Culinary travel offers the best of food and adventure

chefclaudioThis article appeared in the October/November 2013 issue of AARP Magazine.  I thought it may be of interest to my readers.  Enjoy!

Some say the way to most deeply understand a place is through its cuisine (just ask Anthony Bourdain). That’s the idea behind culinary  travel, where visitors learn to cook like the locals as a way to experience a foreign culture. “Travelers want to get out of the bus or the car and actively learn and do,” says Erik Wolf, executive director of the World Food Travel Association.

Colorado-based Epitourean says it sent about 3,000 foodies to Italy in 2012; in 2013, it was on track to send a few thousand more. Other popular destinations: California’s Napa Valley, and Charleston, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia, where low-country cuisine is the draw. David Loy, Epitourean’s president, says cooking trips are “on people’s bucket lists.”

Cost varies widely. Many U.S. bed-and-breakfast inns offer two- or three-day culinary getaways for less than 1,000. The Blair House Inn in Wimberley, Texas, has a three-day “barbecue camp” for $621 per person, double occupancy, plus airfare. But spending a week in France’s Loire Valley while learning how to make chocolate soufflé is about 3,000, fights excluded.

The article included a few trips to consider:

The International Kitchen – Various locations ($3,500 per person)
Enjoy Italy’s Amalfi Coast on one of International Kitchen’s best-selling trips–six nights in a boutique hotel where travelers cook classic regional dishes and visit places such as Pompeii. The price: $3,500 per person, double. May-September, excluding airfare; $2,950 during low season.

John C. Campbell Folk School – Brasstown, North Carolina ($1,107 per person)
Escape for a week to dig in the dirt and learn how to grow and cook with fresh herbs. The price is $1,107 per person, double, for six nights with family-style meals and a shared bath, airfare excluded.  Also at the folk school: A weekend class–wheat-free cooking, for example–costs $435 per person, double.

Los Dos Cooking School – Mérida, Mexico ($1,725 per person)
Try a three-day, four-night Yucatán cooking workshop. Oklahoma-born chef David Sterling teaches at his colonial mansion in downtown Mérida. Learn to make favorites like salbut (crispy tortilla topped with ingredients such as smoked port). The price: $1,725 per person, double, with a minimum of two, excluding airfare.

And here’s one that I’m familiar with:

Active Gourmet Holidays – Various locations (Prices vary by location)
Whether it be learning to master local dishes from a renowned chef in the heart of Provence, biking amidst the spectacular red poppy fields of Chianti, or tasting fine Tuscan wines from the Brunello region, Active Gourmet Holidays offers the perfect culinary tours.

Foodie vacations help travelers save money

foodwindjammersalmonThose who think food-focused vacation dining has to cost as much or more than the cost of accommodations may want to reconsider how they approach culinary travel.

Here’s a handful of my favorite ways to enjoy full-flavored travel experiences.

Charity: Fundraising efforts frequently provide ways to enjoy phenomenal local food for less.

One example is the annual Clearwater Beach Uncorked event in Florida, which raises money for a number of causes, including transitional support services for disabled veterans. Ticket holders get to enjoy gourmet food samples from the area’s top restaurants, as well as beverage pours from a wide variety of wine and spirit vendors. While a great value in its own right, further savings can be enjoyed by taking advantage of package perks with the Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort and Spa. As the event’s host hotel, the resort offers discounted suites with full kitchens, living rooms, multiple bathrooms and walk-out balconies. Half-priced event tickets also come with the lower-priced room rates.

Cuisine: Cities with serious foodie scenes often host annual events to entice visitors and locals alike to check out a variety of restaurant venues.

In the state of New York, for instance, Taste of Buffalo offers a penny-pinching traveler a variety of options for full-flavored foodie fun. The event prices sample experiences in a way that mirrors many amusement park rides, with different restaurant offerings available for a set number of tickets, typically between two and eight. Individual tickets are 50 cents each, and must be purchased in $5 sheets. Not bad for a city-wide event, and the affordable starting price allows vacationers to customize participation according their budgets.