What's the attraction?
Rick Stein's culinary odysseys have taken him from the French canals to the Mekong Delta, while Jamie Oliver careered through Italy in an old camper van and Gordon Ramsay helped prepare a banquet for the Cambodian royal family. Turn on the TV and you're as likely to see a celebrity chef sampling steaming street food as slaving over a hot stove. Food and travel go together like, well, cheese and pineapple. After all, what could be better than meandering around the souks of Marrakech before weaving your way back to the riad to learn how to rustle up a tangy tagine, or lazing on a Greek beach before heading up the sandy track to learn the art of a gooey baklava?
Cookery holidays are packed with all the right ingredients: they're sociable (a couple of hours in the kitchen followed by a convivial meal), they engage you with the local culture at a day-to-day level, plus you come home with a few new recipes with which to wow your dinner party guests.
From frogs' legs to foie gras, the French have long proved their prowess in the kitchen. At the turn of the 20th century, chef, writer and restaurateur Georges Auguste Escoffier was formulating the intricate form of cooking that was to become known as haute cuisine – small, intricately prepared dishes served in the grand hotels and restaurants of France and Europe. It's still the epitome of fine dining and held in such esteem that last year French gastronomy got Unesco billing – listed under "intangible cultural heritage".
France will forever be a magnet for gourmets. And where better to immerse yourself in the fine art than in the kitchen of a Relais & Chateaux hotel? The fellowship is as much recognised for its "Grands Chefs" as it is luxury hotels. At one of its more modern properties, Crillon Le Brave (00 33 4 90 65 61 61; www.crillonlebrave.com), near Avignon, the week-long cookery course teaches you classic Provençal recipes each day with a spot of truffle-hunting and wine-tasting thrown in. Prices start at €2,900 (£2,527) per person based on two sharing, including six nights' full-board accommodation (including wine) and cooking classes; travel to France is not included.
If the scent of fresh baguettes and just-baked croissants sets your pulse racing, then pack your apron and head to the Lot for a four-day French pastry course in a 19th-century farmhouse. The trip with GoLearnTo.com (0844 502 0445; www.golearnto.com) costs £413 per person, including three nights' full-board accommodation, three patisserie lessons and a visit to the local patisserie to sample classic pastries. Travel to France is not included.
Under a Tuscan sun
Tying yourself to a hot stove is all very well, but in a setting as bucolic as Tuscany, you'll probably want to explore the countryside too. This autumn, Aurora and Carlo Baccheschi Berti, owners of 12th-century luxury retreat Castello di Vicarello (00 39 0564 990718; www.vicarello.it), are launching a Photography and Cooking Retreat. Taking place from 14-16 October, the cookery classes are taught by Aurora, who has just published a cookbook, My Tuscan Kitchen (her recipes include ricotta and pumpkin gnocchi or pheasant tortelli with butter and rosemary), while photographer Beth Evans will teach guests how to frame the Tuscan backdrop. The cost is €1,700 per person, including three nights' full board, two cooking classes and two photography classes. Flights are not included.
Can't cook, won't cook
Too many cooks might spoil the broth; if you're a couple that wants to holiday together, but not cook together, Swinton Park (01765 680900; www.swintonpark.com) in Yorkshire has plenty of activities for the non-cooking partner: spa treatments, falconry, golf, fishing, shooting, riding and walking on the 200-acre estate. Book a two-day course with celebrity chef Rosemary Shrager (£385 per person: Modern British Classic 2-4 October) and you'll get a special B&B rate of £105 per room.
At the Nick Nairn Cook School (01877 389 900; www.nicknairncookschool.com) in Scotland, popular courses for couples who do want to cook together include the Easy Posh Dinner Party (which features a new autumn menu – breast of duck with rösti potato, pancetta, artichoke and cep stew) and the Chocolate Therapy Course. Both one-day courses cost £159 per person, while rooms at the gourmet Lake of Menteith Hotel nearby (01877 385 258; www.lake-hotel.com) cost from £120 per night B&B. Or if it's more a case of can't cook, the Absolute Beginners one-day course (£159) focuses on easy dishes and basic skills.
Burning off the Calories
For those worried about piling on the pounds on a cookery holiday, The Riding Company's (01534 745795; www.theridingcompany.com) new trip in Spain, "Gallops for Gourmets" (15-22 October) counters the gourmet element with trotting around the countryside of Andalucia. Rides take you out through orange and avocado groves and into the mountains and white villages where you'll source fresh, local ingredients to take back to chef-teacher Neil Armstrong. The seven-night trip costs £2,130 per person including B&B, six evening meals, two lunches, three cooking lessons, riding guide and transfers; flights are extra.
Or build up an appetite on a surf'n'turf break near Penzance in Cornwall. Global Boarders' (01736 711404; www.globalboarders.com) gourmet surfing weekends combine cookery classes at Ben's Cornish Kitchen (a restaurant in Marazion), with surfing lessons on the beaches of Porthmeor and Gwenver, while bedding down at Ennys, a five-star country manor house.
A two-night break with one day surfing, one morning masterclass and lunch and two nights' luxury accommodation with breakfast costs from £305 per person.
Some like it hot
Tasting a curry made with spices fresh from a plantation is unbeatable. Learn about the complex composition of Indian cuisine as you meander through the heady spice gardens of the Western Ghats in Karnataka with Village Ways (01223 750049; www.villageways.com).
Staying in the village of Hulgol, you'll explore the plantations and markets before learning to cook with the spices and local produce.
The guided nine-night trip costs from £818 per person based on two sharing, including excursions and cookery sessions but excluding international flights.
What Google will tell you...
A new cookery school headed up by Angela Gray, food writer, broadcaster and one-time chef to Andrew Lloyd Webber, opened earlier this year on a working vineyard in Wales.
Along with courses such as Sunday Best (where you learn to cook the perfect lunch: roast pork with lemon and hazelnut stuffing – £140 for the day) you can take a vineyard tour and wine tasting ( www.llanerch-vineyard.co.uk).
What Google won't tell you ... until now
"Montalbano is Italy's Rebus or Wallander – with a passion for food. I always recommend Andrea Camilleri's detective novels as the perfect cookery holiday read for clients on our Sicilian holidays, as they are based in the same area and Montalbano is obsessed by food. He's always breaking off from his investigation to try some local delicacy or tuck into a plate of pasta!" says Lorne Blyth, director of Flavours of Italy, a cookery holiday specialist.
Who said that?
"Most cookery programmes are made in the television studio, but mine are on the street, in the desert and in the mountains. We want to show viewers the country." – Keith Floyd
"To eat figs off the tree in the very early morning... is one of the exquisite pleasures of the Mediterranean." – Elizabeth David, An Omelette and a Glass of Wine
"Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all." Harriet Van Horne, American columnist (1920-1998)
"One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well." – Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own