November 26, 2014

Tempting Gourmet Getaways

Satisfy your cravings
with these epicurean adventures

By Elizabeth Armstrong

Vacations Magazine: Tempting Gourmet Getaways
Cuisinart Resort and Spa
Some of us let our taste buds dictate our travel choices. These seven vacations are sure to whet your appetite, whether you want to pick up a few cooking techniques from a pro, get a deeper look at local culinary cultures or simply sit down to superb meals prepared with the freshest ingredients. For more information and pricing, contact Vacations To Go at the numbers and links below.

Caribbean Cultivation
Find inspiration amid the lovely beaches and soft breezes of Anguilla, an isle in the British West Indies. Because growing conditions in the Caribbean can be unfriendly, many hotels must ship in their fresh vegetables. But the luxurious CuisinArt Resort and Spa has harnessed the power of hydroponics -- a method that uses only water and nutrient-rich fertilizer, not soil -- to create a farm sheltered in an 18,000-square-foot greenhouse. Here, gardeners tend to melons, Chinese long beans, peppers, broccoli rabe, bok choy, tomatoes, arugula and other crops. Trees yield avocados, tamarind pods, guavas and star fruit.

All this bounty goes into the meals prepared at on-site restaurants, like poolside Mediterraneo, where lunch can be a pizza from the brick oven or a design-your-own stir fry, salad or pasta. Le Bistro at Santorini has earned the four-diamond award from AAA; its menu features uncomplicated yet elegant fare like pumpkin soup with goat cheese ravioli and snapper with fennel. Other dining options include a Tuesday barbecue with grilled lobster and an intimate chef's table that serves a six-course meal with perfectly paired wines.

Guests can participate in cooking classes, sommelier-led tastings of wines from the 3,600-bottle cellar and rum-sampling sessions. Or head to the Venus Spa for a soothing treatment that incorporates herbs and flowers from the farm. Check rates for the 93-room CuisinArt Resort and Spa by calling (800) 998-6925 or visiting www.Resort VacationsToGo.com/CuisinArt.

Sail With a Chef
For eight years, Jacques Pepin has served as executive culinary director for Oceania Cruises. Passengers aboard the Marina will have an opportunity to meet the French-born chef during a May 12 "Tuscan Artistry" cruise through the Mediterranean.

Pepin will sign cookbooks, lead question-and-answer sessions and conduct demonstrations in the ship's Bon Appetit Culinary Center. The facility offers hands-on lessons at 12 cooking stations that accommodate two guests each. And he'll likely pop into his onboard restaurant, Jacques. The first eatery to bear his name, it's a warm, clubby spot that specializes in bistro classics like coq au vin and cassoulet of duck confit. The 1,250-passenger Marina, which debuted last year, was purpose-built for epicures and boasts six open-seating restaurants that do not levy a surcharge. The culinary center provides a variety of courses on all its sailings; learn to make egg-centric dishes and gussied-up burgers, for example, or take a class in fish preparation.

The 10-night cruise sails from Barcelona to Rome and stops at Sanary-Sur-Mer, Marseille and St. Tropez in France; Livorno, Amalfi and Sorrento in Italy; and Monte Carlo. For more information, call (800) 338-4962 or visit www.VacationsToGo.com/Marina.

Wine on the Rhine
Storybook castles and medieval villages line the twists and turns of the Middle Rhine, a 75-mile stretch of river between Bingen and Bonn, Germany. The region lays claim to a small but thriving wine industry that's best known for its sweet Rieslings. The grapes benefit from long growing seasons and mild winters; the river helps regulate temperatures so that heavy frosts rarely occur.

Steep, vine-clad slopes blanket the countryside, and locals celebrate their wine heritage with street festivals. River cruise company AmaWaterways schedules specially themed departures of "The Enchanting Rhine" during the grape harvest. These include excursions to historic cellars and tastings. In Rudesheim, stroll the narrow shopping street known as the Drosselgasse, perhaps taking a break in one of its old wine taverns. In Heidelberg, gaze upon the Great Vat, an 18th-century cask that can hold nearly 50,000 gallons of wine. Strasbourg, nestled at the border of France and Germany, offers opportunities to sip local Alsatian wines. On board, experts share their love and knowledge of the grape and advise on food pairings.

The eight-day trip leaves Nov. 8 and Nov. 15 on the 148-passenger AmaCello. You also can opt for a 13-day cruise that tacks on time in the Swiss cities of Lucerne and Zurich; these depart Nov. 7 and Nov. 10. To learn more, call (800) 510-4002 or visit www.RhineRiverCruises.com.

French Flavors
"A Taste of France" with tour operator Tauck is a 10-day foray that takes travelers from the brasseries of Paris to the vineyards of the Rhone River valley. Guests kick off their trip in style in the City of Light with a welcome dinner at Le Fouquet's, a longtime Champs-Elysees gathering spot for luminaries of the country's art and cinema scenes. This is followed by a day of culinary investigations in the capital city, including a class at chef Alain Ducasse's Ecole de Cuisine, a visit to a chocolate workshop and an exploration of cafe culture in the St.-Germain-des-Pres neighborhood.

The next morning, hop the high-speed TGV to Lyon, recognized as France's gastronomic hub. Wander the aisles of breads, cheeses, wines and sausages at Les Halles, where the Lyonnaise have been shopping since 1850. Then board the 118-passenger Swiss Emerald, your home for a six-day float down the Rhone River to cities like Avignon, where local chefs accompany you on a market trip and then share some of their food prep skills. Have lunch amid grapevines and orchards on the Ile de Piot, and sample Provencal dishes at a 16th-century former farmhouse in Valaurie. Tauck has four departures this year, on April 25, June 28, Aug. 17 and Oct. 20. Learn more by calling (800) 510-4002 or visiting www.TourVacationsToGo.com/Tauck.

Vietnamese Journey
From its buzzing, big-city street markets to its terraced rice fields, Vietnam presents a vibrant kaleidoscope of sights. A 12-day itinerary from budget tour operator Intrepid Travel called "Taste of Vietnam" takes it all in with a grassroots sensibility.

In Hanoi, the bustling capital of about 6.5 million souls, travelers join a cooking class at KOTO, short for Know One, Teach One. The unique nonprofit facility instructs disadvantaged youth in restaurant and other hospitality industry skills. Spend a peaceful night aboard a junk, a type of wooden boat, on Halong Bay, and ride a sleeper train to Hue, where lunch at a monastery illuminates the role that food plays in Vietnamese Buddhism. Your time in Hoi An -- a UNESCO World Heritage Site -- brings another cooking lesson in traditional fare.

Remnants of French colonization can be detected in the bakeries and cafes of Ho Chi Minh City, also known for its dizzying markets; vendors sell everything from soup and deep-fried fish to flowers and electronics. A two-night sailing on the Mekong River offers a glimpse of the floating markets of the countryside, where farmers bring their produce to customers by boat.

Intrepid Travel has scheduled many departures throughout the year and beyond to June 2013. Learn more by calling (800) 680-2858 or visiting www.TourVacationsToGo.com/Intrepid.

Savoring California
Spend eight days relishing the artisan food and drink of Northern California with "San Francisco and Wine Country Delights" a trip designed by Brendan Vacations. Your time is split between the Hyatt Regency San Francisco (three nights) and the River Terrace Inn in Napa (four nights).

In the City by the Bay, guests sample organic produce and street fare at the waterfront Ferry Plaza Farmers Market and take in the intoxicating sights, smells and flavors of Chinatown -- including a tour of a fortune cookie factory and a traditional Chinese banquet.

Then drive through towns that may seem familiar from wine labels -- like Glen Ellen and Kenwood -- to Sonoma, home of the Ravenswood Winery. Here, you can indulge your inner viniculturalist and mix and bottle your own blend. The next day highlights Napa's cheesemakers, chocolatiers and charcuteries during a tour of the Oxbow Public Market. A stop at a St. Helena winery is followed by a picnic lunch and a cooking class.

More vineyard visits round out this trip: the Tuscan-style Castello di Amorosa (which, like all proper castles, comes with a moat, drawbridge and torture chamber), Clos Pegase (where the owner's two passions, art and wine, are showcased) and Domaine Carneros. The last venue is known for its sparkling wines, so raise a glass with your fellow travelers and toast your time in this enchanting region. A dozen departures are offered from May through September. Call (800) 680-2858 or visit www.TourVacationsToGo.com/Brendan for details and rates.

Window to Japan
Note: After our "100 Best" issue went to press, Orion Expedition Cruises canceled its April 27 departure of "Japanese Culinary Adventure." For readers seeking a gastronomic exploration of the country, we suggest "A Taste of Japan," a 14-day odyssey from Intrepid Travel.

Delve into this country's culture and rituals through its food on an eight-night itinerary developed by Orion Expedition Cruises. The April 27 trip aboard the Orion II starts and ends in Kobe, Japan. Guests visit local markets and shop for ingredients, then return to the vessel to make regional dishes with chefs like Hideo Dekura. The food stylist and author of such cookbooks as "Essentially Japanese" and "Sashimi" will teach sushi techniques. Guests also learn how to prepare Kobe beef, prized for its beautifully marbled texture and delicate flavor.

Shore excursions are included on Orion sailings. Food-focused explorations on this trip include a visit to the seafood emporium at Shimonoseki on Honshu Island. The city is famous for its fugu, also known as blowfish or pufferfish -- it only can be consumed after its highly toxic parts have been removed. Gain some insight into this daring dish during a meeting with a fugu trader, who will show off his prepping skills. Orion II also calls at Busan, South Korea, where travelers can take in the dazzling variety on display at the enormous Jagalchi Fish Market. If it comes from the ocean and you can eat it, it's here.

The sleek Orion II was once a private yacht and now carries 100 passengers on intriguing itineraries around the world. Other port calls for "Japanese Culinary Adventure" include Nagasaki, where guests visit the Nagasaki Peace Park near the hypocenter of the second atomic bomb drop in 1945, and Okinawa, where activities include a walk through the banyan tree forests of the Gangala Valley. For more information, call (800) 338-4962 or visit www.VacationsToGo.com/OrionII.

The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published in January/February 2012.


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