Last updated: 10:10 AM ET, Fri April 10 2015

Making Food Key in Travel to Europe

Tour Operator | Avanti Destinations | James Ruggia | April 10, 2015

Making Food Key in Travel to Europe

PHOTO: Avanti Destinations and other operators are increasingly adding cooking classes. (Courtesy of Avanti Destinations)

Food has become one of the chief seductions that destinations use to lure travelers, and Europe has been using it as an attraction longer than anybody. Today’s more experienced travelers are not satisfied with simple sightseeing. Food’s almost sacramental essence provides a medium for travelers to really enter a culture more deeply and intimately.

In its production, preparation and digestion, food reveal the lives of a country’s people. That’s why a company such as Avanti Destinations that caters to experienced travelers offers more than 150 itineraries and excursions based on food and beverages.

The Upper Loire Valley is explored by French Country Waterways’ (FCW) Horizon II luxury barge. This part of France is home to many chateaux and some of the oldest canals in the country. This year FCW lengthened the itinerary, extending it from Chatillon-sur-Loire to Saint-Satur and adding visits to two chateaux: the Chateau de Sully-sur-Loire and Chateau Guedelon. Pricing for these all-inclusive journeys, which operate from April through October, begins at $6,095 per person double.

While the six-day cruise is highlighted by medieval towns, castles, gardens, churches and award-winning wineries, the culinary offering is also special. The barge’s chef prepares two full meals a day, served in the dining room or on the sundeck. Meals on the barge include an array of local wines and cheeses, and guests receive lists of all the delicacies they’re served during their journey. Guests also visit the Michelin-starred Auberge des Templiers in the town of Les Bezards for an on-shore dining experience.

The cheese, wine and wild game of Macedonia is the focus of a 10-day tour from Macedonia Experience. The Culinary Experience features hands-on demonstrations of traditional Macedonian cuisine combining Balkan, Mediterranean and Turkish influences of fresh fruit and vegetable, mountain-grown herbs and local wines.

The package includes a selection of accommodations, transfers, tours, activities, cooking classes and the services of a tour guide. This tour is offered year-round for a minimum of two people or a maximum of 12. An average tour cost for guests booking medium-priced hotels throughout the journey starts at €2,000 per person double based on four participants.

Cruising food lovers should check in with Food & Wine Trails this year. They’re offering 100 tasting experiences on 20 wine cruises around the world on both river and ocean going wine-cruises. The cruises are offered year round onboard Oceania Cruises, Paul Gauguin, Silversea and Uniworld ships.

Each of these cruises is hosted by a winery owner, winemaker or professional wine judge and feature wines not normally available to the public. The experiences are split between shipboard wine-paired dinners and tastings that are part of the cruise price, and optionally priced tastings and experiences in cruise ports along the way.

Seven of Avanti Destinations’ new culinary options are in Europe. Avanti’s eight-day Sicilian Culture, from $3,450 per person double, visits Palermo, Agrigento, Ragusa and Taoromina, explores Greek ruins and other Sicilian sights but also includes two three-course dinners, sampling local pastries and wine. A shorter Sicilian program is the company’s full-day Private Western Sicily Gastronomic tour, from $499 per person double. Led by an English-speaking driver guide, it visits the medieval Erice to sample marzipan cakes and cassatelle (ravioli-like desserts filled with cream and chocolate) at Maria Grammatico’s traditional food shop. The tour also visits Trapani’s salt pans, where sea salt has been harvested for centuries, plus offers wine tasting in Marsala and lunch at a local restaurant.

One company, Ciclismo Classico, offers culinary travelers a way to burn off all they’re putting on as they cycle through Tuscany sampling "Slow Food" fare. The six-day Tuscany tour includes some of the most beautiful bike rides in Italy and a complete cultural immersion into the Tuscan lifestyle on an energy-independent Italian agriturismo. “This Tuscany holiday combines sustainable agriculture, cultural immersion, and world-class cycling,” said Ciclismo Classico Founder/CEO Lauren Hefferon.

“Guests will learn about bio-architecture, renewable energy technology, organic extra virgin olive oil production, and stay in accommodations restored with local and natural materials.” The tour cycles six different areas of Siena Province, featuring Tuscan cooking classes, accommodations in a 13th century mill, farms and wine cellars tours, a chance to soak in thermal springs, and more.

Another food tour, La Bella Puglia, starts at the UNESCO World Heritage Site and Baroque capital of the Salento area in Lecce. From here, riders pedal south through the vineyards of “Salice Salentino,” along quiet roads lined with fig trees, cacti and olive trees. Guests sample local favorites like homemade orecchiette and grilled calamari.

If you’re more of a beer drinking cyclist, Beercycling’s 10-Day Flanders Adventure Tour in Belgium combines cycling and gourmet suds as the route rolls through cities, villages, a Trappist abbey, traditional family-owned breweries, upstart beer makers and name breweries like Westvleteren and Cantillon.

Designed for beginner and intermediate cyclists, the tour visits eight towns and 10 breweries by way of flat, leisurely paced rides ranging from 20 to 40 miles per day.

Check out Beercycling’s 2015 tour preview and photo gallery from past tours. 2015 marks their fifth season as the only beer themed cycling tours in Belgium and the Netherlands. There will be six departures between April 26 and Aug. 16. 

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