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Culinary tourism is on the rise, but you don’t need to book a table at the hottest new restaurant in town to taste the best a destination has to offer. TPG Contributor Lane Nieset takes us through a few great food tours around the globe, in cities and regions beloved for their cuisine. (But don’t get so hungry you forget that tours like these are categorized as travel purchases by the Chase Sapphire Preferred, the Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard and the Enhanced Business Platinum Card from American Express.)
Truffle Hunting in Florence, Italy
Those who are counting down the days until it’s truffle season can embark on their very own truffle expedition learning how to find and cook these goodies in one of the top truffle regions in the world: Tuscany. The restored 15th-century villa housing the luxurious Il Salviatino in Florence takes guests on an adventure with certified truffle hunter Giulio Benuzzi and his dog, Eda, learning about the process in the hunter’s home before setting off into the local forest around his cottage. After the two-hour hunt, travelers learn the proper techniques for cooking, cleaning and maintaining truffles before sitting down to a truffle tasting lunch with dishes that don’t skimp on the delicacy, including everything from focaccia with truffle sauce to truffle ice cream.
Florence Peretola Airport (FLR) is about 25 minutes away. Rooms at the Il Salviatino start at €425 ($472), and Visa Signature cardholders can receive perks such as upgrades, daily breakfast and free in-room Wi-Fi when booking through the Visa Signature Hotels portal, and iPrefer members can receive a €40 ($45) food and beverage credit per room, per stay. If you want to explore more of Florence, check out Destination of the Week: Florence.
Cheesemaking Class Beside Guatemala’s Lake Atitlan
Wine and cheese pairings are a culinary favorite around the world, but how often do you sample cheese at the foot of a volcano at the farm itself? Relais & Châteaux’s boutique Casa Palopó in Lake Atitlan takes cheese lovers straight to the cows themselves, jetting off by boat from the hotel’s private dock to the town of San Lucas Tolimán, set on the southeastern shore of Lake Atitlan on the base of the Tolimán volcano. The farm produces 10 types of handmade Guatemalan cheese using 100-percent cow’s milk to craft varieties like Junaal with chiltepe chili, a tiny native red hot pepper. Guests tour the farm and learn how the cheese is produced before digging into their own cheese board paired with the farm’s miel de flor de café, honey produced by bees that pollinate nearby coffee flowers.
Rates at Casa Palopó start at roughly $150 a night, and members of Relais & Châteaux’s Club 5C program will receive upgrades (when available), a personalized welcome amenity and more. Fly into La Aurora International Airport (GUA) in Guatemala City, roughly 2.5 hours from the hotel.
Wine and Beer Tours through Australia’s Yarra Valley
There are ways to take in a destination’s wine and beer scene without doing a pub crawl (although those can be fun, too). Just outside of Melbourne, Viator’s Yarra Valley Beer and Wine tours offer just the solution, riding from vineyard to brewery in style in a chauffeur-driven classic Chevrolet convertible. Choose between a local brewery or winery tour sampling Victorian wines right where they’re made — tastings included — or mix it up and visit both (to really experience the region), stopping at two breweries and three wineries; tours start at $117 per person. Luckily, you won’t be the one driving.
The main airport for the Yarra Valley is Melbourne Airport (MEL). Be sure to see Wine Wednesday: Yarra Valley and Wine-Tasting Day Trip to the Yarra Valley, as well as Destination of the Week: Melbourne and TPG’s reviews of United GlobalFirst from LAX-SYD-MEL, various Melbourne restaurants and the Westin Melbourne.
Two-Continent Market Crawl in Istanbul, Turkey
Istanbul’s blend of Mediterranean fare, spices and traditional Ottoman Palace cuisine is what makes this Turkish city a must-visit for foodies. But while meze, kebab and raki (an anise-flavored spirit and the Turkish national drink) are readily available at most spots in town, the markets are what really give travelers a sense of the local culture. Culinary Backstreet’s Two Markets, Two Continents tours gets to the heart of the city’s food scene, starting on the European side with a tour of the mariner market streets in Karaköy with breakfast at an esnaf lokantası (tradesman restaurant) and tea at a caravanserai (inn) before hopping on the public ferry to the Asian side. Often overlooked by tourists, Kadiköy’s neighborhood markets are the perfect place to eat your way around town, and the $125-per-person tour takes travelers on a market crawl sampling Turkish regional specialties before visiting another area on the Asian side, Moda, to try traditional desserts from Southeast Turkey and the Black Sea.
To reach the city, fly into Istanbul Atatürk Airport (IST) — and check out my post, Layover Lowdown: Istanbul Atatürk Airport. Also be sure to see How to Use Airline Miles for Award Travel to Istanbul and Destination of the Week: Istanbul.
Foraging Expedition in Cape Town, South Africa
Cape Town’s ecosystem makes it the perfect place for “urban hunter-gatherers” to live off the land and add foraged finds into cuisine, which is one of the trademarks of Executive Chef Jocelyn Myers-Adams‘ dishes at Camissa at The Table Bay Hotel. On the market and foraging tour, the chef takes participants to spots around town from the V&A Waterfront to Rondebosch and Cape Point looking for seasonal ingredients such as edible Hibiscus blooms, Dune Spinach and num nums to incorporate into dishes in a three-course cooking course in the restaurant’s kitchen.
The Table Bay Hotel starts at 2,948.50 ZAR ($234) per night, and Visa Signature cardholders (the Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature Card, British Airways Visa Signature Card, etc.) can book through the Visa Signature Hotels portal for perks like room upgrades, food credits and more. Fly into Cape Town International Airport (CPT). See Destination of the Week: Cape Town, and check out TPG’s answer to Why Cape Town Is My New Favorite Destination, as well as his reviews of several Cape Town restaurants, the Westin Cape Town, the Hilton Cape Town and the Park Inn Cape Town.
Market Tour in Cusco, Peru
At the JW Marriott El Convento Cusco, a 153-room hotel built the walls of a 16th-century convent on Incan ruins, guests can set off with the hotel’s chef and see the secrets behind cooking Andean cuisine. Chef Rely Alencastre’s cooking class starts with a tour of the local Mercado San Pedro, where all of the restaurant’s local produce and dairy is purchased. The chef will point out some of his favorite vendors, where you can sample queso andino (Andean cheese), lucuma (a subtropical fruit native to Peru) and cherimoya (custard apples) before heading back for a five-course cooking lesson based around these seasonal ingredients.
Rates at this Category 7 Marriott start at $200 or 35,000 points per night, and Visa Signature cardholders can book through the Visa Signature Hotels portal to score upgrades (when available), room credits and more. The closest airport is Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport (CUZ).
Basque Dining Society Tour in San Sebastian, Spain
The Hotel Maria Cristina, A Luxury Collection Hotel is the meeting point for foodies to set out and explore Basque cuisine in San Sebastian. San Sebastian Food’s 3.5-hour Insider’s Gourmet Pass heads on an underground tour of the txokos, private Basque gastronomic societies that were once male-only. These social settings are still the backbone of the Basque food scene, designed to keep the culture alive and fresh, and for €95 ($106) per person, participants can venture down into these halls in the old town to learn more about the food movement in the region straight from the source — Basque chefs — over an aperitif.
To participate in this tour, it’s not necessary to stay at the Hotel Maria Cristina, but know that the hotel starts at €510 ($566) or 20,000 Starpoints per night, and cardholders of the Platinum Card from American Express or its business version can book through the AmexFHR portal to claim perks such as available upgrades. Fly into the Bilbao Airport (BIO) — about an hour from San Sebastian — and check out Tips for Traveling Through Spain by Train.
Cooking Class in Venice, Italy
At The Gritti Epicurean School in Venice, travelers learn the tricks behind mastering Venetian cuisine from start to finish with Executive Chef Daniele Turco, the master behind the iconic Club del Doge Restaurant at The Gritti Palace, A Luxury Collection Hotel. Priced at €290 ($322) per person, the half-day tour starts at one of the oldest markets in Italy, the Rialto Market near the Rialto Bridge, where the chef schools students in choosing the freshest seasonal ingredients before stopping to take part in the local culture like a true Venetian, sampling cicchetti, or small tapas-style plates, at a traditional bacaro (wine bar). Then it’s back to the school to make use of all those ingredients in a three-hour cooking class followed by lunch (with wine, of course) where guests can finally sit back and enjoy the home-cooked gourmet cuisine.
You don’t need to be a hotel guest to participate in these classes, but if you provide your SPG number, you’ll earn points for them. Rates at Gritti Palace start at a whopping €970 ($1,077) or 30,000 Starpoints per night; cardholders of the Amex Platinum or its business version can book through the AmexFHR portal to claim perks like available upgrades, etc. Fly into Venice Airport Marco Polo (VCE). For more ideas on what to do and where to stay in Venice, see Destination of the Week: Venice.
Street Food Tour of Seoul, South Korea
Seoul is a city filled with delicious street food, but deciding where to start (and which stalls to choose) can sometimes seem daunting. That’s where Viator’s Korean Night Food tour comes in. The four-hour, small group tour — which costs about $88 per person — is led by a guide who’s an expert in Korean customs and cuisine, so you’ll not only learn about what you’re tasting, you’ll also learn the proper way to eat it and what to wash it down with (like makgeolli, Korean rice wine). While strolling through Nagwon-dong and Jongno, you’ll have the chance to try Korean barbecue, kimchi and North Korean pancakes stopping at a shijang (traditional Korean flea market), three restaurants and food stalls.
Fly into Incheon International Airport (ICN). Check out Destination of the Week: Seoul, the comments on Help Me Plan My Trip to Seoul, South Korea, and TPG’s own 18 Hours in Seoul: What to Do, See & Eat and reviews of the Park Hyatt Seoul and The Ritz-Carlton, Seoul. Also see contributors’ reviews of the Westin Seoul Chosun, Grand Hyatt Seoul and W Seoul Walkerhill.
What are some of your favorite food tours? Which city is high on your list when it comes to cuisine? Even after the introduction of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is still a fantastic choice if you want to avoid the Reserve’s $450 annual fee, earn 2x on all travel & dining and earn a 50,000 point sign up bonus.
Even after the introduction of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is still a fantastic choice if you want to avoid the Reserve’s $450 annual fee, earn 2x on all travel & dining and earn a 50,000 point sign up bonus.