Top 10: Holidays On A Plate
Discover a country through its cuisine - from mozzarella in Italian farmhouses and a street food festival in Singapore to barbecues in South Africa and the many flavours of Vietnamese cooking. Caroline Stacey selects the best places to savour some of the world's gastronomic delights
Sunday 08 April 2007
1. Agri-cultured in Italy
Any holiday in Italy guarantees good food. But if you stay in a farmhouse, surrounded by the ingredients, you can count on every home-cooked meal being exceptional. Agriturismo is Italy's network of farmhouses that welcome guests and are perfect for gourmet travellers. The cooking may be wonderfully rustic but the accommodation isn't rough and ready. Southern Italy specialist Long Travel has picked out some of the best and most atmospheric places to stay for a tour of Campania and Calabria staying around the remote hill-top towns of Morano Calabro and Santa Severina. See mozzarella made from buffalo milk, jam from grapes and strawberries and oil from the olive groves all around. At Pianopoli, a sprawling estate in the middle of Calabria, you can take lessons from the cooks and discover how the food varies almost from valley to valley. You're never far from the sea, so the fish, as well as cheese, game, meat and vegetables, is fantastically fresh.
Where, who, how much? A week-long Agriturismo Itinerary starting from Naples in May or June, with Long Travel (01694 722193; long-travel.co.uk) costs from £538, including return flights, half-board and hire car. Two weeks start from £977 per person. Cookery courses cost extra.
2. Singapore for your supper
Singapore simmers with sensational food all year, but during its world-famous food festival in July, the pace of eating out becomes frenzied. Crab has a starring role: there's a whole street devoted to this particular crustacean, cooked every which way, but chilli crab is Singapore's speciality. Eat it morning, noon and night - in the street or on the 70th floor of the Stamford hotel. Back at ground level, Makan Mania on the streets of Parco Bugis Junction offers atmospheric 1960s-style dining at wooden tables under canvas, lit by bare light bulbs. Each food zone at the festival serves up a particular type of street food.
Where, who, how much? The Singapore Food Festival (singaporefood festival.com) takes place from 1-31 July. For information contact Singapore Tourism Board (020-7437 0033; visit singapore.com). Singapore Airlines (0870 608 8886; singaporeair.co.uk) offers return fares in July from around £817.
3. Only here for the bière
Switzerland's largest and probably the world's most civilised beer festival, the Fête de la Bière in Lausanne, runs from 31 May to 3 June. It's not on the stag party circuit (unlike Tallinn's in July) and though there's plenty of drink on offer, it should remain orderly. There's a generous provision of 200 different beers grouped in pavilions to try. Entry to the festival in the Place de la Navigation is free and the view of the mountains on one side and Lac Léman should clear the head after too much cloudy ale.
Where, who, how much? The Swiss Beer Festival (fetedelabiere.ch) takes place in Lausanne 31 May-3 June. Travel to Lausanne with Railbookers (0870 458 9080; rail bookers.com), which offers two nights at the four-star Alpha Palmier including return Eurostar and train travel via Paris and room-only accommodation from £269.
4. Indo-Chine cuisine
The food of Vietnam is one of the most delicate and diverse in South-east Asia and all the more fascinating for having French influences. The cuisine varies greatly between the north and south, and a cookery tour of the country will reveal just how much there is to this country that teems with sensual delights. Discover what a difference the climate makes to the cooking in the north and south on a tour that takes in courses in Hanoi, Hoi An, Hue, Saigon and the Mekong Delta. The course in Hue is held in a one-time royal residence and guests get the chance to cook a seven-course royal banquet.
Where, who, how much? A 12-night culinary tour consisting of three nights in Hanoi, two nights in Hue, three nights in Hoi An, two nights in Saigon and two nights in Can Tho can be tailor-made for any time of the year by Audley Travel (01993 838140; audleytravel. com). This costs from £1,950 per person including international flights from London, accommodation, transfers and cookery courses at each place on the itinerary.
5. In the heart of Western Cape
The Western Cape and the winelands around Stellenbosch are the gourmet heartland of South Africa. On the coast, Knysna is famous for its oysters and hosts a festival devoted to bivalves in July. Only in South Africa would you come across an oyster braai (barbecue), and there are all sorts of tastings of oysters - barbecued and otherwise. Another way to experience South Africa's food culture is on a one-day African cooking safari in Kayamandi township just outside Stellenbosch. Learn about the local ingredients on a two-hour walking tour followed by a meal prepared by professional cooks in a community centre that culminates in a communal lunch.
Where, who, how much? Knysa Gastronomica (oysterfesival.co.za) takes place 6-15 July. Africa Travel Centre (0845 450 5705; africatravel.co.uk) can arrange an itinerary that includes a trip to the Knysna Gastronomica from £1,295 per person. This includes return flights from London, car hire, three nights' b&b at Constantia Uitsig in Cape Town and four nights' b&b at Belvidere Manor in Knysna. African Cooking Safaria (00 27 21 790 2592; andulela.com) costs 295 rand (£21).
6. Make mine a single malt
Glenmorangie is the best-selling UK malt whisky, while Dalmore produces the world's most expensive single malt. These two Highland distilleries, along with Balblair and Glen Ord are getting together, to put on Scotland's first Highland Whisky Festival. Be there at the beginning of what's likely to mature into one of the top attractions in Scotland. Set in stunningly beautiful surroundings, and close to a source of the amazingly pure water that characterises the whiskies, the distilleries are all throwing open their doors - some for the first time - for tours, tastings and masterclasses.
Where, who, how much? Highland Whisky Festival is on 2 and 3 June. For details see scotlandwhisky.com/4948. Stay at the Ben Wyvis Hotel, Strathpeffer (0870 950 6264; crerarhotels.com), central to all four participating distilleries, for £45 a night b&b. For more information contact Visit Scotland (0845 859 1001; visitscotland .com). Contact distilleries directly for tours, tastings and masterclasses: Dalmore (01349 882362), Glenmorangie (01862 892477; glenmorangie.com), Glen Ord (01463 872004). Balblair (01862 821273; balblair.com).
7. Take tea in Le Touquet
Take a motoring jaunt across the Channel to discover the time-warp charms of Picardy and the secrets of jams so good they grace the breakfast tables of the world's top hotels. Tea Together, a company run by an English couple from the village of St Rémy au Bois, makes delightfully genteel preserves including orange and lavender leaf and lemon and angelica marmalades, rose petal and gooseberry and elderflower jams and greengage and walnut chutney. Its Days of Discovery package includes two nights at the 18th-century Abbaye de Valloires chateau, a lesson in French farm cookery at Chez Odile, visits to local artisan cheese-makers and other producers and a guided tour round Le Touquet's market, plus jam-making and tasting in Tea Together's traditional courtyard atelier.
Where, who, how much? Two nights' b&b and the Days of Discovery visit costs €300 (£205) per person. For reservations call 00 33 3 21 86 19 40 and see teatogether.com.
8. More than just tortillas
Get the grandest introduction to the sophisticated but often underrated cuisine of Mexico in the fabulous little city of San Miguel de Allende high in the Sierra Nevada. Stay at Casa de Sierra Nevada, a hotel converted from nine 16th- to 18th-century mansions, a jewel in this silver-rich colonial town. Book into its sister establishment, the nearby Sazon cookery school housed in an 18th-century hacienda a short stroll away along cobbled streets past the perfectly preserved palacios. Sazon's courses range from two-hour cooking classes on local specialities to week-long Spice of Life culinary packages mixing hands-on cooking in the teaching kitchen - far from homespun, with angled mirrors and TV monitors - with visits, private dinners and tours. Sazon's shop sells Mexican artisan tableware so you can create the complete effect at home.
Where, who, how much? Casa de Sierra Nevada (casadesierranevada. com) and Sazon Cookery School (sazon.com), San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Its Spice of Life Culinary package includes four nights' b&b at the Casa de Sierra Nevada, cooking at Sazon, culinary tours and two dinners from $780 (£433). Contact Orient Express (0845 077 2222; orient-express. com). Trailfinders (0845 058 5858; trailfinders. com) has return fares to Queretaro via Mexico City and Madrid from £598.
9. The best Irish food fest: Foodie heaven
At the Taste of Dublin (14-17 June) you can eat your way round some of the 22 top restaurants. Well-known Irish chefs such as Patrick Guilbaud, Kevin Thornton and Richard Corrigan will be rustling up their signature dishes at this celebration of the city's ebullient dining scene. Tickets from tasteofdublin07.ie and ticketmaster.ie. Standard ticket (entry only) costs €25 (£18). Tourism Ireland (0800 0397000; discoverireland.com).
10. The best Father's Day gift: Get dad in the kitchen
Moonfleet Manor inDorset knows how to look after exhausted mothers. Its men-only cookery sessions are also a treat - particularly from 15 to 17 June when a weekend break includes a "Cooking with Dad" session. Moonfleet Manor, Fleet, near Weymouth, Dorset (01305 786948; moonfleetmanorhotel.co.uk). These breaks include two nights' b&b, dinner, Sunday lunch, from £530 for two adults. Children under 16 in their parents' room stay free.
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