Celebrate the world's culture and cuisine with these fabulous culinary breaks, Food can be an excellent introduction to the culture, history and customs of a region and its people, as well as a great pleasure in itself. Here are some of the best food festivals and experiences the world is serving up this year and beyond.
Spice routes in Oman and Zanzibar
To many luxury travellers, Zanzibar is somewhere to unwind after an East African safari, but the spice island is also the ideal destination for an adventurous foodie. A new tour from Cox & Kings adds a pinch of historical seasoning by pairing it not with mainland Tanzania or Kenya, but Oman. Why? Because for two centuries, Omani sultans ruled the island, using it as a staging post for the lucrative trades in ivory, slaves and spices. In 1840, Sultan Said bin Sultan even moved himself and his capital to Zanzibar, setting up his residence in Stone Town. The new tour starts there, spending four days tracing the culinary and architectural legacy of the Omanis, before moving on to Muscat and the pretty fishing villages that line the coast. You will also visit the green turtle nesting site at Ras Al Jinz beach, spend a night in the desert, explore the Omani mountains and tour the Grand Mosque in Muscat.
Learn the art of Chinese cuisine in Beijing
TravelLocal runs a range of tours connecting travellers with local experts in fields as diverse as conservation, jewellery-making, painting and, in this case, cookery. The company’s five-day, food-themed trip to Beijing includes three professional cooking classes in which you will learn how to prepare nine traditional Chinese dishes, while learning about the country’s food culture and regional cuisine in the process. Guests also have the chance to explore the Forbidden City, visit the Great Wall and catch the Beijing locals practising t'ai chi outside the Temple of Heaven.
Fish for your supper off the coast of Mozambique
Visitors to Azura Quilalea Private Island can play an even more active role in their foodie experience, heading out onto the Indian Ocean in search of fresh fish. Novices and expert anglers alike will enjoy the voyage along the spectacular Mozambican coast, learning how to fish responsibly in this pristine ecosystem. Participants learn how to safely catch and release protected species, while edible (and sustainable) fish are brought back to the shore, where chef Julio Manuel will turn them into a one of his signature Mozambican curries.
Feast on fresh fish and game in Connemara
Self-sufficiency is also on the menu at Ballynahinch Castle on the west coast of Ireland, where fishing and shooting are offered on the estate. Any salmon you catch will be whisked away to a local smokehouse and parcelled up for your enjoyment at home. Help is also at hand for those left empty-handed: the hotel's catering team are happy to meet shooting or fishing parties halfway through the day and set up a hot and hearty field lunch.
There's good news too for those who would rather others did the hard work of catching and cooking their food. “The most attractive room in the hotel by far is the restaurant, recently elegantly redecorated and graced by fine 20th-century Irish art – JB Yeats, Louis le Brocquy, Gerard Dillon,” says the Telegraph. “Kill for a window table overlooking the Owenmore river.” The food is fresh and unpretentious.
A day at the dairy at Alila Fort Bishangarh, India
The former warrior stronghold of Fort Bishangarh has, since 2017, served a more peaceful purpose, as a flagship of the Alila luxury hotel group. Like many Alila properties, the hotel offers a range of “culinary arts” experiences, including a visit to the award-winning Gavya Amul Dairy.
It’s a hands-on affair, including an opportunity to feed and milk the buffalo in one of the surrounding villages, as well as a tour of the dairy itself, demonstrating the preparation, production and packing of a range of milk products. Foodie guests can also sign up for a Rajasthani Radoda cooking masterclass, in which they will learn how to prepare a traditional meal at the home of a Rajasthani host. (Click here for The Week Portfolio’s review of Alila Fort Bishangarh.)
The Wine House Hotel, Quinta da Pacheca, Portugal
For the true wine enthusiast, one glass is never enough - but how about a barrel big enough to live in? On the Douro river, just over an hour’s drive from Porto, is a hotel which lets guests “experience their favourite wine from the wine’s perspective”, says Travel+Leisure. The Wine House Hotel, part of the Quinta da Pacheca wine estate, has kitted out ten giant barrels with double beds, private bathrooms and terraces, and placed them among its vineyards. The pinewood carpentry gives the interiors a Scandi spa-like vibe, which is accentuated by the simple charm of the minimalist decor. Each stay includes a complimentary wine tasting tour of the hotel’s vineyards.
Cook fish with Marseille’s top chef
The French luxury property rental company Le Collectionist encourages “authentic, spontaneous travel where guests get lost in the destination”. That can take a multitude of forms, but several properties lend themselves to culinary exploration. Take Marseille, for example, where Le Collectionist has four villas, including the traditionally built Villa Stella, surrounded by lush gardens, and the cutting-edge Villa Topaze, with sea views from its swimming pool.
Guests staying at any of them can sign up for a morning with Georgiana, a pre-eminent Marseille chef, who will guide guests through the Old Port fish market (below) before leading them back to her restaurant, Piscine, for a cooking lesson. Other Le Collection properties and experiences are available throughout Europe.
Celebrate olives in Liguria, Italy
Liguria, a ribbon of land that runs along the north-west coast of Italy, is famed for its pesto – and for the sauce's two primary ingredients. Basil grows everywhere – "those who have no plot of land to raise it place old cans on sunny windowsills in which they grow their own", says the New York Times – but it's the olive harvest that draws the crowds.
At the Olioliva festival in Imperia, which follows the harvest each November, “Ligurian growers meet with counterparts from around the Mediterranean, chefs feed the crowds with local oil-laced specialities, and stands sell olive oil cosmetics, unguents, medicines and much else”, says the Daily Telegraph. Walking tours guide you through picturesque olive groves, while Imperia's Museo dell'Olivo offers visitors the fruit's culinary and historical background.
Perfect Puglian pasta - and more
While you’re over in Italy, Explore’s eight-day A Taste of Puglia tour offers the opportunity to master (or at least to have a stab at) the art of making orecchiette, the locally favoured “little ear” pasta. But you won’t go hungry even if your skills fall short – you will also have the chance to sample the work of the heel of Italy’s finest butchers and bakers, and to try the region’s world-renowned olive oil. It’s “the nearest thing Puglia has to liquid gold”, says The Independent.
Sample indigenous Australian ingredients in Perth
Since last September, COMO The Treasury hotel in Perth has been offering Wildflower Experience – a culinary journey through the region's tastiest indigenous produce.
Visitors are given a guided tour to showcase the 12,000 species of wildflowers and learn how Aborigines used them in their cooking. Guests will then experience a five-course tasting menu, designed by executive chef Kim Brennan, which draws on the exquisite produce, including eucalyptus, finger limes and pepper berries.
Drink volcanic coffee in Hawaii
Hawaii is a bright patchwork of tropical crops, including banana, taro, lychee, papaya, mango, cacao – and coffee, which grows in the rich soils on the slopes of the Hualalai volcano. Award-winning coffee farms, many offering guided tours of their land, roasteries and mills, dot the landscape of Kona, the surrounding district. These get together every November to put on the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival.
“Mark Twain proclaimed Kona coffee to have a richer flavor than any other coffee in the world,” says the San Francisco Examiner, and its fans maintain the claim today. They could be motivated in part by national pride – Hawaii is the only coffee-growing US state – but coffee aficionados praise the full flavour of the local beans, which are hand-picked at peak ripeness. The rocky volcanic landscape has thwarted all attempts at mechanisation.