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How to get to 8 epic food and booze festivals on points and miles

March 08, 2020
17 min read
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There are those who love to travel and then those who love to travel for the food and booze and I’m definitely one of the latter.

Last year, I managed to clock in a handful of food festivals while traveling, some intentional and some as a tack-on-to-an-already-planned vacation. From sipping on Cognac (in Cognac, France) at a blues festival to eating paella with Jose Andres and Katie Button in Asheville, North Carolina, and even getting the #meatsweats at the “Meat Olympics" with Team USA, there’s never a dull moment when it comes to festivals. It’s a definite way to spice up any vacation or all the more reason to book a trip solely for the barbecue.

In the case you’ve been hoarding points and looking for an excuse to clear out your account, here is a list of eight standout festivals — plus how to get there and where to stay.

Jackson Hole Food & Wine in Jackson, Wyoming (Winter Fest: March 12 - 15, Summer Fest: June 25 - 27)

There’s never a bad time to go to Jackson Hole but thanks to this festival running two times a year, travelers can pick their adventure of an epic skication or summer in the mountains and tack on Jackson Hole Food & Wine while doing so.

“Our Winter Fest is featuring the return of famed San Francisco culinary dynamos Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski of State Bird Provisions and the Progress,” says festival director, Megan Gallagher. Expect to see Andy Peay of Peay Vineyards in Sonoma, Stuart and Nicole Brioza hosting an intimate cooking demo, and even Preston Van Winkle of Old Rip Van Winkle (aka Pappy) for the apres “Pappy Hour.”

For the summer portion, expect icons like Michael Anthony of Gramercy Tavern in New York City, James Beard’s Ashley Christensen of Poole's Diner and AC Restaurants in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Evan Funke of the acclaimed Felix Trattoria in Los Angeles. “Anthony and Christensen will each be hosting a once-in-a-lifetime intimate dinner in a beautiful private home in Jackson Hole and Chef Funke will be doing a full restaurant takeover and making handmade pasta on sight,” says Gallagher. The chefs will also be present at Big Wines, Small Plates, an interactive event where chefs and tastemakers share food memories, and SAVOR, the grand finale taking place on a ranch with snow-capped mountains as its backdrop.

Stay: For summer, check out Anvil Hotel, located directly in the town of Jackson, which means walking distance to Town Square’s restaurants, bars and shops (and don’t sleep on Glorietta, the hotel’s adjoining eatery). For winter, Four Seasons Resort and Residences Jackson Hole is nestled in picturesque Teton Village, slopeside, where many of the events take place — you can literally ski to the festival’s happy hour shindigs. If you're a Hilton loyalist, you can also choose to stay at the Hampton Inn Jackson Hole, which is available from 39,000 points/night. If you need to buff up your point balance, you can also transfer points to Hilton from American Express at a 3:1 ratio, with frequent bonuses.

How to get there: There are 12 direct flights from major cities in the U.S., including New York City, Chicago, Salt Lake City. Dallas, Los Angeles, San Francisco and more — with more direct flights added in the winter months. Travelers also like flying into Salt Lake City and driving to Jackson Hole (around five hours pending weather) for the scenic drive. If you'd like to redeem miles, considering using Avianca's Lifemiles program to book United flights for cheap.

Festival Cognac Blues Passions in Cognac, France (July 1 - 5)

Love Cognac and music? An under the radar festival, Festival Cognac Blues Passions is one to put on your radar as it’s small and charming — plus features lots and lots of Cognac.

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“The Cognac Blues Passion Festival takes place annually in the Cognac region of France and features an eclectic mix of music paired with a lively gathering in the city’s public gardens,” said Patrice Pinet, Master Blender, Courvoisier Cognac. “As a brand founded on the principle that we are a community, and not a company, the Blues Festival is a special occasion for the House of Courvoisier because the opening night takes place right outside our Chateau in Jarnac and allows us to celebrate with our community and friends who have helped us produce our high-quality, award-winning cognac."

For nearly three decades the festival has offered French blues, jazz and soul with a side of Cognac. Expect tents filled with signature Cognac cocktails, epic cheese and charcuterie boards, gourmet bites and late night musician pop-ups amid a dreamy setting. “Similar to how blues music hinges on the perfect composition of several musicians and instruments, our cognac is the result of a long-lasting collaboration between local artisans who help us produce the finest liquid,” says Pinet.

Stay: Hotel Chais Monnet, an old Cognac distillery, is the first luxury, five-star hotel in the area. Post up here for a dose of luxury and history and experience Le 1838, the hotel’s luxe bar containing the largest selection of Cognac in the world.

How to get there: You can get to Cognac with multiple layovers and a hefty price tag from Houston, Chicago and New York. If looking to travel more leisurely we suggest flying directly to Paris (there are direct flights from Raleigh, Chicago, New York City, Atlanta and other major cities in the U.S.), spending a night or two in the city of lights and taking a train to Cognac. Otherwise, check out our list of best ways to get to Europe on points and miles.

World Butchers' Challenge in Sacramento, California (September 3 - 6)

Not your average festival, the World Butchers’ Challenge, essentially the “the meat Olympics of butchery," is being held in Sacramento for 2020 — the first time the event will be held stateside. 16 countries (with teams of six butchers from each country) corral to compete for the world title. Three hours and 15 minutes to breakdown a side of beef, a side of pork, a whole lamb and five chickens into presentable cuts, just as you’d expect in a butcher shop’s glass case.

“Spectators, this is your opportunity to see some of the best butchers in the world all competing simultaneously at one of the most cutting-edge technological arenas in the United States,” says Paul Carras of Taylor’s Market and also a core member of Team USA. “There is nothing like this competition in the world where you will be able to see exceptional butchers from across the globe showcasing their country's own ways of butchering,” he adds. Plus, there’s a fancy meat gala on the last evening to celebrate the winning team.

Extend and stay for the Farm to Fork Festival (September 10 -19), attracting nearly 155,000 people to celebrate Sacramento’s bustling agriculture and food scene.

Stay: Kimpton Sawyer Hotel because it’s cool and trendy but most importantly across the way from the Golden 1 Center, where all the action happens. You can find rooms here for 45,000 points/night with IHG.

How to get there: There are many direct flights from all over the U.S. and also a quick drive from neighboring California cities like San Francisco and San Jose. If you're looking for the cheapest way to get there, Southwest offers several daily flights, for cheap and uses a revenue-based reward program so you won't be much out of pocket.

Chow Chow in Asheville, North Carolina (September 10 - 13)

Chef Katie Button kicked off the inaugural Chow Chow festival in 2019 with an emphasis on Southern Appalachia, its history and its celebrated food scene.

"Chow Chow embodies all that makes Asheville unique,” says Button. “It's an absolutely, magnificently beautiful place with a history of artistry and creation unlike anywhere else in the country,” she adds.

(Photo courtesy of Jenn Rice)
(Photo courtesy of Jenn Rice)

From craft beer to pottery and many, many standout restaurants and chefs, the city carries its own personal appeal. “Chow Chow gives attendees the opportunity to be immersed in this culture, not only through its history but as it looks ahead to the future as well,” she adds. “In a world of big box retailers and national chains, Asheville is a successful example of how a market can grow and thrive by supporting small, local businesses, and our hope is that Chow Chow will continue to capture that sense of community spirit and pride."

Expect East Fork Pottery dinners, foraging with chef William Dissen and Lyndon Smith and Amie Fields from Botanist & Barrel, partaking in a giant paella feast, vegan celebrations, yoga brunches, intimate dinners where glass blowing is a part of the equation and much more. And you just never know when Jose Andres might pop up…

Stay: The brand-new Kimpton Hotel Arras is in the heart of downtown and walking to a majority of festival events, plus restaurants and night life. It's available from IHG for 50,000 points per night. For a more charming abode check into the Chestnut Street Inn, where owner Emilie Kapp’s salty and sweet potato chip cookies are hard to resist and the best way to celebrate sunset is on the porch with a local beer on tap.

How to get there: Asheville's airport is small but the city is a hot spot right now so expect many direct flights from cities like Chicago, Austin, Dallas, New York City, Atlanta, Boston, Orlando and many more. If you're looking to use points for an award flight, Delta offers nonstop service from its hub in Atlanta from 8,500 miles.

Euphoria Greenville in Greenville, South Carolina (September 17 - 20)

Euphoria Greenville, celebrating 15 years, was dreamed up by singer Edwin McCain and Greenville restaurateur, Table 301's Carl Sobocinski. While McCain is no longer with the festival, its legacy of music and outstanding food events has withstood the test of time. (Little known fact: Michelin’s North America headquarters are based in the city, so every year there are a series of Michelin dinners and educational events.)

(Photo courtesy of Jenn Rice)
(Photo courtesy of Jenn Rice)

“While we are proud of euphoria’s growth over the last 15 years, we are also very intentional about keeping it small enough for guests to interact with Michelin-starred chefs, songwriters who’ve written number one hits, and some of the best winemakers, mixologists, distillers and chefs from across the Southeast,” says Morgan Allen, the festival’s executive director. "That intimacy, along with multiple music-driven events, is what sets us apart from other food and wine festivals and makes euphoria one worth traveling for.”

Each year, the team shakes events up but make sure to scoop tickets to Healthy Lunchtime Throwdown, where kids in school cook with Michelin-starred chefs to promote healthier school lunches; Sunday Brunch, entailing the South’s best pitmasters and copious amounts of barbecue; and Sunday Supper, a true way to wind down and enjoy a sit down dinner with chefs and new festival friends.

Stay: The Residence Inn is within walking distance from mostly all major events and a gathering place for all festival goers. As a Category 4 hotel, this property can cost as little as 20,000 points per night, or this can be a good use of the annual free night certificate offered by several Marriott credit cards.

How to get there: Fly direct from several cities, including Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, Charlotte, Newark, Miami and more. American Airlines has by far the largest presence at this airport, so check the price calendar to find your best options for reward flights.

Hawaii Food & Wine on Island of Hawaii, Maui and Oahu (October 2 - 25)

Perhaps the longest running food festival that exists, Hawaii Food & Wine combines it all: multiple islands, beautiful beaches, and world-famous chefs with a focus on regional Hawaii cuisine and agriculture. Starting on the Island of Hawaii and ending on Oahu, there’s something for everyone.

“Without sounding too cliché, Hawaii truly is paradise,” says Chef Ming Tsai of Blue Dragon in Massachusetts, who will be the first to say it’s always hard going back to mainland after the festival. “Between the amazing spirits, delicious seafood, sunshine, sunsets and surf, there are very few other places that match these characteristics alone,” he adds.

(Photo courtesy of Jenn Rice)
(Photo courtesy of Jenn Rice)

This year marks the festival’s 10-year anniversary and we’re told there will be “new event themes and big entertainment across all of the islands,” but don’t miss out on Sirl, a wine-centric event with hundreds of stellar wines and winemakers from around the world.

Stay: Each island’s events are scattered, so it’s best to plan a stay based on a regular vacation and hop around from event to event as need be. On the Island of Hawaii, Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa is a great spot to get in and out of; as a Category 6 hotel, it's bookable from 40,000 points/night. On Maui, the Sheraton Maui Resort and Spa is a solid bet, and on Oahu, the Alohilani Resort Waikiki Beach is a stylish but centralized option.

How to get there: West Coasters can take advantage of many direct flights to the islands and don’t forget to check out all of Hawaiian Airlines routes. Once on island you can easily island-hop on Hawaiian Airlines as well. You can often find low-fare competitions between the major U.S. carriers to Hawaii, and Southwest offers one of the best steals out there with flights to Hawaii for under $300 round-trip.

Cayman Cookout in the Cayman Islands (January 14 - 18, 2021)

In terms of festivals, Cayman Cookout sells out quickly after tickets are released. Taking place in the “Culinary Capital of the Caribbean,” the festival has remained a small, intimate few days, hosted by chef Eric Ripert, wine and food are the star — plus unmatched beach views you won’t get anywhere else.

“The annual Cayman Cookout festival is the perfect opportunity for our guests to experience the barefoot elegance and gastronomic excellence that can only be found in the Cayman Islands, firsthand,” says Rosa Harris, Director of Tourism for the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism.

While events change from year to year, don’t miss out on tickets to obligatory Barefoot on the Beach, where Eric Ripert, José Andrés, and Emeril Lagasse are cooking and casually hanging out (barefoot), The Beach Bash at Rum Point (aka the fanciest, coolest beach grill out you’ll experience) and Bon Vivant Cook-Off Brunch — where a plan-of-attack is highly recommended. The most fun part is witnessing Jose Andrés’ grand arrival, which always involves an elaborate entrance with lots of Champagne.

Stay: The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman Resort, the festival’s presenting hotel, where basically all chefs and talent stay. Post up at the lobby bar and you’ll most likely bump shoulders with chefs like Emeril Lagasse and Eric Ripert simply enjoying island time. While it's expensive even on points, at 70,000 per night, that's far better than the $1,000+ rate you'd be paying in cash.

How to get there: It’s a breeze from the East Coast if you can catch a direct flight from cities like New York City, Miami, Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale and Charlotte — and all under a four-hour jaunt. All major U.S. carriers offer options, so you have a plethora of choice for award options, though if you're farther south, consider checking out British Airways Avios, whose distance-based award chart can work out in your favor.

Charleston Wine + Food in Charleston, South Carolina (March 3 - 7, 2021)

Charleston is a food city, no doubt, but to really dive into the food scene and history, partake in Charleston Wine + Food festival.

“By now, so many people have heard of Charleston and its food scene. But what this great city offers beyond that is its rich cultural history,” says Marc Collins, Executive Chef at Circa 1886. “The festival has been around for many years and in that time it has honed itself into one of the top food festivals in the nation.”

“Through meaningful storytelling and unparalleled experiences, we continue to show that Charleston Wine + Food is more than just a wine and food festival,” says Gillian Zettler, executive director of the festival.

(Photo courtesy of Jenn Rice)
(Photo courtesy of Jenn Rice)

#Roséallday in the Culinary Village and mingle with the South’s best chefs. But the real draw is the exclusive experiences such as mashup dinners with Charleston chefs and out-of-towners, excursions rooted in culture and storytelling, hands-on classes, wine and spirit workshops and tastings and so much more. Every year I hit the Gospel Brunch but with over 120 signature events you can’t go wrong at this fest.

Stay: The Dewberry, a beautiful midcentury hotel conveniently situated on Marion Square, just steps from the Culinary Village. The Bennett, Charleston’s newest luxury hotel, where the South meets Europe, is within a stone’s throw as well. If you're a member of IHG, the Holiday Inn Charleston Historic Downtown is excellently located and costs just 40,000 points per night.

How to get there: Although a very small airport, there are direct flights from many U.S. cities, including Washington, D.C., Austin, New York City, St. Louis, Miami, Philadelphia and more — including a newer direct flight by way of British Airways from London to Charleston. All the major U.S. carriers operate direct flights from around the country, and award flights can be had for as little as 5,000 miles with American Airlines' web specials.

Additional reporting by Carissa Rawson.

Featured photo by Image Source/Getty Images.

Featured image by Getty Images