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Archive for October, 2009

All You Can Eat…and Drink

The holiday season will be quickly upon us. Virtually all around the globe, that means a marjor focus on seasonal food and drink. Since we all have food on the brain, I figured why not explore the opportunities for exceptional gastronomic experiences throughout the world.

Merriam-Webster defines gastronomy as “the art of science or good eating”. Wikipidia defines it as “the study of a relationship between culture and food”.  While both definitions refer to food, the term can be extended to drink as well.

In the travel industry, gastronomic vacations are on the rise. In some cases, food or drink is the main activity of the trip, for instance a whisky tour of Scotland. In other instnaces, such as a Tuscan wine and bike exploration, culinary pursuits are combined with sightseeing, cultural experience or physical activity. Whatever your culinary preferences, there’s most likely a tour that features it!

If you have trouble finding a group or private tour that truly fits your preferences, not to worry – personalized gastronomic itineraries can be created specifically tailored to your interests. I hope you enjoy reading about these journeys as much as I enjoyed writing about them!

Asia’s Culinary Delights

Southeast Asia is a flavor lovers dream.  From Malaysian Satays to Thai curries, the region is lush with culinary delights. If that’s not enough, these countries harbor some of the most breathtaking scenery and fascinating cultural heritage in the world for visitors to savor between culinary delights.

When it comes to planning your trip, you can choose to join one of the numerous guided tours (group sizes vary) or create your own customized itinerary to include the destinations and experiences – both culinary and cultural – that most interest you.

Malacca, Malaysia's former capital

Malacca, Malaysia's former capital

Now the big question – where to start?  Here are a few sample activities from various companies that specialize in Asian culinary tours. Working with a travel planner is the best way to determine with destinations, itinerary and tour type will best fit your needs and interests.

Vietnam:

  • Vegetarian lunch and cooking demonstrations with local nuns at an ancient pagoda
  • Market tours and cooking classes with renown chefs
  • Visit a rice noodle factory and farming village

Thailand:

  • Asian cooking classes from one day fun classes to intense three-month classes
  • Visit fresh food and spice markets with culinary travel guides
  • Check out live kitchens
  • Visit farms, fisheries, vineyards and herb gardens

Cambodia

  • Culinary tours combined with incredible history and culture
  • Investigate ingredients and fish at the local markets with a trained chef
  • Dine at a charity-run restaurant where you’ll enjoy traditional puppetry and dance performances

China

  • Explore herb and spice gardens in cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong
  • Browse local markets for unique Chinese ingredients and cookware
  • Dine in private clubs, gourmet restaurants and private homes
  • Private cooking classes in each city visited that highlight the unique features of that region’s cooking.
  • Sip tea in China’s famous tea houses

Each of these itineraries also includes visits to the major sites and attractions in the region, such as the Great Wall in Beijing, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the Floating Market near Bangkok and much more. Of course, when creating a custom itinerary, you can choose to include any activities you’d like! So, is your mouth watering yet?

South Koreas street food vendors

South Koreas street food vendors

Raise Your Glass


When it comes to culinary tours, some of the most popular revolve not around food, but rather drink. Those who love their wine, scotch (whiskey) and beer know that all are not created equal, and sometimes you have to travel a ways in search of the best glass or brew.

Wine

Traditionally, wine tours have been the most common type of drink-centric travel, with France, Italy and Napa leading the way. These days, you can find wine tours all over the  globe with some up and coming wine producers starting to steal the show. Today, Argentina, Chile, South Africa, Spain, Portugal, Australia and New Zealand are becoming increasingly popular with wine lovers.

Often, wine journeys will be combined with other activities. A theme that’s getting increasingly popular is wine and bike tours (bike first, then wine!). These tours allow participants to cycle through the exquisite wine regions and experience its delicious bounty.

Vinyard in Mendoza, Argentina

Vinyard in Mendoza, Argentina

Scotch

Unlike the growing number of wine destinations, if you want to visit the scotch distilleries, you will have to visit Scotland (note: you can find whiskey distilleries in other parts of the world though scotch whiskey is exclusive to Scotland). While routes vary, perhaps the most popular is the Whiskey Trail, which refers to the distilleries of Cardhu, Dallas Dhu, Glenfarclas, Glenfiddich, Glen Grant, Glenlivet and Strathisla. Tours are often divided by region – highlands, lowlands, Speyside, Islay and Cambletown, though several of these can be combined in a custom tour, depending on the length of your trip.  Many of the distillaries have on-site bed and breakfasts and eateries to make your trip as hassle free as possible. In between whiskey tasting, guests can enjoy a round of golf, tour the castles or hike the nearby hills.

Edinburgh Castle, Scotland

Edinburgh Castle, Scotland

Beer

Perhaps the easiest drink to center a trip around is beer. Head to Europe, and most of the best brew destinations are within a several hour train ride of one another. From Amsterdam to the Czech Republic, Germany, Belgium and England you can pick your cities and easily take rail europe from one to the next. Even Ireland, home of the famous Guinness, can be reached within approximately an hour by flight from London. Although Oktoberfest is by far the most popular beer festival, you can find them virtually all over the world. Check out this calender for a month by month break down.

Bruges, Belgium

Bruges, Belgium

Whatever your drink of choice, there are a large variety of tours out there. Even better, if you don’t find one that includes the beverage, destinations and activities you’d prefer, you can have a custom trip created. Does it get any better than having a vacation of food, drink and activities tailor made for you?

Tasty Add Ons

Gastronomic travel does not mean that your whole trip has to center around food and drink. In fact, travelers often times to partake in a variety of sightseeing, cultural tours, shopping and relaxation with a couple of full or half day culinary excursions.

Tuileries Gardens, Paris

Tuileries Gardens, Paris

Here are a few of our suggestions to add a little culinary spice (in some cases literally) to your trip:

  • Swiss Chocolate Train – Departing from Montreux on the Swiss Riviera, this train traverses the magnificent Swiss countryside and picturesque villages. It first stops in Gruyere, home of the cheese by the same name, where passengers can visit the Gruyere factory and a local Castle. From here, it continues to Broc for a tour of the Callier-Nestle chocolate factory before heading back to Montreux.
  • Napa Wine Train – While we’re on the subject of trains, the Napa wine train provides a great way for visitors to wine and dine in style without the worry of driving. The train offers a variety of routes and winery visits. A dinner or lunch train is also available, for those who would like to take advantage of the train’s full service, fine dining restaurant.
  • Paris Chocolate Pastry and Food Tour – A sweets lovers dream! Don’t worry, this sampling of gourmet specialities is a walking tour, so you can feel free to indulge! Stroll the city’s eclectic neighborhoods with an expert food guide as you learn about french gastronomy and seasonal festivals en route to your delicious destinations.
  • Budapest Wine Tasting and Lunch – If you’re new to a country or cuisine, it’s often difficult to know which restaurants serve authentic cultural food and which are geared towards tourists. This tour ensures that you get the best of the local fare, visiting a private wine cellar and several local eateries that are sure to leave you satiated.
  • Private Spanish Tapas in Spain – Several versions of this tour are offered, depending on if you prefer to walk or use a private chauffeur as you sample this country’s succulent food spreads.

Napa Valley Grapes

Napa Valley Grapes

The list could go on and on! To continue our celebration of worldwide gastronomy, we will have several upcoming blogs dedicated to this topic. You can subscribe here to make sure you don’t miss out, and feel free to suggest topics or ask questions!

That’s a Cruise Theme?

When you think of a cruise, what images come to your mind? Shakespeare, antiques, Rock and Roll, Harleys, and literature? I didn’t think so! Chances are, if these words weren’t on the tip of your tongue you’re not alone.

The fact is, however, there are entire cruises built around these themes and many more. If you like the idea of a vacation at sea and have a interest or hobby that you are quite passionate about, these voyages could be an ideal combination!

Epicurean cruises are among the most prevelent themed cruises, with a wide variety of niche cruises within this category.

  • Norwegian Cruise Lines coffee cruise tours the coffee growing countries of Latin America
  • Regent Seven Seas’ Chocolate Cruise offers cooking demonstrations, wine and chocolate pairings and seminars on the history and benefits of chocolate.
  • On Uniworld’s Epicuran Adventure Cruise guests experience wine tasting and pairing along with cooking demonstrations, all with a backdrop of cities such as Basel, Viena, Amsterdam, Paris and Bucharest.
  • Silversea’s Culinary Art Voyages feature top chefs from Relias and Chateux

Always searching for the next whodunnit best seller? Then a Murder Mystery Cruise might be right up your alley. These cruises are based around a (fake) murder mystery and involve both the crew in the passengers in the search to find the clues and solve the mystery. Royal Caribbean’s Whodunnit Cruise routes include Eastern Caribbean and from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas.

Bikers like to cruise, too! Hogs on the High Seas Harley Cruisesshows off the Caribbean’s tougher side. Dinner dress is “biker casual” and leather is suggested for formal dinners.

Still not unique enough? Then try the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Star Trek” cruise, dedicated to fans of these two dedicated show, featuring celebrity guests.

Other niche cruises include:

  • Baseball Greats Cruise (MSC Cruises)
  • Antiques
  • Golf
  • Literary Cruises (such as Royal Caribbean’s “Book It” Cruise to Bermuda
  • Music Cruises – from Jazz to Rock n Roll to Oldies and virtually everything in between
  • Clothing optional cruises – other than shore excursions, the main dining room and the high end steak house, these vacationers can bare it all!

Whatever your special interest, it’s likely that there’s a cruise for that. If there’s not, you may be able to create one. Cruise ships frequently allow groups to offer seminars, workshops and meetings aboard the ship.