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Culinary Travels

Cuisine that’s native to a country or region can color the flavor of an entire trip and often serves as one of the most delightful memories of travel. With that in mind, we set off to explore the many varieties of global gastronomy, from half-day classes to multiple-day tours, hotel and chateaux kitchens, cooking cruises, bicycle excursions and more. We selected 14 stellar options to whet your appetite. Join us as we savor the riches of the world’s flavors on our culinary journey.

Morocco – Moorish Adventure with Stephan Pyles

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Travel in grand style through the splendid history and aromatic treasures of northwest Africa with celebrity chef Stephan Pyles (October 15–28, 2011). As part of a special series of culinary adventures, the “father of Southwestern cuisine” (and 26 restaurants) journeys across the Atlantic to explore Morocco and its cuisine. Expert guides will whisk you away to ancient cities like Fez, Casablanca and Marrakech to explore colorful souks (open-air markets), palaces, mosques, kasbahs (fortresses), Roman ruins, Berber villages and World Heritage marvels. Stroll through narrow and winding streets, fly in a hot-air balloon above ancient palm groves, take tea with locals and watch a vivid sunset in the Saharan dunes on a camel—all while tasting fabulous cuisine along the way.

Cooking classes accompany the experience in M’Hamid and Marrakech, allowing you to haggle like a local in the marketplace for the best citrus, spices and oils. You can then retire for the evening in such diverse living quarters as a restored merchant’s lodging house, a luxury tent camp, a rural Moroccan riad (traditional house with interior courtyard or garden) or a fabulously restored Old-World city home. Arabian nights on this tour come with authentic Moroccan tradition and flavor.

France – Bordeaux & Surrounding Wine Region

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Featuring rolling hills, seaside access, vineyard paths and wine cellars dating from Roman times, the southwest corner of France relishes in flavor. As one of the country’s best-known wine regions, Aquitaine (which encompasses Bordeaux and its environs) is drenched in the life of grapes and foie gras. Gourmands, wine lovers and historians flock to the region’s approx. 13,000 vintners and 7,000 wine-producing chateaux to soak up the flavors of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. Stay at an area resort or rent your own chateau or villa with family and friends. Opt for a cooking demonstration in the kitchen of a Michelin-starred restaurant in Bordeaux, and you’ll know what it means to live the good life of the French.

Wine tours that offer tastings, gourmet meals and visits with cellar masters and chateaux owners are plentiful in this region:

  • The high-end Decouvertes designs creative itineraries around specific themes that include meeting and learning from local wine producers and experts, hands-on cooking classes with well-known and rising chefs, customized arrangements and personalized attention.
  • French Wine Explorers offers the top-notch Prestige Tour in June and November, and a Bordeaux Wine Harvest tour in September.
  • BKWine focuses on smaller wineries, where you’ll meet the proprietors and enjoy informal estate lunches.

France – Flavors of Burgundy

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As one of France’s premier winemaking regions, Burgundy beckons with idyllic landscapes, gardens, villages and the emblematic cities of Dijon and Beaune. A center for art, science and learning during the reign of the powerful Dukes of Burgundy (14th and 15th centuries), Dijon shows off its wealthy heritage in grand architecture and private mansions. But the region’s food, lively street markets and Burgundies (the famous regional wines made from Pinot Noir, Gamay, Chardonnay and Aligoté grapes) are the star attraction, reflecting the region’s status as the “stomach of France.” It is here that one comes to revel in grand cru wines, boeuf bourguignon, escargots bourguignon and oeufs en meurette (poached eggs cooked in Burgundy wine).

Located 163 miles southwest of Paris, Dijon can be reached via TGV (France’s high-speed train) in just one hour. Rent an apartment in a 17th-century building and live like a local in the town center, sampling street-side cafes, the daily food market and the Palais des Ducs—the ancient town government seat. Take an afternoon drive to Beaune and verse yourself in the history of mustard making at a mustard mill, or rent a bicycle to explore vineyard roads. Visit during November and you’ll catch the International Gastronomy Fair, which features cooking demonstrations, chef competitions, wine conferences, local products and the newest in household goods.

If you’d like to take a tour of Burgundy, check out these options:

  • Highly informed and personal, Authenica Tours offers custom half-day or multiple-day “off the bitten track” tours, which include such delights as a wine and cheese tasting in an old walled city, local restaurants and vintners, wine-cellar and chateaux visits, and postcard-scenery stops.
  • Lifestyle Vacations leads personalized culinary-school vacation experiences set in private villas, luxury guesthouses and charming boutique hotels. French owner Corrine Preteur, food and wine contributor to several French lifestyle magazines and TV stations, personally escorts each tour.

Italy – Cooking Vacations in Italy

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The Italians maintain it is not healthy to eat alone. Cooking Vacations takes this motto to heart in its verve to share an authentic Italian experience that revolves around food preparation and the kitchen—the center of life in Italy. This family-run company creates hands-on, innovative culinary adventures throughout the country. Cook in a historic villa in the sun-kissed countryside of Tuscany, drive a Ferrari on the romantic Amalfi Coast to prepare an antipasto in Positano, go truffle hunting in Bologna or taste the olive oils of a remote grove in Sicily. Meet the pasta, bread and pastry makers of Italy, and toast la dolce vita with new friends and family around an Italian grandmother’s kitchen table. Owner Lauren Piscitelli will ensure you have an unforgettable experience.

Spain – Barcelona Cooking Lesson & Lunch

Located on the Mediterranean seaside with splendid, colorful architecture, Barcelona has lured legions of travelers to discover its Spanish riches—including cuisine. Greek, Roman, Italian, French and Moorish influences have infused the Catalonian kitchen with a zesty Old-World opulence of olives, onions, garlic, rice, almonds, fruit, eggplant and spices. Fresh vegetables from the region take center stage as their own course, rather than simply as side dishes, and the fresh seafood is divine. Delve into culinary delights such as paella by taking a local cooking class that includes a guided visit to the city’s legendary 13th-century open-air marketplace, La Boqueria. Let the guiding chef help you choose ingredients for the gourmet cooking class and four-course meal that follows. Afterwards, take another guided walking tour through the Gothic quarter and the path of Picasso to sample fresh local cheese, wine, dried fruit, nuts and the regional favorite, chocolate con churros

California – Wine Country Biking Tours

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It doesn’t get much better than spending a sunny day meandering through the bucolic vineyards, soaring Redwoods and dramatic Pacific coastline of Northern California. Try it on a bicycle, and you’ll have a unique off-road experience that pairs fresh air, exercise and breathtaking scenery with off-route tastings, spas, award-winning wine and Michelin-starred meals. Over 250 wineries dot Sonoma Valley while the nearby Napa Valley boasts over 450. The area beckons millions of visitors each year who come for barrel tastings, cave tours and coastal jaunts. Retreats such as Healdsburg, Calistoga and Yountville draw area locals with their quaint shops, innovative restaurants, grape-oil massages and mud and mineral baths, while Sonoma keeps history buffs occupied at the Jack London Ranch and the last Spanish Mission built in California. Backroads offers cycling trips around the entire region with a range of daily options to suit your energy level.

England – A Taste of France with English Charm

The British aren’t known for stellar cuisine, but tucked away in the charming village of Great Milton—just east of Oxford—is an exquisite eatery. Created by celebrated chef Raymond Blanc, Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons (The Manor of Four Seasons) basks in idyllic English grace. Ivy-clad stone walls and gabled roofs shelter the secluded 32-room manor, while the surrounding manicured lawns, hedges, flower borders and orchards stir the romantic soul. The intimate country estate also features spectacular vegetable and herb gardens that produce ingredients for the cutting-edge menus developed in the world-class kitchen. Earning a two-star Michelin rating for the past 27 years, the French-born proprietor/chef is completely self-taught.

France – Cooking Class at the Ritz Paris

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No cuisine in the world quite surpasses French cooking, whether it’s croissants, baguettes and pastries or sauces, salads and soups. Culinary class and tour options abound in Paris, from guided walking and eating tours, to the world-renowned Le Cordon Bleu to sold-out courses with Patricia Wells. But no name carries the distinction of elegance, extravagance and luxury like the legendary Ritz-Carlton Paris. Named after Auguste Escoffier, the hotel’s first head chef and acclaimed leader in French cooking methods and organized kitchen management, the Ritz Escoffier School has an entire team of culinary experts on hand to instruct future professionals and amateur gourmets in French gastronomy. Due to the school’s close proximity to the Ritz’s own celebrated kitchen, students glean the secrets of sauces, pastry-making, wine, cocktails and flower arranging.

Europe – Epicurean River Cruises

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The stresses of life quickly fade away when you take a voyage through the pastoral waterways of Europe. Float quietly past ancient German castles along the legendary Rhine River, waltz along the enchanting Danube from Budapest to Vienna, or drift through the magical countryside of France. Uniworld’s Epicurean Adventurer Program allows fine wine and gastronomy fans to indulge their senses on 16 different river itineraries. Participate in cooking demonstrations with master chefs, learn about wine and food pairings, and take exclusive guided shore excursions to select vintners’ homes for private wine tastings. Recognized in ZAGAT’s cruise survey for “Top Dining,” Uniworld offers epicureans a literally moveable feast.

Global Travel – Holland America Culinary Cruises

Globetrotting epicureans now have the opportunity to experience culinary delight while cruising the high seas. Food & Wine magazine offers enthusiasts the chance to hobnob with top chefs, wine and cheese experts and leading cookbook authors aboard select Holland America cruises. A sea of culinary specialists is lined up for the 2011 sailing season. Passengers can travel the globe to various ports of call while participating in culinary demonstrations, tastings and hands-on classes. Holland America also offers youngsters an opportunity to learn about cuisine in workshops that teach kids basic cooking techniques, kitchen safety and how to follow recipes.

Italy – Circumnavigating Sicily

The Sicilian coast is a dream world of sunny, coastal flavors—and Zegrahm Expeditions offers an adventure that explores this Italian island’s historical and archaeological wonders, as well as its gastronomical culture. The intimate, 110-passenger Clipper Odyssey transports you on ancient trade routes that trace the scenic coastline. View Phoenician settlements, Norman-Arab castles and cathedrals, Greek temples and Roman theaters from Malta to Palermo, while sampling the best of Sicilian culinary traditions. Ports of call include stops at vineyards for tastings, visits to traditional restaurants and explorations of outdoor markets that feature the island’s sun-ripened produce.

Tahiti – A Taste of Paris in the South Seas

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If you’re torn between a culinary adventure in Paris and a vacation in Bora Bora, do both by booking a voyage on the Paul Gauguin. Its July 30 cruise will host Jean-Pierre Vigato, head chef and owner of Restaurant Apicius in Paris, which recently earned two Michelin stars. Guests on the cruise can watch cooking demonstrations and indulge in Chef Vigato’s personally prepared gourmet dishes, which are featured on the menu of all 2011 sailings. The chef will create such French-Tahitian mélanges as fine tart of mushrooms and snails, grilled wahoo (a South Pacific fish) with Thai vegetables and herb salad, and local pineapple jelly served with rum-infused mascarpone and Tahitian vanilla ice cream. The 11-night cruise will also include stops at the stunning islands of Moorea and Bora Bora, as well as the lesser traveled Cook and Society Islands.

Mediterranean & Caribbean – Wine & Culinary Sailing Series

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The grand sailing vessels of Windstar Cruises make quite an entrance when they pull into their unique, exotic ports of call. Billowing white sails, teak-lined decks, elegant ambience and gourmet dining are among the many amenities offered on these remarkable luxury ships. Wine aficionados will be pleased to find top winemakers onboard select cruises for the 2011–2012 season. Passengers on these sailings can taste and learn about wine from such vintners as Daniel Baron of Silver Oak Cellars in California (Athens to Istanbul, July 16, 2011), and Chris Figgins of Leonetti Cellar and Figgins Family Wine Estates in Washington (Caribbean, February 18, 2012). For Italian-loving gourmands, Fabio Viviani—Top Chef fan favorite and executive chef of Firenze Osteria in Southern California—will entertain and educate on the Athens to Rome voyage (October 22, 2011).

7 Countries with Jacques Pépin

Legendary French chef, cookbook author and TV celebrity Jacques Pépin has charmed audiences for years with his affable approach to French cuisine. Adding Executive Culinary Director of Oceania Cruises to his resume, the 75-year-old Pépin recently opened his first bistro, Jacques, aboard the new Marina vessel. On a special 16-day cruise that departs August 16, Pépin will accompany guests from London to Rome with stops in France, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Monaco and Italy. Guests of this unique learning tour will be treated to specially designed signature menus, engaging lectures and fascinating culinary demonstrations. Pépin’s warm, endearing manner will keep you smiling as you watch him perform in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center, said to be the only hands-on cooking school at sea. A private cocktail party with Pépin is included. Yankee Food Magazine food editor Annie Copps will serve as private hostess for the participants, guiding private cooking classes on and off board, and leading special shore excursion to vineyards and markets.

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