Taste sensations: 10 top foodie holidays

From cookery courses to gourmet tours, take a break with a culinary twist. Sophie Lam picks the cream of the crop
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The Independent Travel

1 Champagne and cheese in France

1 Champagne and cheese in France

Think Champagne, think sparkling wine. This is the home of cuvée Dom Perignon, Louis Roederer, Cristal and Krug. But only the foolhardy would overlook the region's food, for Champagne has several Michelin-starred restaurants and produces some excellent food, such as Chaource cheese. It is also an important agricultural sector, where much of the country's wheat is harvested.

The wine tour specialist Arblaster & Clarke (01730 893344; www.arblasterandclarke.com) offers a Gourmet Champagne Weekend from 27-30 May, featuring dinner at a Michelin-starred restaurant and trips to the market in medieval Troyes, a Chaource cheese farm, a cave producing the rare rosé de Riceys and to domaine Grossot in Chablis. The cost is £699 per person, based on two sharing, including three nights' b&b in Troyes, four meals, all visits and tastings and coach from London, Liss in Hampshire or Folkestone, via Eurotunnel.

2 Tuscany for truffles and persimmons

Often dubbed Chiantishire, after its famous wine, Tuscany is also fêted for its truffles, extra virgin olive oil, fava beans, pecorino cheese, artichokes, courgettes and porcini mushrooms. This shopping list makes it a perennial favourite with food and wine lovers. Tasting Places (020-7460 0077; www.tastingplaces.com), established by the chef Alastair Little to promote cooking holidays in Europe and the Far East, organises several culinary breaks in Italy.

New for 2005 is a series of short breaks to the area around Arezzo in Tuscany. Lasting three or four nights, they include wine-tutoring, visits to markets and producers, and cheese and olive oil tastings. Accommodation is in a country house on the Fattoria Montelucci estate, a farm and game park in the hills producing olive oil, walnuts, almonds and persimmons. The four-night breaks costs £795 per person, based on two sharing, and will take place from 12-16 June and 23-27 October. The three-night breaks costs £695 per person and run from 16-19 June and 27-30 October. The prices are based on two sharing (£100 single supplement) and include full board, transfers, tuition and excursions. Flights are not included. Meridiana (020-7730 3454; www.meridiana.it) flies from Gatwick to Florence, the nearest international airport.

3 Arabic flavours from Sicily

Sicilian food has a distinct Arabic flavour, with couscous featuring in many west-coast dishes. The volcanic soil produces healthy crops of fruit and vegetables, with vines cultivated along the slopes of Mount Etna, producing some excellent wines, including the sweet Marsala. Seafood also features strongly on Sicilian menus, in particular sardines, which are traditionally cooked with pasta, wild fennel and raisins.

Italian Secrets (01494 676136; www.italiansecrets.co.uk), a cookery school established by the Italian chef Anna Venturi, is introducing two seven-day courses in 2005 at L'Aquilone, her villa on the north coast. One of these explores Sicily's summer produce, with trips to fish and food markets, where produce will be bought for the lessons and turned into dishes, including Sicilian fish stew and peaches filled with chocolate. There will also be a cheese-tasting, the opportunity to visit Taormina and plenty of time for shopping. The course, from 26 June-3 July, costs £1,550 per person, including full board, tuition, excursions and transfers. Flights are not included. British Airways (0870-850 9850; www.ba.com) flies direct from Gatwick to Catania.

4 An Irish lesson in entertaining

Ballymaloe Cookery School (00 353 21 464 6785; www.cookingisfun.ie) has been attracting would-be chefs, dinner-party entertainers and food enthusiasts since the early 1980s with courses to suit everyone from total novices to seasoned cooks. Two miles from Ballymaloe House and restaurant, the school is set in organic gardens, from which herbs, vegetables and fruit are gathered for use during lessons.

New for next year will be a three-day course hosted by the chef Rachel Allen, who will give three kitchen demonstrations on entertaining guests and two practical sessions allowing guests to master skills. Participants will learn how to produce a three-course meal in front of their guests, and, of course, there will be an opportunity to taste all the dishes produced. The course will run from 11-13 April 2005 and the cost is €425 (£304), including tuition, lunches and equipment. Accommodation is available in the school's adjoining 18th-century pink and whitewashed farm cottages. Self-catering accommodation costs €25 (£18) per night, based on two sharing, or €32 (£23) for a single room. The nearest international airport is Cork, which is a 40-minute drive from Ballymaloe. Aer Arann (0800-587 2324; www.aerarann.ie) flies from Birmingham, Bristol, Edinburgh and Southampton to Cork; Bmibaby (0870-264 2229; www.bmibaby.com) flies from Cardiff, Gatwick, Manchester and Nottingham; Aer Lingus (0845 084 4444; www.aerlingus.com) flies from Heathrow, and Ryanair (0870 246 0000; www.ryanair.co.uk) flies from Stansted.

5 Make couscous, the Moroccan way

Morocco's distinct, diverse cuisine embraces meaty tagines, light and spicy couscous and sweet honeyed pastries, washed down with refreshing mint tea. Its complex and intriguing flavours are gaining in popularity and winning wider recognition. Hot on the heels of this trend, the Rhode School of Cuisine (01252 790222; www.rhodeschoolofcuisine.com), added the Dar Liqama school in Marrakech to its stable in 2002 (France and Italy are its other locations). Next year Dar Liqama will offer a seven-night course introducing the basics of Moroccan cookery, with lessons in the techniques of cooking vegetables, couscous, bread and meat, and visits to souks. A trip to the Atlas Mountains is also planned to allow guests to explore the Kasbah du Toubkal and see demonstrations of traditional Berber cooking. Accommodation is provided at the Dar Liqama villa, which has its own swimming pool, hammam and tennis court.

Tours are planned for 19-26 February, 26 February-5 March, 5-12 and 12-19 March, 5-12, 12-19 and 19-26 November. Prices start at £1,190 per person, including full-board accommodation, cooking lessons, food and wine consumed at the school, a cookbook and transfers to excursions and the airport. Flights are not included. GB Airways (0870-850 9850; www.gbairways.com) flies direct to Marrakech from Heathrow and Royal Air Maroc (020-7439 4361; www.royalairmaroc.com) from Gatwick.

6 Fishy business at Padstow

Rick Stein, one of the country's most popular seafood chefs, has a culinary empire that includes restaurants, a hotel and a cookery school. The Rick Stein Padstow Seafood School (01841 533466; www.rickstein.com) has been offering novice cooks the opportunity to learn the art of seafood cookery for around five years with a variety of courses available.

New for next year will be a French seafood cookery course to complement Rick's new television series Between Two Seas, due to be broadcast in 2005. The one-day course will introduce cooks to the seafood recipes that Rick came across during his travels in south-west France. Costing £165, the course will run on 17 September, 17 October and 26 November 2005. There are also longer residential courses, including the popular five-night Food Heroes course, which explores some of England's best independent producers, from organic meat farms to Cornish fishmongers, with cookery demonstrations and instruction. The course dates for next year are 9-12 May and 10-13 October and the cost is £1,485. This includes five nights' b&b accommodation, in the rooms above the restaurant, next door in St Edmund's House or at St Petroc's Hotel, tuition and evening meals.

7 Japanese menus for healthy appetites

Fish and seafood are the stars of Japanese cooking, too. One of the healthiest cuisines in the world, it combines the delicate flavours of raw vegetables with rice, raw fish and piquant wasabi sauce in sushi and sashimi. Adding culinary holidays to its portfolio, Intrepid Travel (0800 917 6456; www.intrepidtravel.com) is now offering trips to Asia and Europe, including a 14-day tour from Tokyo to Kyoto. Guests will get the chance to sample 20 varieties of Japanese cooking, from well known sushi to lesser-known dishes such as fugu (blow fish). The itinerary packs in visits to the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, a sake factory in Takayama, a temple in Koya-san, where guests assist the monks with their vegetarian cooking, visits to Osaka, Hiroshima and Miya-jima Island and to the Kaiseki Cooking School in Kyoto. There'll be plenty of time spent in traditional Japanese kitchens observing and trying out the different methods employed.

In 2005, the course will run on 8-21 April and 13-26 May. The cost is £1,398 per person, based on two sharing, including 12 nights' accommodation in traditional inns and one night in a hotel, six breakfasts, two lunches and seven dinners, visits and excursions. Flights and transport are not included. A Japan Rail Pass must be purchased in advance, available through Rail Choice (020-8659 7300; www.railchoice.co.uk). British Airways (0870-850 9850; www.ba.com), Japan Airlines (08457 747700; www.jal.com) and Virgin Atlantic (08705 747747; www.virgin-atlantic.com) fly from Heathrow to Tokyo.

8 Slow cooking in Greece

The Slow Food movement rolls swiftly on, spreading its influence across the globe, promoting good food while respecting nature and the environment. One of its many supporters is Zante Feast (00 30 26950 24224; www.zante-feast.org), a new organisation that hopes to preserve the agricultural traditions and food of the Greek island of Zakynthos by means of food and wine tastings, cookery lessons, excursions to meet local cooks and hikes around the island to meet local producers. Guests will eat locally produced food, learn about how it is harvested and try their hand at cooking local dishes.

Next year, the six-night courses will run on 29 May-4 June, 12-18 June, 11-17 September, 25 September-1 October, 13-19 November. The cost is €1,955 (£1,396) per person, based on two sharing, with a single supplement of €200 (£143). This price includes seven nights' full-board accommodation in stone cottages, tuition, excursions and transfers. Flights are not included. The nearest airport is Zakynthos, which is connected to the UK via Athens on Olympic Airways (0870-606 0460; www.olympic-airways.com). Thomson (0800 000747; www.thomsonflights.co.uk) flies to Zakynthos from regional airports from May to October.

9 Andalucian tapas tour

The Moorish presence in southern Spain had a distinct influence on the region's food, introducing ingredients such as saffron and almonds and the tradition of eating a variety of small dishes - tapas. And, of course, Andalusia's excellent food is complemented by some extraordinary wines and sherries from the vineyards of Jerez and Sanlucar de Barrameda.

The Spanish food and wine tour group A Question of Taste (00 34 954 71 37 10; www.aqot.com) introduced several wine tours to its programme this year. In 2005, its Seville programme will include a day trip to Ronda, where up and coming red wines are being produced, visits to three wine producers and a tasting menu at one of the region's best restaurants. The rest of the itinerary involves either three or six nights in Seville, excursions to Jerez and Sanlucar, olive oil tastings and, for the longer itinerary, market visits and two days' cooking.

The week-long trips for 2005 have not yet been finalised but there will be around 10 scheduled tours. Shorter breaks can be taken at any time. The price for a week is €1,750 (£1,250) per person, and the excursion to Ronda starts at €125 (£89), depending on the number of people in the group. This includes six night's bed and breakfast accommodation, an introductory and a final meal, two days of cooking, a tapas tour and excursions, and transfers. Flights are not included. Iberia (0845-850 9000; www.iberia.com) operates direct flights between Heathrow and Seville.

10 New Zealand's world-class wine

New Zealand's temperate climate and fertile soil mean that vines flourish to produce some world-class wine. You'll recognise much that is British in the cuisine, but there are Maori influences, too, such as hangi, meat steamed with vegetables in a clay oven served with kumaras, or sweet potatoes.

Audley Travel (01869 276222; www.audleytravel.com), which specialises in tailor-made travel, can organise itineraries in New Zealand that incorporate visits to wine producers. One such is a 14-day tour of the country, including a visit to Herzog's Winery and Restaurant in Marlborough. The winery has won several awards including three awards of excellence from Wine Spectator magazine and the Cuisine Matua Valley Award of Innovation and Excellence 2004. Guests will work with Michelin-starred chefs in a hands-on workshop to prepare and cook a three-course menu from 10am-3pm, which they will then sit down and eat accompanied by Herzog wines.

Dates for 2005 have not yet been finalised, but the cost will be from £2,350 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights from Heathrow with Qantas or Air New Zealand, 13 nights' accommodation in Auckland, Rotorua, Bleinheim (for the cookery course), Kaikoura, Christchurch, Mount Cook, Wanaka and Queenstown, excursions, car hire and transfers.