|A mouth-watering spread of gustatory treats outside a wine cellar in Mailberg, Austria.|
Six percent of respondents to MMGY Global’s 2015 Portrait of American Travelers cited “Culinary/Wine Tasting” as a primary purpose of one or more vacations during the past 12 months. While that may sound a bit low, it is significant for a niche market, outscoring adventure, spa, skiing and golf, among other interests. A desire to seek out gustatory experiences is a bit higher among Millennials (8 percent) and even more so with vacationers who have a household income of $250,000 or more (15 percent).
Overall, “experience new cuisines” is a motivating factor for 58 percent of travelers and nearly half (47 percent) consider guided tours to sample local cuisine/customs as a desirable vacation attribute. At 61 percent, the desire for new food experiences is bit higher among Millennials, although they are less inclined to do so via a tour.
But enough with the statistics. All of this talk about food is whetting our appetite to sample some of the world’s finest food and libations.
|Hops-and-barley lovers congregate in a beer tent during Oktoberfest in Germany — but any month is a good one to sample German brews.|
GERMANY: Celebrate the Purity of Bavarian Beer
We begin our epicurean journey in Germany and the beverage with which it is widely associated — and rightly so. Beer is more than something to drink here, it is a cultural phenomenon and an essential accompaniment to the country’s other taste sensations.
For centuries, Germany has been a prized destination for beer lovers traveling from all over the globe. This year marks the 500th year of the Bavarian Purity Law, which enforced the rule that only four ingredients were to be used in the making of German beers — barley, hops, yeast and water.
To commemorate the anniversary, a number of breweries, taverns and pubs are celebrating the occasion by offering unique tours, classes and special events.
First-time travelers to the German region of Franconia can book culinary discovery tours in Bamberg, Kulmbach, Forchheim and Bayreuth, with the Liquid Gold Discovery Tours from the Tourist Board of Franconia. Tour packages include beer tastings, brewery museum visits and culinary experiences.
“Beer Discovery Days” tours include activities such as brewery tours and keg tapping courses, while travelers looking for a more in-depth experience should check out the “Comprehensive Brew Class” at the Organic Brewery in Pleinfelden (Franconian Lake Country). Here, guests will be provided tools needed to make beer at home. Additionally, a brew master will teach participants extensively about ingredients and brewing techniques, as well as demonstrate the process of tapping a barrel. Exclusive beer tastings are also included with the course. Later, in Pottenstein in Franconian Switzerland, travelers can earn their “beer diploma” at the museum brewery.
Tip: The “Comprehensive Brew Class” program is ideal for group travelers or multiple couples.
For both history and nature buffs interested in learning about beer brewing as well as its origin throughout Germany, the “Brew Masters Can’t Let the City Run Out of Beer” program offers a guided tour through Eichstätt in the Altmühltal Nature Park. The guided tour through the baroque Bishop’s Seat takes to historical sites in an effort to give travelers taste of how “life used to be in the old days”. The tour includes stops to local taverns, breweries and pubs, as well as trips to the market.
Adventurous travelers looking to journey on foot or by bicycle, both independently and with a guide, have a range of options thanks to the country-wide celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Bavarian Purity Law. Outings include hikes on the Ahorntal Brewery Trail, the Aufsess Beer Loop Trail, or the Beer Springs Trail near Pegnitz.
Note: Even though it is a celebration, the local laws ask participants to abstain from alcohol consumption until the end of their hiking or biking journey.
Notable beer hiking and bicycle routes include the Aischgrund Beer Road, which provides travelers a chance to visit eight different family-operated breweries along the Aischgrund in the Steigerwald Forest. Winding between the towns of Bad Windsheim and Uehlfeld, the trail is marked very well and doesn’t require a map to follow, allowing travelers the freedom to explore independently and at their own pace. Typical trips range in duration from one to three days, and because of the 20 inns that are located along the Aischgrund Beer Road, participants have access to adequate food and lodging as well.
The bicycle trail is 34 miles, while the hiking trail is 31. Breweries along the route include Bad Windsheimer Bürgerbräu and Brauhaus Döbler (Bad Windsheim), Hausbrauerei Kohlenmühle (Neustadt/Aisch), Brauerei Windsheimer (Gutenstetten), Brauerei-Gasthof Prechtel and Brauerei Zwanzger (Uehlfeld), Brauerei Loscher (Münchsteinach), Privatbrauerei Hofmann (Pahres).
The “Fünf-Seidla-Steig” trail winds through picturesque scenery and through the towns of Gräfenberg and Weissenohe. There are five private breweries along the way, offering a taste of “Seidla,” a unique Franconian beer.
The trail is certified by the German Hiking Federation and travelers have the option of hiking it in its entirety or in sections. Each section ends at a brewery and there is the option to get transferred back to the starting point. Optional offers include brewery and historical beer tours, guided hikes and special events. The length of the tour is either a six or nine-mile loop hike, with multiple breweries along the route, including Klosterbrauerei, Weissenohe; Brauerei Friedmann, Lindenbräu, Brauerei Hofmann, Thuisbrunner Elch-Bräu and Gräfenberg.
Cyclists seeking a taste of Germany’s beer, as well as a glimpse at some historical sites, will delight in the Brewery and Beer Cellar Tour, which also travels through Steigerwald Forest and Franconian Switzerland around Bamberg. There are two variations to this tour; both follow along the rivers Main, Rauhe, Ebrach, Regnitz, Wiesent and Leinleiter. Stops include numerous beer cellars, as well as the UNESCO World Heritage Site Bamberg, the Levi-Strauss Museum in Buttenberg and the Imperial Palace in Forchheim. Travelers should note that the tour is ideal for more experienced bicyclists, as the length is either 125 or 38 miles. Breweries along the route are Mahr’s Bräu, Klosterbräu, Bamberg; Brauerei Kundmüller, Viereth; Brauerei Beck, Trabelsdorf; Schwanenbräu, Ebermannstadt; Brauerei Drei Kronen, Memmelsdorf and Wagnerbräu, Kemmern. For more information, visit www.franken-bierland.de.
AUSTRIA: Family Fun — and Cheese Galore
Booking a culinary experience for families? Austria has some great options that will leave kids and adults smiling. In the Bregenzerwald region families should participate in the Nature Hands On project. Visitors will explore a working farm and get to taste the farm’s delicious products, including cheese, whey drinks and fresh fruit. Children will love peering inside the cow pens and the goat house. Then it’s off to the animal cuddling zone, the herb garden, the high-tech cooling and heating system, the cheese production and the whey-based cosmetic processing. Note: This experience includes a guided tour of the farm. To book this tour, contact Bregenzerwald’s tourist board directly at 011-435-512-2365, or e-mail [email protected]. Tip: Herlinde Moosbrugger is the director of the tourist board.
Older children and teens will enjoy exploring one of the eight culinary pathways through SalzburgerLand. We suggest these itineraries because they provide a lot of flexibility, are self guided (not everyone wants a guide) and fit a wide range of preferences. There is a suggested route for gourmet meals, fish, cheese, desserts, meat, herbs and more. Agents can access maps online that will take travelers to restaurants, hotels and gardens — like a culinary pilgrimage or treasure hunt. Note: All the stops are also listed on the route planners; agents should contact those locations directly to make special arrangements. Otherwise, visit www.salzburgerland.com/en and click on “Via Culinary.”
For families that are grown (or just the grownups) and looking for other culinary delights and hands-on experiences, there is a wide range of cheese tours that are sure to please.
The Cheese Route through the Bregenzerwald in Vorarlberg is an ideal way to explore the region and its close ties with cheese-making. Dairy farms and cheese specialty inns provide unique ways to discover the country’s culinary heritage.
The Bregenzerwald Cheese Road is a local network linking the various aspects of cheese production in Austria, winding past traditional buildings, including The Alpine Dairy Farming Museum in Hittisau. The exhibit includes a dairy kitchen designed exactly as it was used 300 years ago, and guests are welcome to explore while tour guides explain how various historic tools were used in the making of the cheese. The museum is open on Wednesdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
For travelers who want to sample Austria’s cheese culture, while at the same time take in some of the country’s natural scenery, the “Taste of Place” itinerary covers both. Set in the mountain village of Galtuer, a region famous for its cheese, visitors can experience award-winning mountain cheeses crafted by local farmers, while taking in the location’s natural scenic landscapes.
The artisan cheese tour is a one-of-a-kind-experience. At each of the four Galtuer “Taste of Place” stops, guests will sample culinary offerings revolving around the theme of original Paznaun Valley Mountain Cheese. The tour’s trailhead is the Alpinarium, where travelers will visit various sights and attractions in the village of Galtuer before walking into Larein Valley, where the cattle graze in pastures and woods during the summer months. Additionally, during the walk, travelers are accompanied by marching Galtuer Musicians. For more information or to schedule a tour, visit www.tyrol.com.
|In Reims, Abercrombie & Kent ‘s “Food & Wine of France: Paris, Burgundy & Provence” includes a visit to the Moët & Chandon vineyard and lunch at a Michelin-starred restaurant.|
FRANCE: Food and Wine Flow Like a River
Cheese, of course, is often paired with wine — a libation that is perhaps most closely associated with la belle France. Abercrombie and Kent is offering a new itinerary this year that is all about the culinary experience there. “Food & Wine of France: Paris, Burgundy & Provence” is a new river cruise journey from the Connections collection. Joanne Benes, the product specialist for European river cruises at A&K, explained that food and wine experiences on all river cruise trips in Europe have been well received by clients, so it seemed appropriate to offer a more detailed culinary itinerary in France, which, of course, is known for its food and wine. During the journey, which Benes says is best for wine connoisseurs or travelers who would like to become oenophile, guests will cruise down the Saône and Rhône Rivers.
Along the way, clients will participate in different culinary experiences, including a private tour of a family-run mustard mill followed by a tasting at a premier Burgundy winery. Have a client that wants to dine on truffles? On day five, in Mâcon, travelers will enjoy a tasting of goat cheese and (you guessed it) truffles.
Be sure to mention to your clients that on day nine of the trip they will be having a country lunch at a traditional, family-run Provençal farm, which may look like a Van Gogh painting, since he was voluntarily interned in this area for a year. Note: Guests will actually see the asylum where Van Gogh lived in Saint Paul-de-Mausole. Agents should call 011-800-323-7308 to book, or e-mail [email protected].
|Agua de alfalfa, made with alfalfa, pineapple and lime, is just the thing to wash down Mexico City’s many delicacies.|
MEXICO: Eat, Drink and Be ‘Alegre’
For clients seeking a wine experience closer to home, and with a beach to boot, suggest Secrets The Vine Cancun. While an aged Don Julio on the rocks or a cold Tecate might first come to mind as drinks of choice in Mexico, Secrets The Vine is centered around the theme of wine. It is home to a 4,500-bottle wine cellar, where guests are led by sommeliers for daily, complimentary wine tastings every afternoon.
There are wine-themed paintings scattered around the resort and each guest room comes with a bottle of wine native to Mexico. Nice Touch: The Secrets Spa by Pevonia also incorporates wine into most of its treatments. It uses tropical ingredients, anti-aging elements and wine-infused indulgences to awaken the senses. Hint: Buyouts and in-room group treatments are available at the spa.
Brew buffs looking for a hops-and-malt experience in this hemisphere may wish to consider a stay at Hyatt Ziva Cancun. Fans of a good, tasty, homemade brew will be delighted by this luxury all-inclusive resort’s own microbrewery. The resort hotel offers an onsite microbrewery and sports bar, “Tres Cervezas,” which showcases innovative and unique beers made by head brewmaster Juan Jose Garcia.
We were told that the brewery will soon be creating some special reserve beers for VIPs. For example, clients getting married will be able to request their favorite flavors and the hotel will create a beer based on those preferences.
Dedicated foodies owe it to themselves to indulge in Mexico City's many culinary experiences. There are more than 400 city markets in this capital city and we hear Mercado de San Juan is where travelers can find local produce and fish from the coast of Mexico but also delicacies like edible insects, crocodile and Fasisan. Eat Mexico’s culinary tours offer a wide range of full-service culinary adventures, including a Mexico City Street Food Tour. On this four-hour walk, guests move (confidentially) from stand to stand, tasting fresh-squeezed orange juice, tacos, tamales and atole, which is a rice and masa drink. We hear that this tour is well suited for all types of foodies, including vegetarians and vegans.
For the ultimate experience, book the Late Night Tacos and Mezcal tour — an inside look at Mexico’s nightlife food scene. Guests are picked up at their hotel and ride to a Mexican microbrewery. Along the journey, travelers will try esquites, the city’s street-corn specialty, and visit three iconic taquerías. Also included is transportation in a private, chauffeured vehicle. Note: This itinerary isn’t ideal for vegetarians. All tours can be either public or private and custom itineraries can be created. Agents can book online at www.eatmexico.com, or call 011-551-864-0976 and ask for Lydia Carey.
THE CARIBBEAN: A Culinary Cornucopia
The islands, with their myriad cultural influences well seasoned over many centuries, abound with opportunities for great gustatory experiences. Here are two of our favorites.
Belle Mont Farm in St. Kitts
Foodies heading to St. Kitts will not be disappointed by a stay at Belle Mont Farm, a haven for farm-to-table cuisine, health and wellness and just about anything else that encourages a cleaner lifestyle both during and after your stay.
This is not for the first-time Caribbean traveler, however; for one thing, there is no beach here. It is also not the right fit for anyone who insists on an insect-free environment. The hotel is high above the hills and beckons for nature to join the party, so it’s not unlikely for ants or a few small spiders to accept the invitation. Rest assured that the hotel can provide enough bug spray for guests to stay lathered up for the entire stay, if need be.
The food is spectacular, including all-natural produce. We were served perhaps some of the freshest and most flavorful dishes we’ve had in quite some time. Sunday brunch at The Kitchen is popular with guests and locals alike. The hotel’s menu changes almost daily — it is basically at the mercy of the farm. If the produce is fresh enough and ripe enough to serve, it will most likely be on the menu in some way, shape or form. If on a given day French toast cooked in rum is on the brunch menu, tell your clients to do themselves a favor and order two servings.
The resort’s culinary offerings are also very interactive as guests can take tours of the farm to learn about the produce they will soon be consuming and can even forage for mangos. Additionally, The Farm is a new al fresco dining option that exhibits a rustic communal table set amongst organic orchid, vegetable and fruit gardens. Again, it may not be on the menu at the time of your clients’ dinner here, but if it is, recommend the duck and grilled carrots.
Belle Mont Farm has a Farm to Table package that includes unlimited daily meals to Belle Mont Farm’s five dining outlets (alcohol included), accommodations, and Yu Lounge & Airport transfers. Starting rates are $1,600 for a King Guesthouse.
Guests also can arrange for various foraging experiences with Kittitian Hill’s farmers and chefs (including dedicated avocado and mango foraging among others, depending on the season) around the nursery and farm landscape.
St. Maarten is often hailed as the Culinary Capital of the Caribbean, but Barbados might have something to say about that as it is home to some iconic restaurants from Daphne’s in St. James Parish to the popular Champers in Christ Church Parish. The island is also well known for its Oistin’s Fish Fry, a Friday night must for anyone who enjoys some dancing to go along with their fresh mahi mahi and Banks beers.
Foodies looking for great value should check out the list of participating restaurants on the island that offer a pre-fixed, three-course meal for $50. Some of the notable, participating eateries include Lanterns by the Sea, The Atlantis Hotel and The Lobster Pot.
Puerto Rico by the ‘Spoon’-ful
Spoon Food Tours in Puerto Rico offers a variety of culinary adventures throughout San Juan. Gourmets and gourmands interested in learning more about the food and drink of the island can choose one of the daily tours, special event tours or customize a private tour. Spoon Food Tours is owned by the co-creators of the annual Puerto Rico Restaurant Week (mid/late May), Paulina Salach and Gustavo Antonetti. Agents should e-mail [email protected].
Among their offerings, our favorites are: “Old San Juan Walk & Taste Tour,” in which participants stop by a local café for coffee, followed by pastries from a bakery favored by locals, and a tour of the city’s history and architecture.
“San Juan Drive Around Lunch Tour,” to sample delicious creations while learning about the history and architecture of each stop. The cuisine focuses on comida criolla, traditional Puerto Rican food that is a fusion of tastes from different cultures.
“Sip & Savor Drinking Tour,” for a taste of the island’s most iconic drinks, including Puerto Rican rums and cocktails created by Puerto Rico’s top mixologists. Local dishes are also sampled.
|From fast food to fine dining, Tokyo is the place to go for lovers of genuine Japanese cuisine.|
JAPAN: Tea and Enlightenment
Cox & Kings has seen a 30 percent increase in experiences over the last three years that include a culinary and spiritual component. And we think there is no better place to combine the two elements than Japan. We suggest the itinerary “Path to Enlightenment,” from Cox & Kings, for travelers that want to add another element to their culinary travel, after all, often food is part of the spiritual journey. This 10-day journey will take clients from Tokyo to Osaka with stops in Yudanaka and Kyoto. Guests will spend the journey experiencing how spirituality and cuisine mesh. We like the idea of sipping tea at a traditional teas ceremony in Kyoto then learning about the basics of Zen meditation. Guests will also spend the night in a traditional Japanese temple lodging, known as a shukubo. Here, hosts will serve travelers Shojin ryori, traditional, vegetarian Buddhist cuisine.
|Mofongo is an Afro-Puerto Rican dish with fried plantains as its main ingredient.|
PERU: Authentic Barbecue and Corn Beer
Another option, for those who want to travel to Latin America, is Cox & Kings’ “Machu Picchu: Mystic Empire” itinerary. During this trip, around Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley and Cusco, guests will dine at Wayra Ranch in the Sacred Valley. Clients will also see a traditional Marinera dance, the national dance of Peru, while dining on authentic Peruvian barbeque. And be sure to remind your client to try the local corn beer, Chicha de jora, while in the Andes, though it can be found all over the country. Tip: Chicha de jora is served in any establishment with a red flag or red plastic bag over the door. There is also a non-alcoholic version, Chicha morado, which is served at many restaurants.
Much More on the Menu
If nothing above makes your clients salivate, therse’s always South Africa’s Stellenbosch Winelands…Italy’s Tuscany region… the many flavors on India — the world’s menu is endless. With a little digging, you’re sure to find an immersive foodie experience that will appeal to their palates.
|Master Chef Alain Ducasse’s Paris chocolate shop|
The Best Chocolate Shops in Paris
Richard Nahem, an ex-New Yorker living in Paris, leads private insider tours showing visitors the Paris most of them never see on their own, and also writes a popular insider’s blog at www.eyepreferparis.com and publishes a monthly blog on TravelAgentCentral.com.
I know a thing or two about good chocolate. I used to make my own chocolates in New York City and had my own shop off of Fifth Avenue. Over the years, I developed a discerning palate for good chocolate. My years as a chocolatier in New York were excellent training to lead chocolate tours in Paris, where I now take clients to the best shops in the city. Here is a list of my personal favorites.
La Manufacture De Chocolat Alain Ducasse: Master Chef Alain Ducasse turned his attention to chocolate making three years ago by opening the first bean-to-bar chocolate shop in Paris. His high standards have elevated chocolate to a whole new level, akin to fine wine. The main focus is the chocolate tablets wrapped in brown paper, which come in 48 varieties. The cacao percentage runs the gamut, from 35 percent for milk chocolate to 85 percent for the most bittersweet, as does the country of origin for the beans, from Mexico to Madagascar. Another specialty is candied orange rind dipped in chocolate. Details: www.lechocolat-alain ducasse.com/en.
Patrick Roger: Sometimes nicknamed the Bad Boy of Chocolate, Patrick Roger is both a serious sculptor, creating museum-quality sculptures in metal and wood, and a chocolatier, extending his materials to incorporate chocolate. His quirky and sometimes humorous chocolate sculptures have graced the windows of his numerous shops in Paris and have included life-sized apes and orangutans. His latest venture is collaboration with the newly reopened Rodin Museum, where he chiseled a replica of The Thinker in chocolate. Roger brings his artistic creativity into the kitchen, creating intense flavored chocolates with unusual ingredients such as lemongrass, oatmeal, and ginger. Details: www.patrickroger.com.
Jean Paul Hevin: Winning over a dozen awards for his superior chocolates and pastries, Jean Paul Hevin is a favorite among Parisians and tourists who flock to his rue Saint Honore shop. He has an extensive product line, including individual chocolates and bars, chocolate pastries, caramels, chocolate and nut spreads, and macarons. True chocoholics should make their way upstairs to the hot chocolate to experience pure chocolate melted in a cup in flavors such as raspberry, matcha tea and ginger. Details: www.jeanpaulhevin.com/en.
Jean-Charles Rochoux: In my search for truffles rivaling the ones I used to make, I found my match at Jean-Charles Rochoux. The shop in the Saint Germain area is the size of a candy box, and the classic truffle is the star of the show, with a dusting of cocoa on the outside before you bite into the smooth, velvety chocolate inside. Hard shell truffle flavors include peppercorn, cherry, rose, mountain honey black currant, and orange blossom. Details: www.jcrochoux.com/en.