If the way to a person’s heart is through their stomach, then it makes sense that the way to get to the heart of a place is through its food. So, for proponents of experiential travel or people who just like to eat and drink their way through a vacation, culinary tourism is where it’s at—and the experiences here are destination-centric as well as delicious.
Photo courtesy of Plate & Pitchfork
Forcella Make-Your-Own Pizza
Although pizza tours and other walking tours of beloved hole-in-the-wall eateries are standard now in big cities, we don’t think anything in New York gives quite as much of a hands-on experience as the Make-Your-Own Neapolitan promo running through February 21 at all three Forcella locations in New York. And “hands on” should be taken literally. Under chef supervision, guests can take a try at tossing the pizza dough, but it’s the topping part that will really inspire creativity. There are two dozen to choose from, and some options—like the truffle oil topper—are ooh-la-la. Others are as Old World as Brooklyn used to be before the hipsters laid claim.
Photo courtesy of Forcella/Gabi Porter
Southern Tastes and Dixie Tunes
Offered by tour operator Insight Vacations several times yearly, this tour wins the “colorful title” category and makes us daydream of crawfish etouffee and Elvis. It starts at the Ryman Theater in Nashville, heads to Graceland and overnights at the Peabody in Memphis, offers a mint julep mixology course in Mississippi, a hands-on Cajun cooking class in Baton Rouge, and winds up with two days in New Orleans—epicenter of Southern epicurean delights.
Photo courtesy of Insight Vacations
New England’s Pie, Cookies, Maple and More
Right around the White Mountains, local harvests and culinary traditions have been turned into an ongoing series of themed foodie experiences. It’s always informal, self-guided and community-centered: An innkeeper association of the region (White Mountain, Rockland, etc.) will host a one- or two-day open house with a culinary theme (New Hampshire Maple Weekend is upcoming March 23-24, while Country Inns in the White Mountains hosts the Inn-to-Inn Herb Tour in June). Hundreds of locals and tourists drive in to participate in the self-guided snacking. Ticket prices are usually low, as this is also an opportunity for innkeepers to meet and razzle-dazzle potential overnight guests.
Photo courtesy of Inn at Ellis River
Artisan Cheese Festival
Further fueling the world’s love affair with Sonoma, we present the three-day Artisan Cheese Festival, now in its seventh year. Nearly two dozen SoCo cheese makers will participate, from “American Original” Bleating Heart, which produces two kinds of sheep’s cheese in very limited quantities, to Cowgirl Creamery, which is practically a West Coast institution. Half a dozen wineries and 30-odd other vendors will participate, including host city Petaluma’s very own Lagunitas Brewery. The fromage-fest takes place March 22-24, 2013 at the Sheraton Sonoma County – Petaluma.
Photo courtesy of Artisan Cheese Festival
French Country Waterways
Regardless what you think about French culture or society, pretty much everyone has to concede that in all things culinary, France has the secrets. And not just the modish Parisian restaurants, either. In rural France, simple country picnics and mom-n-pop inns serve up meals more delicious and memorable than any big-city banquet. Cruise through Burgundy, Champagne or the Loire with this boutique barge operator and partake of the freshest and best fare from local farms, winemakers and village bakeries. Start with pastries for breakfast, move on to pate and perfect salads, and end each night with a candlelit dinner and sublimely stinky cheese.
Photo courtesy of French Country Waterways
Plate & Pitchfork
Venture up to Oregon for an adventurous variation on the culinary river cruise. Instead of a barge, guests board a whitewater raft, and instead of candle light and Michelin-starred chefs, the fare is traditional BBQ and farm dinners set on picnic trestle tables by the riverside. Oregon is an epicenter of farm-to-table dining, so you can expect the very best food and philosophy from the chefs and food producers...plus a soft-adventure setup that’s undeniably more exciting than barge transportation.
Photo courtesy of Plate & Pitchfork
Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail
In New Mexico, green chile is a staple in almost every meal, and a must on a burger. Bobby Flay knows it, and so does Guy Fieri. So, a few years ago, in a stroke of grass-roots marketing inspiration, New Mexico Tourism put together a “Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail” comprised of the self-nominations of every burger shack in the state. It hasn’t gotten nearly the attention it deserves, but for fans of road food, Route 66, greasy spoons and small town Americana, the Trail is a connect-the-dots guide to authentic deliciousness. And since it’s a self-guided pilgrimage, you don’t even need to have the green chile burger every time. (Sometimes, you can have a bison burger topped with Pepper Jack. Or, perhaps, some huevos.)
Photo courtesy of Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail
Vietnam Asia Transpacific Journeys
As much as foodies love authentic Asian fare, it can be a bit of a crapshoot to seek it out solo in Southeast Asia. Get guidance but stay native with an immersion tour led by Asia Transpacific Journeys, one of the frontrunners in experiential travel to Asia. The company’s small group journey to Vietnam takes travelers to a small herb farm, an informal cooking class at a famous Hoi An restaurant, to a family’s home for a dumpling-making lesson, and to Ben Thanh market in Saigon. Every day brings different lessons and each lesson winds up with a healthy and scrumptious Vietnamese feast.
Photo courtesy of Asia Transpacific Journeys
Every would-be backpacker has contemplated working a grape harvest in Europe or Australia (with many giving it up as too darn hard), but we love this less publicized, somehow slightly more exotic version: orange harvest season in Neretva valley, Croatia. Just like every other sort of agri-tourism, this citrusy adventure—taking place in mid-September through October—ranges from a labor-intensive work-for-board situation to a high-end lark where well-to-do tourists can “pick” a few oranges before repairing back to their villa so that a chef can squeeze the fresh juice for their sunset cocktails.