Food vacations are a travel trend that s heating up. With just about every destination, cuisine, and price range possible, you can plan a culinary trip for a long weekend or a week-long vacation.
At the high end, there s bicycling with celebrity chefs in Europe or cruise ships that have partnered with top chefs and wine experts for food events at sea. Relatively inexpensive getaways can be planned at regional food and wine festivals or weekend food events at resorts.
Bike Riders Guest Chef Adventures are featured in Sicily, Tuscany, Umbria, Puglia, Provence, and Burgundy. It is a travel style, said Lorenzo De Monaco, director, in a phone interview. Vacationers bike to the destinations accompanied by the guest chef.
European trips are all planned. The language barriers are taken care of. We set up the trip. We take care of all the details. It doesn t mean shielding bikers from interaction with local culture and customs. The trips are about getting immersed in the country. We point them in the right direction so they can ride the most scenic itinerary, he said.
Each culinary biking trip has specific events. For example, when Chef Christopher Prosperi of Metro Bis in Connecticut is on the Tuscany trip Sept. 16-23, the path will pass a pecorino cheese farm. It s off the beaten path, De Monaco said.
Other trips will feature olive oil tastings, a patisserie in Burgundy to learn the techniques of chocolate making, and a visit to an escargot farm in Provence. These make the experiences. People [traveling on their own] may not have direct access to these experiences. That s where we come in. It s also about camaraderie with the chef.
The trips are set up for the traveler who is interested in food, not athleticism. It is not for the mindset of the strong biking experience. It s not about 60 or 70 miles per day [by bike], De Monaco said. We take it in at a slower pace. On one of my first outings during a biking trip in Sicily, we were hit by the scent of lemons from a lemon grove. By being on a bike, it opens up a new set of senses. It means stopping for art or photography or culinary. Biking for the point of biking can be done anywhere.
But he notes that travelers still get a workout, bicycling 15 to 35 miles per day from about 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. We could walk that, said the director, who does recommend basic training for the bicyclist before the trip.
Once the day s destination is reached, the guest chef facilitates the food event from wine tastings to major cooking events. The chefs get the bikers involved in the food experience, De Monaco said.
The Guest Chef Adventures are eight day/seven night trips that begin at $4,280, not including air fare. Accommodations and meals are included. An average trip has 10 to 12 bikers with a maximum of 16 plus two guides. (For more information, visit www.bikeriderstours.com.)
Celebrity chefs from around the world are working with Cruise Lines International Association in a variety of ways. On some cruise lines, celebrity chefs serve as culinary consultants. Some are offering signature cuisine on dining room menus while others have themed culinary sailings.
Crystal Cruises is featuring the 11th Annual Wine & Food Festival, a series of cruises. Sold out is the Feb. 11 Bon Appetit Culinary Cruise Miami to Los Angeles with Barbara Fairchild, Bon Appetit editor-in-chief. Also planned are the March 3 Africa: Cape Town to Dubai and April 19 Western Europe: Rome to London with food journalist Carolyn O Neil and optional wine tastings at Cotes du Rhone vineyards in Marseille, and northern Portugal.
We started bringing guest chefs 10 years ago on a limited basis, says Mimi Weisband, spokesman for Crystal Cruises. In the past 10 years, chefs have become celebrities. There is an educational component on our ships with a variety of lectures and workshops from world affairs to food and wine.
These are so popular that there is a series of culinary cruises. Barbara Fairchild will lecture and be on a panel with guest chefs, Weisband said. Lectures continue to get more sophisticated. Chefs do food demonstrations.
Jacques Pepin, Oceania Cruises executive culinary director, each year hosts a cruise featuring cooking demos, food and wine lectures, and special menus. This year two cruises are planned. The spring cruise, April 17-27 Barcelona to Athens, an Epicurean Odyssey, features Epicurean Excursions and culinary demonstrations on ship.
Departing Aug. 6 is the 14-night Jacques Pepin Cruise, Barcelona to Istanbul passage, featuring a series of onboard cooking demonstrations by Pepin. This is part of a larger series of Food & Wine Trails Epicurean Tours (visit www.foodandwinetrails.com for details).
Among the other cruise lines that offer food events, Disney Cruise Lines Disney Magic and Disney Wonder feature a guest chef from the Walt Disney World Resort once a month. Holland America Line features top chefs, wine experts, and leading cookbook authors as part of its Culinary Arts Center program in connection with Food & Wine magazine.
In Michigan, several resorts offer culinary getaways.
The Grand Traverse Resort & Spa near Traverse City has a series of Culinary Escape Vacation Packages. We held three escape packages in 2006 to test the idea, said Doug La Placa, senior director of marketing operations for the resort. They were very popular. Then we established a lineup of six different escapes for 2007.
Guests came from Michigan and the surrounding states. They came from the Detroit area, Chicago, Columbus, La Placa said.
Some culinary weekends involve field trips, such as last fall s Cook with Whole and Natural Foods, which included a trip to the Traverse City farmers market with the resort chef. Cooking with Wine included a trip to a local winery.
This year s lineup includes: Cooking with Chocolate Feb. 16-18; Central & South American Cuisine March 9-11; Cooking with Morels & Michigan Produce May 11-13; and Master Grilling Techniques July 13-15.
Each Culinary Escape Package is $299 per person based on double occupancy. It includes two nights lodging, cooking instructions from resort chefs, recipes, and some meals. For more information, call 800-748-0303.
The Homestead waterfront resort community inside Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Leelanau County offers Winter at the Vineyards March 9-11. The weekend includes tours of three Leelanau County wineries, transportation, six-course winemaker dinner, and breakfast Sunday morning for $183 to $279 per person per night based on double occupancy. For information, call 231-334-5100.
Other states such as New York offer culinary tours. The state is divided into 10 regions from the Niagara Wine Trail to the Central-Leatherstocking region with its rolling hills. From Long Island s fresh seafood to the woodsy flavors of the Adirondack Mountains, there s a variety of wine regions to explore and cuisine across the state.
With a wide range of restaurants, cuisines, cooking schools, and specialty foods, New York s roads lead to culinary experiences. Artisan cheeses in the Hudson Valley are drawing people to Sprout Creek Farm in Poughkeepsie. It is a model of sustainable agriculture. For information about cheese-making classes, visit www.sproutcreekfarm.org.
For culinary travel packages and itineraries by region, visit www.iloveny.com.
Major American cities have annual food events.
Boston Wine Festival 2007 runs through April 6 at the Boston Harbor Hotel. Tickets for Wine Festival events can be purchased at 888-660-wine. Super Tuscans on Feb. 5 at $295 and a Valentine Dinner Dance at $210 each on Feb. 16 feature national and international wines.
The BB&T Charleston Food & Wine Festival (www.charlestonfoodandwine.com) pairs low-country fare with Southern succulence for a taste of Charleston s epicurean personalties March 1-4. The four-day celebration features some of the country s best chefs, culinary authors, and wine professionals. Winemaker receptions will be held in historic homes (limited to 20 guests per home for $85 per person). A Lowcountry Gospel Brunch and BBQ, Blues & Brew for Southern barbecue will be held on Sunday. Events are individually priced.
Kathie Smith is The Blade s food editor.
Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6155.