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Epicurean Vacations and Culinary Tours

By Sarah Steele Wilson


The Parthenon, the Taj Mahal, and the Sydney Opera House are architectural marvels globe trotters have long included on their lists of must-see attractions. Art lovers have always dreamed of standing in front of the Mona Lisa in the Louvre and Michelangelo’s David in the Accademia Gallery. The world is full of amazing sights from the savannahs of Africa to the snow-capped mountains of Tibet.

Sweet Onion, Haywood County NCWhat if you are looking for an experience that gratifies a sense other than sight? Culinary or Epicurean travel is an increasingly popular form of travel that pleases the tastes. Epicurean travelers experience the traditional food of an area and, through the food, the culture. Since everyone has to eat, what could provide a more direct connection with a land than its food? The vegetables and fruits have grown in the soil and the meats and cheeses are from animals that have roamed the scenery.

“It’s one of the fastest growing segments of tourism today,” says Melody Johnson, Community Manager of the International Culinary Tourism Association (www.culinarytourism.org), an educational association for people involved in the culinary tourism trade. Johnson says that in the last two or three years, culinary tourism has gone from a niche market to an industry, with destinations throughout the world focusing on attracting visitors interested in food and wine.

Jane Gregg, founder and Director of Epicurean Ways (www.epicureanways.com), a company that arranges culinary tours of Spain, thinks experiencing the food of a foreign country is a perfect way to gain an understanding of the country as a whole. Gregg lived in Spain on and off for 25 years and was always interested in the food and wine. After experiencing what Spain had to offer in both those areas, she decided that “it seemed like an incredible thing to share with people.” 


Winery Epicurean Ways arranges both culinary and cooking tours. Culinary tours focus on visiting different restaurants, wineries, and markets, while the cooking tours focus on giving people the chance to learn from, and prepare food with, Spanish chefs. A typical day on a culinary tour might start with a guided walk through a town market followed by a walking cultural tour and lunch at a recommended restaurant. In the evening, there might be a tour of tapas bars. A typical day on a cooking tour would begin as travelers meet their Spanish chef for a trip to the market to buy fresh ingredients. Then everyone would retreat to the chef’s kitchen, open a bottle of wine, and start cooking.


Jackie Cipriano (www.chefjackieteaches.com) is a trained professional chef who takes small groups on culinary tours of Tuscany. “I always wanted to share the food of Italy with other people who aren’t exposed to that,” she says. A typical day on her tour would begin with a shared breakfast in the 13th century farmhouse where the group stays. After that, they might spend a day visiting a cheese maker, attending a lecture on olive oil, or just exploring a Tuscan town. The group reconvenes for dinner. Cipriano likes to take her groups to small family-owned restaurants that don’t necessarily attract a lot of tourists. She says that in Tuscany you have to ask restaurant owners what they’re offering that day since there will be a lot of dishes available that aren’t necessarily listed on the menu. “They go out in the morning and buy what looks good,” she says, meaning the menu is a living, evolving thing. Cipriano is fluent in Italian and orders items that she thinks her travelers won’t have had before and will never have again. While they eat, she discusses the dishes, talking about the ingredients and how they are made and what wines to pair with different foods.

Stacy Luks spent 10 years in Australia. When she moved back to the United States, she missed Australia and its “food culture.” She decided she wanted to get involved in a business that would keep her close to her former home and ended up as an independent travel consultant (www.sublimesojourns.com) connected to the Virtuoso travel consortium. The culinary magazine Saveur has partnered with Virtuoso to establish a board of culinary travel advisors (http://virtuoso.saveur.com/), of which Luks is a member. Luks had such fond memories of the food in Australia, especially the “amazing fresh produce markets that are just a part of people’s everyday shopping routines,” that she was interested in helping travelers experience that.

In addition to memories of some wonderful meals and some new recipes, Gregg believes Epicurean travelers will return home with a better understanding of the culture and people of the land they’ve visited. “It’s not just about food,” she says. “You get a window into the culture and a window into where foods come from.” She says many people who travel with Epicurean Ways are interested in Spanish life. “You’re not distant from the people on these trips. You’re working with a Spanish chef or having lunch with a Spanish wine maker. You’re really getting to know real people.” 

Cipriano’s tours of Tuscany also provide a glimpse into the lives of people there. Her groups often eat with Italian families and at least one night is devoted to eating with the family that owns the farmhouse where the groups stays. She says one of the best things about experiencing food this way is “to see the pride and passion these people have to present you with their traditional food.” 


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