DATE: 27 April 2022
Words by Mr John O’Ceallaigh
Presumably, it was all that time held captive in our kitchens that did it. When the world stood still, we rediscovered the elemental pleasure of a nourishing meal prepared from scratch with care. But it didn’t take long for the idea of baking another batch of banana bread to become boring…
Now, with restrictions lifting globally and the prospect of lively holiday lunches and gregarious, wine-soaked suppers fully back on the table, we have another opportunity to expand our dietary dexterity – this time authentically. Knowing that so many of our greatest holiday memories are centred on the meals we share, hotels and tour operators the world over are inviting travellers to discover distant destinations through their distinctive culinary experiences. From intrepid foraging and fishing expeditions in Arctic Norway to a high-speed tour of old Saigon’s food stalls, here are five immersive holidays full of local flavour.
With Vietnam’s borders finally reopened to much-needed tourists, there’s an altruistic (as well as self-indulgent) impetus to consider tour operator Audley’s top-to-tail tour of the country’s culinary highlights. Commencing in Hanoi, the itinerary is interspersed with stays in top-class hotels but it’s resolutely focused on showcasing every facet of Vietnam’s food culture. Having once harvested poppies for the opium trade, the village of Ky Son provides an introduction to local farming practices; in Hoi An, a languid journey aboard a dinky bucket boat will be followed by a seafood lunch on board. There’s much more besides, but the most thrilling experience is perhaps the Ho Chi Minh finale, where a guide will lead an exhilarating tour of the city’s street-food stalls and sidestreet bars by Vespa. -Find out more here
02. LOFOTEN ARCHIPELAGO, NORWAY
Kitchen on the Edge of the World
Even the most ostensibly inhospitable environments can reveal abundance if you know where to look. Taking place on the remote Lofoten archipelago in Arctic Norway, Kitchen on the Edge of the World invites the intrepidly minded to convene for four-night gatherings centred around nature’s plenitude, and the universal pleasure of a hearty dinner shared with friends after a day’s labour. Here “labour” refers to frequent foraging trips where groups might procure magical-sounding reindeer lichen or cloudberries, or it could incorporate fishing trips which deliver stacks of cod – the frigid waters here teem with them, and they’re colossal.
While Norway’s awe-inspiring landscapes always impress, the experience here is never the same: chef Mr Valentine Warner hosts the get-aways, but he’s accompanied by a different peer each time. And, of course, the seasons’ fluctuations have impact. Those visiting in March will weather the grip of late winter; in June, endless daylight seems to clasp ethereal Lofoten in a perpetual summer. - Find out more here
03. TENNESSEE, US
Stretched over a rambling 4,200-acre estate on the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee’s Blackberry Farm is a gorgeous rural retreat known throughout the US as a bastion of Southern charm. It’s also the vanguard for a strand of American properties that reject mass-produced, chemical-swelled produce for hyper-local, intensely flavourful foods, from the freshest vegetables to respectfully raised free-range livestock. City dwellers divorced from the complex reality of food production would do well to attend one of the many interactive sessions at the retreat’s Farmstead Field School, which might include artisan cooking demonstrations, and tours of the working farm with its heirloom gardens. - Find out more here
04. GALWAY, IRELAND
Firstly, a disclaimer: while Ashford Castle’s recently launched Extraordinary Irish Experiences programme does a sterling job of authentically showcasing the cultural riches surrounding this momentous 13th-century castle hotel on the Galway-Mayo border, upon check-in many guests can’t bear the thought of leaving the property at all.
Standing on lush 350-acre grounds and bordering the Republic’s largest lake, this is Ireland’s quintessential luxury address and, I say, one of the best hotels in the world. Still, its immersions reward the curious with introductions to Connaught’s culinary custodians, all of them proper charmers. Itineraries might involve hands-on tutorials in making traditional Irish bread, in a quaint church turned airy home; then there’s seashore foraging along the wild Atlantic coast; or a visit to a pioneering cheesemaker that commences with a tour of her working farm and concludes with a slap-up lunch in the family’s grand old farmhouse. - Find out more here
05. TUSCANY, ITALY
Rosewood Castiglion del Bosco
Embedded in a 2,000-hectare estate in Tuscany, Rosewood Castiglion del Bosco resort is an Arcadian distillation of the best of Italy: grand, centuries-old villas – with decidedly modern heated infinity pools – are threaded across the grounds; inexhaustible supplies of Brunello di Montalcino come from its on-site winery; the sprawling organic gardens (designed by the man who created the Vatican Gardens) are flush with over 180 varieties of vegetables and herbs. It’s an appropriate setting, then, to learn about the intricacies of Italian cooking, a supposedly simple cuisine that any _nonna _will tell you is governed by rules that command near-religious vigour. After gentle reminders that only the sacrilegious break spaghetti before tossing it in the pot, intimate daily lessons at the resort’s Osteria La Canonica Cooking School might reveal how to prepare pasta perfectly or introduce guests to Tuscany’s most beloved traditional dishes. - Find out more here