the renowned makers in the charming painted Medieval town of Radovljica, perched on a promontory with magnificent views. There’s trips to Christmas markets in Ljubljana and lunch in the fine dining restaurant of Bled Castle too.
A five-day trip to Slovenia costs from £599 including flights, accommodation, breakfast and dinner every day plus lunch in the castle. Departs December 6. GN Voyages (01895 83 33 33; gnvoyages.com).
Gourmet feasting in Lancashire
It really lifts the spirits to have something to look forward to in January, and if you’ve just got one night then a trip up to Lancashire’s Northcote Manor could be just the ticket. This will be the nineteenth year Chef Ambassador Nigel Haworth has been running his Obsession festival, three weeks of top chefs from around the world jetting in to cook up a feast in his kitchens. After dinner, it’s just a short stagger to one of the luxurious Northcote bedrooms.
Tickets for Obsession 19 cost around £150 per person including Louis Roederer champagne and canapé reception, five course menu, and coffee and petit fours. Dates and prices available on northcote.com from October 2018. Bedrooms from £280 a night. Northcote (01254 240555; northcote.com).
Sunshine and barbies in Southern Australia
If the short days are getting to you, then I have a cure: head Downunder. This tour takes in Sydney, Canberra and Adelaide as well as wine tastings both in the Barossa and the Coonawarra regions, a proper Aussie barbie on a sheep station, and a visit to the gin distillery on Kangaroo Island. You’ll get to try real bush tucker as well as the local “marrons” shrimps, and there’s plenty of time to explore the lanes in Melbourne, home to some of the most exciting restaurants on the continent.
An 11-day tour of southern Australia costs around £3,025 including accommodation but not flights. Departure dates from January to November. Cox and Kings (020 3813 9145; coxandkings.co.uk).
Indian food is as diverse as European food, and this tour takes Dehli and Agra in the North, Mumbai on the central west coast as well as Goa in the south. February is a perfect time to go with relatively cool, dry weather (mid 20s up to 30 or so in Mumbai) and in the north the harvest is in full swing. Explore street food in Old Delhi, the royal cuisine of Rajasthan, take in the Taj Mahal with a local Mughlai cooking demonstration, and a market tour and cooking lesson with a local in Goa – and that’s just a sample of the foodie delights, many of which are meat-free, making it perfect for vegetarians.
A 14-night India Real Food Adventure costs from £1,805 in February 2019 including 13 breakfasts, 9lunches and 4 dinners, and internal travel but not flights to India. Departures all year. (0808 274 5111; intrepidtravel.com ).
Truffle hunting in the Occitane
Truffles, the real, headily scented fungus, not the chocolates, are in season in France from December to March. This trip starts with two nights to explore Toulouse independently, before joining a small group in the Quercy, near to the famous truffle market at Lalbenque. The truffles of Quercy are the exalted tuber melansporum, the same as those from Perigord, a couple of hundred kilometres north. Take part in a cavage or truffle hunt with a local expert, shop for truffles and watch a cookery demonstration so you’ll know how to use them.
A six-night truffle trip costs from £1,658 pp (two sharing) including BA flights (Heathrow), B&B, four dinners, three lunches, wine, truffles and accompanied walks. Departs February 9 and 16 2019. Kirker (020 7593 2283; kirkerholidays.com ).