Best Destinations for Culinary Travel

Jul 11th, 2014 Special Interest/Seasonal Travel, Travel Tips

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

Travel in grand style through the splendid history and aromatic treasures of northwest Africa 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.
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.
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Photo Credit: Michael Camilleri

France – Bordeaux & Surrounding Wine Region

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.
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Photo Credit: Anne B.

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 May, 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

    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:
    Best Destinations for Culinary Travel - TravelSmith
    Photo Credit: Navin75

  • 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.
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    Italy – Cooking Vacations in Italy

    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.
    Best Destinations for Culinary Travel - TravelSmith
    Photo Credit: Caspar Diederik

    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.
    Best Destinations for Culinary Travel - TravelSmith
    Photo Credit: Benjie Ordonez

    California – Wine Country Biking Tours

    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.
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    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 over twenty years, the French-born proprietor/chef is completely self-taught.
    Best Destinations for Culinary Travel - TravelSmith
    Photo Credit: claudia gabriela marques Vieira

    France – Cooking Class at the Ritz Paris

    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.
    Best Destinations for Culinary Travel - TravelSmith
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    Europe – Epicurean River Cruises

    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.

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    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 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.

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    Tahiti – A Taste of Paris in the South Seas

    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. Guests on the cruise can watch cooking demonstrations and indulge in personally prepared gourmet dishes.

    Mediterranean & Caribbean – Wine & Culinary Sailing Series

    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.

    Tips for Culinary Travels

    In addition to taking a specialized tour, you can experience culinary travel in a myriad of other ways. Here, we’ve compiled several tips to point you in the right direction, along with some practical advice about customs—both en route and on the road.

    Local Markets

    One of the best places to experience a country’s local color and culinary delights is a neighborhood market. Stop by for a look at what’s fresh and see how the locals eat. You can also stock up on edible souvenirs at a fraction of the cost of gift shops and duty-free airport stores. Pick up a few goodies to taste or bring home.

    Food Festivals

    To sample the riches of local cuisine in an authentic cultural atmosphere, look for food, wine and beer festivals, and plan your trip around one. Whether it’s a pear fair in a remote village or a famous event like Oktoberfest in Munich, there’s a culinary reason to celebrate every season. Check local calendars in guidebooks or look online for details. Plenty of sites list festivals around the world, including 2camels.

    Culinary Souvenirs

    To savor the flavors of a country, bring a taste of them home. Chocolate, cheese, jam, honey, mustard, nuts, coffee, tea and wine all make great souvenirs. Be sure to plan ahead so you can transport these treats safely:

  • Pack anything that might be considered liquid (even honey and mustard) in your checked luggage
  • Do not gift-wrap; some items may require U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspection
  • Certain items are prohibited in the U.S.; check out our tip for details
  • Duty Free

    The items below generally do not incur duty if you intend to use them yourself or give them as gifts:

  • One liter of alcohol (33.8 fl. oz.) or two liters (67.63 fl. oz.) if at least one is produced in a Caribbean Basin or Andean country
  • 200 cigarettes
  • Gifts totaling $800 or less in value The above amounts vary depending on the length of your trip and your destination. Before you depart, learn more about
  • Forbidden Entry

    Certain culinary items may not be brought into to the U.S. or are restricted, depending on the item, region or country of origin. For example:

  • Snake wine and habu sake from Asia require inspection by a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services specialist
  • Tea and spices containing the leaves and seeds of fruit and vegetables (including citrus) are typically prohibited
  • Bringing coca leaves into the U.S. for any reason is illegal. Consult the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol for more information about restrictions on food
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    Watch What You Eat

    Certain countries may not have the same health standards and regulations as the U.S. and Canada. In countries that do not have drinkable water, you should avoid fruit that can’t be peeled and stay away from raw vegetables, salads and ice. Avoid meat, dairy and poultry that may not have been refrigerated. Eat yoghurt or take multi-flora tablets to settle your stomach. Use our handy Travel Pill Case to carry vitamins and intestinal remedies.

    Wine Touring

    If you’re headed to a destination that specializes in wine, don’t limit yourself to enjoying it in a restaurant. You may want to take a bottle along for a stroll in the vineyard, a picnic or outdoor concert, or have one in your hotel room. Pack our padded Set of 2 Bottle Protectors to safely transport two bottles wherever you’re going—and don’t forget the corkscrew.

    Domestic Flight Meal Planning

    Although international flights usually include a meal, most domestic flights no longer offer complimentary food service (check with your carrier for details). If you don’t want to spend $10 on a mediocre in-flight sandwich, pack your own meal. Don’t forget to measure soups, sauces and condiments so they meet the TSA’s carry-on limits for liquids.

    Pack a Zip-Top

    If you plan to snack on local treats while you travel, bring zip-top bags to secure them. They’re light and easy to carry, and may even come in handy for other purposes like storing wet swimsuits and small items.