Last updated: 01:00 AM ET, Fri June 26 2015

Food Emerges As Europe's Top Gateway Experience

Destination & Tourism | James Ruggia | June 26, 2015

Food Emerges As Europe's Top Gateway Experience

PHOTO: Eating Europe Food Tours is exploring Amsterdam’s De Pijp neighborhood bite by bite. (via Wiki Images)

Napoleon noted that armies travel on their stomachs, and these days so do travelers. As Americans increasingly demand what they consider an authentic inside experience of Europe, the continent’s hotels, tour operators and tourism offices are looking for ways to incorporate fresh angles to what they offer.

The special interest of food tourism is ahead of this curve and has been established as one of travel’s fastest growing trends as destination information facilities are answering more and more food-related enquiries from tourists; tour operators and hotels develop more culinary product.

Visit Helsinki’s pocket-sized “Food Helsinki? HEL YEAH!” brochure is a great exemplar of how food is no longer just a product commodity within the travel experience. It’s now a full-fledged medium of culture.

“We want to highlight Helsinki’s food culture as part of a broader phenomenon and not just by listing restaurant recommendations,” said Elisabeth Heinrichs, Visit Helsinki’s Social Media Coordinator and Food Theme Coordinator who helped create the brochure. “Food is a great means of discovering the city and its culture.”

The brochure’s map that encourages readers to discover the city independently through food in five districts, much as a brochure of attractions might. The map highlights restaurants, cafés, market halls, delicatessens and kitchenware shops as well as food-related facts, such as history, seasonal products and street food.

Popping the Cork in Champagne

TourCrafters’ two-night Sipping Champagne Tour visits some of the great vineyards and villages of Champagne, as well as the city of Reims and its cathedral. In the vineyards tour, a guide explains the importance of soil, grape varieties and the seasons from pruning to ripening to harvest.

A visit to a winery will be followed by a wine tasting and lunch in a local restaurant. There is also a guided tour of a Champagne houses (either Taittinger, Veuve Cliquot or Ruinart) and its underground chalk cellar, where pressing, fermentation, remuage, dégorgement, corking and finally labeling takes place. A glass of Champagne will be served at the end of the tour.

A guided tour of Reims Cathedral, where the kings of France were crowned for several centuries, is also part of the experience. Joan of Arc liberated Reims from English invaders in 1429. The second day is at leisure, allowing for a personal exploration of Reims with its Roman ruins and St-Denis Museum; or for a visit to nearby Epernay’s Avenue de Champagne with still more Champagne houses. TourCrafters also offers an optional ($120) private guided bike tour to the vineyards, visiting cellars and tasting Champagne.

The tour, priced from $489 per person double, has daily departures from Paris through October and includes an early transport to Reims by private minibus, which includes coffee, tea and croissants for the early rising participants. It includes two nights in the Holiday Inn Reims with daily breakfast at the hotel.

Eating Europe Off Path

Eating Europe Tours’ new Twilight De Pijp Food Tour explores the trendy neighborhood located just south of Amsterdam’s canal belt. Popular with Amsterdammers, De Pijp is a multi-cultural neighborhood and the tour features everything from an Indonesian rijsttafel (rice table) to a tasting that pits Belgian and Dutch beers against each other. The tour also illuminates the neighborhood’s history. All of De Pijp’s streets are named for Dutch artists painters.

Eating Europe Food Tours was begun in 2011 by an American expatriate in Rome, Kenny Dunn, when his penchant for showing friends off-path neighborhoods and their foods in Rome led to the idea for the company. The company strives for a “non-touristy, food-related experience in undiscovered neighborhoods of the most fascinating cities in the world.” All of its tours take participants through off-the-beaten-path neighborhoods where travelers can get “a taste of daily life and an opportunity to feel part of the fabric of the community.” Eating Europe Tours offers off-path tours in Rome, London, Prague and other European cities.

Cocktail Time in Berlin

While many hotels have incorporated cooking classes into what they offer their guests, the Ritz-Carlton Berlin’s The Fragrances and The Curtain Club are offering cocktail classes and tastings by head barman Arnd Heissen and his team of mixologists. The bar team of The Ritz-Carlton, Berlin, is among the best in Germany. The Curtain Club currently owns the title Hotel Bar of the Year, awarded by the Mixology magazine and has been distinguished as Bar of the Year by the Glenfiddich Award for Bar Culture.

The "Behind the Curtains” series of cocktail classes allows participants to mix their own cocktail combinations.

"It is important to unite the four components of fruity, bitter, sweet and sour in a drink so that it can be perfect,” said Heissen. "An individual cocktail is created for every participant, basing on the same principle that is used for all of the drinks at The Curtain Club: The guests think back to their most beautiful experiences and remember the corresponding smells and tastes. With these memories, the corresponding spirits, concentrates and syrups are selected and a very personal cocktail can be created."

The classes are offered periodically and are available for groups upon request. The number of participants is limited to eight persons at a price of €65 per person, which includes the "Trend Drinks" book by Heissen.

Heissen, a master of “perfume cocktails,” also offers a cocktail tasting, at the hotel’s bar Fragrances. All of the cocktails served are based on selected perfumes. Along with the creative drinks, the kitchen team serves bar snacks with a composition that reflects the perfume aromas and which are paired with the cocktails. The Fragrances Experience is only bookable upon request for groups of seven or more and costs €120 Euros per participant.

Food tourism will continue to grow. It’s already reached a stature where travel agents can take a specialty course with the World Food Travel Association to become a Certified Culinary Travel Professional. The program now has more than 500 professionals worldwide.

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