Celebrations International Travel Blog

Posts Tagged ‘food and wine travel

Two separate conversations I had yesterday with professionals in the world of foodie Web sites left me bewildered, and inspired me to write this entry.  I’m still not sure what to think of these interactions, and would be interested to see if readers out there have any thoughts to share on the subject.

Call #1: I was explaining my agency’s approach to culinary tours, when the person asked about Italy.  I responded by using our Tuscany sample itinerary as an example, and mentioned that we suggest guests stay at a villa outside of Florence, using it as their home base for a few days to explore the Tuscan countryside.  Mid-sentence, she cuts me off with “So you do luxury tours?”

“No,” I said, what we do are custom tours.  If a client asks for a luxury tour, we can certainly arrange that, but if someone asks us to put together a culinary tour on a budget, we can do that as well.”

Her answer:  “Oh, that one sounds expensive.”

Well, I can’t argue with whatever gold-tinged images she might have had in mind, but what this experience taught me is that people’s perceptions and other long-held notions can be difficult at best to change or even influence.  But what stood out even more was this person’s apparent unwillingness to even hear me out, or to be open to ideas in the culinary and related realms.   Baffled as to what else to say, we ended the call with formalities.

Call #2: This time I’m explaining our approach to culinary tours (i.e. Get out of the tour bus and actually experience the destination; per my earlier post “Escorted Tours My Way:  No Whirlwind Bus Rides”.) to Caller #1’s designee.  This time I decide to explain simply that our tours are customized to accommodate whatever the traveler is interested in seeing and doing, but that our culinary tours are designed to be more than just restaurant tours, that we give travelers the chance to do more than just sightsee, eat; sightsee, eat.

Her Response:  “Now that’s my type of tour.”

Normally, her answer wouldn’t have bothered me, except that instead of listening or wanting to learn anything about our tours, she proceeded to tell me that “For those of us who live to eat, that’s what we want,” and that our culinary tours wouldn’t work in the foodie world.

As much as I respect every individual’s right to their own opinion, I take our work and professional stance in the travel and culinary worlds very seriously.  I would not want anyone to ever think that the intent of our culinary tours is anything other than to introduce travelers to the joys of the culinary world.  By all means, the highlight of any culinary tour is for travelers to enjoy all the food, wine and other delights their destination has to offer.

The point I think both callers missed is that Celebrations International Travel’s culinary tours are 100% customized to give travelers the opportunity to experience their destination in ways that best suit the travelers’ interests and needs.

That is not to say that enjoying a host of different restaurants isn’t one way to experience a destination, but good meals can be enjoyed anywhere, without necessarily having to travel.  And good memories are created through good, enriching experiences, which exploration and travel provide.

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If you’ve ever been on a standard (non-custom)  escorted tour like I have, what do you remember?  In my case, what I remember is a bus (motorcoach) full of people, a tour director, and a driver.  (To read more about this, see my earlier post, “Escorted Tours My Way:  No Whirlwind Bus Rides!”.)

What I think is good about standard group tours (where the itinerary is pre-set, and agents book travelers into a group with pre-set travel dates) is that the tour guides are very knowledgeable and experienced, most motorcoaches are comfortable, the driving is left to someone else, you have no worries about language barriers, and you can get to know your fellow travelers.

Admittedly, some travelers may find this “standard overview” approach to touring suits their needs, and  Celebrations International Travel works with a host of tour companies to offer clients who choose this option the best possible choices for any destination they want to visit.

But here’s what I don’t like about standard group tours:

– These tours assume that “one size fits all,” which may not be true for many travelers.

– Pre-Set tours can be restrictive.  Yes, it’s nice that someone else gets to worry about all the arrangements and hassles, but what if you want to spend more time exploring a particular attraction, or if there’s something on the day’s itinerary that you’re just not thrilled about?  What if you simply would rather experience the same attraction in a different way?  What if you want to go out at night, but not by yourselves, and the pre-set tour doesn’t give you escorted options?  No matter how much flexibility or free time is built into a pre-set itinerary, you as the traveler still have to work within the choices and timeframe that the tour gives you.

– Large groups and pre-set tours can make travelers feel like they’re being herded in mass from one place to another.

– You are not in control of your own time, as the group must travel as a whole, and the amount of time spent in each locale is prescribed.

Try telling my teenage self that there was anything OK with this last point when I had a completely unobstructed view of the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace, but as soon as the guards marched in and turned around, someone tapped me on the shoulder and said “It’s time to go back to the bus.”  My reaction was and is to this day:  I can’t believe I went all the way to London and didn’t even get to see the changing of the guard!

All this is why in my view, custom tours are a much better idea.  You can still experience all the benefits of standard touring:  You can have knowledgeable drivers and English-speaking tour guides, comfortable transportation, and enjoy getting to know people you meet along the way.

What custom touring gives you that standard touring doesn’t is this:

– Flexibility: Travel when, where, and how you want.  There are no pre-set travel dates or itineraries, although we can provide you with sample itineraries and other ideas to consider incorporating into your custom tour.  You see and do what interests you, and you have the flexibility to alter your itinerary on the spot if you’d rather spend more time at a particular locale or skip something else.

– Budget Considerations: With custom tours, you pay for exactly what you want.  You get to approve your custom tour before committing to it, and we work within your reasonable budget constraints.  This is helpful because it allows travelers to spend on what’s important to them, and save on other things if they choose.  Custom tours do not have to be expensive.  I’ll talk more about this in an upcoming post.

– Travel with Whomever You Want: You can bring just your spouse, or your family, friends, your bowling team or wine club, or open the tour up to your entire company if you want.  Your customized tour is just for your group, so it’s up to you!

– Theme Tours Your Way: If you have a hobby or interest you’d like to incorporate into your custom tour, let us know!  Whether your passion is food and wine, photography, art and architecture, gardening, or anything else, Celebrations International Travel’s destination experts can design a tour to focus on your interests.  Our Culinary Travel Homepage provides some sample itineraries designed with food and wine connoisseurs in mind.  These will give you an idea of what a theme tour might entail.

Contact us for more information on planning your own custom tour!

As a follow-up to my last post, I’d like to expand upon the adventurous nature that culinary tours can take on.

I don’t mean that every culinary traveler would necessarily want to embark on a strenuous hike or go bungee jumping (although we can certainly work that into a culinary tour if that’s what they want).

Culinary travel in the truest sense of cultural immersion tends to evoke the adventuresome spirit in many travelers.  For example, how often do travelers on your average sightseeing tour to Japan get to witness traditional cormorant fishing by the Ukai fishermen, done by firelight?  In India, travelers have the opportunity to stay overnight in an ancient palace and fort that has been converted into a hotel.  In Vietnam, you can take a cycle or walking tour through bamboo thickets to a rural village to see the threshing and harvesting of rice and get a glimpse of what modern-day village life is like.

In northern France, culinary travelers may want to visit the Cointreau Museum in Angers and tour the salt fields of Guerande.  In Germany, you can visit a farm to explore the origins of authentic Black Forest ham, spend the night at a hotel with rooms constructed of hollowed-out wine barrels, and marvel at the beauty of medieval castles and rolling vineyards while you enjoy some of the best German beers and wines.  In Italy, culinary travelers can enjoy a visit to a working Agriturismo, where five restored farmhouses sit amongst a grove of olive trees and a vineyard.  The Agriturismo produces amazing wines, olive oils, and cheeses.

In many culinary destinations, travelers have the opportunity to visit with local families to share a meal and learn their cooking techniques.  Especially for travelers looking for something that’s unique and not touristy, I can’t think of a better way to experience a destination, its people, and its culinary traditions.

These are just a handful of examples of the adventuresome nature of culinary travel.   Contact us to learn more and start planning a culinary adventure of your own!

This entry was inspired by a conversation I had recently.  A caller tells me she wants to book a tour for a group of professional chefs.  “They don’t want to cook,” she insists.  “They just want to eat, drink, and be merry.”

Don’t get me wrong, I of all people am all for eating, drinking, and being merry, and the food and beverages are the highlight of any culinary tour.  However, these comments reminded of the need to re-state my agency’s approach to culinary travel

The idea behind a culinary tour is not simply to eat your way through your destination!  (See my previous post entitled “An Introduction to Culinary Travel”.)  The idea is to experience the destination through its food, wine, culinary traditions, history, culture, people, and way of life.  This can be achieved in any number of ways, but the point I’m trying to convey is that a culinary tour is not the same as a “restaurant tour”.  And Celebrations’ culinary tours are by no means designed to be run-of-the-mill bus tours that leave you with dizzying memories of getting on and off a bus for short stints.

When I say culinary travel is meant for travelers to experience their destination, I mean just that.  Get out of the motorcoach and experience your surroundings first-hand and up-close.  Maybe you’d like to stroll through the vineyards in Tuscany, or enjoy wine and cheese on the patio of one of the locales.  Maybe you’d like to visit a local market, where a guide could introduce you to some of the regional produce and specialty foods.  While you’re there, you might see a butcher in action, and you might want to buy a fresh, juicy cut of meat and bring it back to the villa where you’re staying so you can watch the chef prepare it for you.  These are all examples ways in which a culinary traveler might experience his or her destination. 

You might have noticed that I have not mentioned any type of hands-on cooking experience up to this point.  Why?  This is precisely how I would address a request that a custom culinary tour not include cooking.  If chefs, bakers, or other culinary professionals or enthusiasts don’t want to cook on their culinary tours, they don’t have to!  They’re on vacation, after all! 

And of course, although it is a culinary-themed tour, most travelers still want to sightsee, shop, or attend cultural events or festivals.  Our culinary tours are designed to accommodate all of that and are customized for you.  Whatever you want to see, do, and experience, we will help you make it a reality!

Regardless of what interests you, or what you’d like to enjoy on your tour, a myriad of choices will always await you.  The world is full of amazing destinations, and culinary travel provides an interesting and delicious way to explore them all!

Here is a recipe for some deliously simple Schwaben Klappen cookies that some friends brought to our house for Sunday brunch recently.  They’re perfect if you like your cookies a little sweet, but not too sweet.  My friends school-aged childen don’t like them, but my preschoolers couldn’t get enough!

Enjoy, and let me know how yours turn out!

1/2 LB Sweet Butter

1/2 LB Cream Cheese

2    Cups Sifted Flour

2    Egg Yolks

* Strawberry Jam (for filling)

Mix first four ingredients cream butter and cream cheese add egg yolks and blend. Add flour.Knead dough.  Dough will be sticky.  May need to add a little more flour.  Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled ( about 1 hour) . Cut off small piece of dough and roll thin (put remainder of dough in refrigerator to keep chilled) cut dough withe drinking glass fill dough with jam (small amount of jam on the end of teaspoon) Pat a little water on the edge of cut dough, fold over and press edge together with fork. Place cookies on ungreased sheet. Bake @ 400 12 to 15 min.     Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

Taste versions of these and other German specialties on our Germany culinary tourContact us to plan your custom culinary tour today!

A tweet from @travelstour caught my attention just now, publicizing this article on foods named after places.

This article intrigued me for a number of reasons.  First, it was a fun challenge to see what I could add to their list.  I posted a comment with the following:

Carolina BBQ, Texas BBQ, Georgia peaches, Maryland blue crabs.

If I took more time, I think I think of quite a few more.

Second, this article got me thinking:  Identifying signature foods with certain places has everything to do with the very existence of culinary travel as a specialty travel niche.  If places were not culturally and historically identified with certain foods, culinary travel specialists like myself would not have much to talk about, would we?

Just off the top of my head, here are just a few examples featured in our own custom culinary tours:

French Champagne and Calvados, German Chocolate, Peking Duck, Edo-Style Sushi, Phad Thai, Chianti, and Rajasthani Thali

Indeed, we live in a very diverse, interesting, and tasty world!

Here is the text of an article I wrote that was published on WhereIveBeen’s “Your Daily Escape” yesterday.  Please note that the picture I’ve included here is different than that pictured on WhereIveBeen.com, and the links herein our for Celebrations International Travel’s site.

This tweet was WhereIveBeen’s announcement of my article:

whereivebeen International Flavor: An Introduction To Culinary #Travel http://su.pr/33u9Mi Thanks, Adrienne! (@celebrationsint) #foodies

Enjoy!

International Flavor:  An Introduction to Culinary Travel

By Adrienne Mitra
Celebrations International Travel

Culinary travel is an emerging trend amongst ardent travelers and food and wine lovers alike. What exactly does the term “culinary travel” bring to mind? As with any type of specialty travel, the variety of trips that could fall into the culinary travel category are as countless and unique as the travelers themselves: a weekend getaway visit to a special event like the Lobster Festival in Maine; a wine connoisseurs’ cruise; a tour of the Napa Valley vineyards; or hands-on cooking classes. What all of these culinary travel options have in common is this: The focus is not on simply having travelers eat their way through their destinations.

In my mind, the idea most intrinsic to culinary travel is that it provides travelers with the opportunity to immerse themselves in the culinary heritage and traditions of their destination. Excellent food and drink can be found anywhere in the world without necessarily having to travel. However, because food and its associated traditions are an intrinsic part of life, culinary travel is about experiencing a destination’s cuisine, culture, history, people, and way of life.

With this outlook, at my agency, Celebrations International Travel, we endeavor to create culinary travel that is unique and includes a variety of activities and experiences. We do this by combining elements of traditional sightseeing and cultural highlights with culinary-focused components to create customized tours. The culinary-focused components can be anything, depending on what the destination is best known for. For example, many culinary tours involve components that highlight the region’s renowned wines and classic cooking.

As a premier wine destination, your options in Tuscany are endless. For example, travelers can stay at a villa in the countryside with its own renowned chef. From this “home base,” travelers may choose to visit several wineries and sightsee in different parts of Tuscany. The winery experiences include not only wine tasting, but also olive oil, grappa, and cheese samplings. Guests have the opportunity to witness the wine-making, olive oil pressing, and cheese-crafting processes, take leisurely guided walks through the vineyards and olive groves, and enjoy visits with the local vintners and farmers. Germany is another great destination for wine connoisseurs, where travelers can choose to spend the night in a hotel room built in a hollowed-out wine barrel after a day of exploring the vineyards (pictured below)!  Guests may also enjoy a meal in the peaceful surroundings of a vineyard, grove, or farmhouse, with the venue’s signature wines as the centerpiece.

Wine Barrel Hotel Room in Germany

Stay in a hotel room built out of a wine barrel on our Germany culinary tour!

Speaking of meals, culinary travelers can enjoy hands-on cooking classes highlighting local specialties and ingredients. Sometimes the classes are held in culinary schools; other times they are hosted by well-known restaurants, villas, or bed-and-breakfasts. Whatever the venue, travelers will find themselves learning first-hand from culinary experts. In many instances, the “students” will assist the chef-instructor in gathering the ingredients to be used, either in an on-site garden or during a visit to a local market. The chefs introduce their guest students to the ingredients and guide them in the preparation of a gourmet meal that the entire group will enjoy at the conclusion of the lesson. These cooking classes give culinary travelers an excellent opportunity to try their hand at making pasta and other Italian favorites, learn the many uses of fresh Italian herbs, and enjoy a scrumptious meal that they helped create! Similarly, in Germany, guests may get to make an authentic Wienerschnitzel, learn various ways of incorporating fine German beers into traditional dishes, or try making Spaztle noodles. Best of all, cooking classes always end with a chance to sample the specialties made in the class!

There are many notable culinary destinations around the world. Domestic highlights include Napa and Sonoma, New England, the Louisiana Bayou, and the Hawaiian Islands. Internationally, France, Spain, Peru, Chile, China, Japan, Thailand, India, and Australia are some culinary hotspots to consider. No matter what destination you choose to explore from a culinary perspective, you are sure to find that a variety of activities and experiences await you.


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This is blog based on the experiences and interests of travel agency owners Adrienne and Agni Mitra. Through our blog entries, we will share our travel experience and expertise. We will also have other entries of interest to inspire your travels.

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