Some 30 percent of American travelers choose a vacation destination, at least in part, because of its culinary offerings, according to recent data by the industry publication, Travel Weekly.
This reflects a major cultural shift that has taken place over the last decade: Chefs have stepped out of the kitchen and are revered as celebrities; there are enough food lovers to support cable TV channels devoted entirely to cooking and photographs of restaurant meals posted on social media are as ubiquitous as “wish you were here” picture postcards once were.
Increasingly, travelers want to immerse themselves in the authentic culture of a destination, and one way of doing this is through food, beyond just dining at a fine restaurant. The new breed of culinary travelers wants to visit markets, see the places where food is grown or produced, learn about new ingredients and cooking techniques, hobnob with chefs, share tables with locals and sample foods that are unique or representative of the destination they are visiting.
As a result of this shift, hotels, resorts and even smaller inns are raising their game by creating new culinary adventures for food lovers.
“Hotels have come to realize that food (and beverages, for that matter, too) are a distinctive way to increase interaction with their guests,” says Patrick Bottiglieri, author of The Thirteenth Floor: Memoirs of a Hotelier and professor at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. “Cooking classes, tours and other culinary-related activities memorialize a stay.”
If you are a food enthusiast, here are 10 spring/summer culinary adventures to whet your appetite:
1. Learn about the history of Mexican gastronomy
Las Ventanas al Paraiso, a Rosewood Resort (San Jose del Cabo, Mexico)
Las Ventanas al Paraiso is located near the tip of the Baja peninsula where the desert meets the Sea of Cortez. On Fridays, guests interested in Mexican gastronomy can learn about the history of barbacoa, a pre-Hispanic cooking technique used by Tlaxcalan Indians.
As part of a “Back to Roots” culinary experience (starting at $190 per person), Chef Jesus Chuc explains how to wrap organic, free-range sheep meat (sourced from local farmers) in maguey leaves before placing them in an underground oven to cook slowly for seven hours. That evening, guests get to the moist, flavorful meat — along with fine mezcal pairings, traditional salsas and sides — as they dine at a communal table with other resort guests.
2. Go from farm to table, literally
Black Sheep Inn & Spa (Hammondsport, N.Y.)
This intimate five-room bed and breakfast is located in an historic, octagonal-shaped house in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Emphasizing farm-to-table sustainable fare, 90 percent of the foods prepared for guests are sourced within 50 miles of the Black Sheep Inn & Spa.
Upon arrival, guests get to taste different local cheeses with handcrafted bread. As part of a “Finger Lakes Farm-to-Table Day” (priced at $295 per person above the cost of lodging), guests accompany the onsite owner/chef on visits to two farms to select produce and then to an estate winery for a tasting. Once back at the Inn, they assist in the preparation of a memorable meal with their newly harvested bounty, bringing the concept of farm-to-table alive in just a few hours.
3. Take a course at a culinary resort
The Essex Resort & Spa (Burlington, Vt.)
Set on 18 acres in Vermont’s Green Mountains amidst lush gardens and walking trails, the Essex Resort & Spa calls itself a “culinary resort.” In addition to golf, spa and tennis offerings, guests can participate in hands-on cooking experiences with professional chefs to learn new techniques and novel ways to use local ingredients. The classes range from brief demos in the lobby to tastings, tours and workshops to three-hour classes culminating in gourmet meals with wine pairings. Based on their individual passions, guests select courses from an extensive Cook Academy Calendar; some of these culinary activities are complimentary and others are priced a la carte.
4. Discover the secrets of fusion cooking
St. Regis Bora Bora Resort (Bora Bora, French Polynesia)
Travelers tend to visit this small island in the South Pacific for romance, relaxation and the lure of its beaches and turquoise waters. At the St. Regis, the villas have plunge pools and outdoor showers, and guests get to snorkel in a private lagoon filled with native fish and stingrays. The property’s signature restaurant, Lagoon Restaurant by Jean-Georges (one of four dining venues on the property), is suspended over water with dramatic views of Mount Otemanu, a dormant volcano. Every day at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. (except Wednesdays), food-loving couples can sign up for private cooking classes (priced at $325 per couple). Following the class, they enjoy a degustation with wine served in the kitchen of Lagoon as the chef reveals some of Jean-Georges’ secrets of fusion cooking.
5. Catch you own meal
Tailwater Lodge, Altmar (Oswego County, N.Y.)
Sited in a repurposed elementary school, Tailwater Lodge is a 42-room hotel popular with sport fishing enthusiasts, kayakers and river rafters. It’s located in a woodsy setting off Interstate 81 beside the Salmon River, which empties into Lake Ontario, with its own pro shop stocked with fishing gear.
While Chinook (King) and Coho salmon only run in the fall, guests can cast for steelhead and brown trout, small-mouth bass and other fish the remainder of the year. For fishing or culinary aficionados who enjoy the taste and thrill of catch-your-own meals, the Lodge’s restaurant will prepare your catch for $14.95, including sides, soup or salad and bread.
6. Hone your gardening skills
Woodstock Inn & Resort (Woodstock, Vt.)
With a history dating back to the 1700s, the four-season Woodstock Inn & Resort is as acclaimed for its farm-to-table offerings as it is for its New England hospitality. Much of the produce served at the resort’s two restaurants, Red Rooster and Richardson’s Tavern, is sourced from the property’s 2.5-acre organic garden, Kelly Way Gardens.
Guests interested in learning gardening techniques can join master gardener Ben Pauly for classes and individual garden visits that demonstrate the relationship between stewardship of the land and the quality of the food on our tables. (Held on Wednesday and Thursdays between 10 and 11 a.m., the classes cost $15 per person.)
7. Forage on a farm
Rosewood San Miguel de Allende (San Miguel de Allende, Mexico)
Located in the heart of a vibrant colonial city in central Mexico, this luxury resort blends seamlessly with its surrounding environment. The “Local Foraging Journey” (priced at $150 per person, including lunch) enables guests at Rosewood San Miguel de Allende to learn about the agricultural roots of the region by joining Chef Victor Palma to pick fresh produce at a local, working organic farm. Upon returning to the resort, they participate in an interactive cooking demonstration to create a characteristic meal with such specialties as guacamole, ceviche, stone ground tortillas and homemade jalapeño ice cream. The meal is served at the resort’s signature 1826 Restaurant, named to commemorate the date when the town was renamed in honor of Mexican Independence hero Ignacio de Allende.
8. Learn about wellness-inspired foods
Four Seasons Resort & Residences (Vail, Colo.)
Although the resort is best known for winter skiing and snowboarding, guests arriving at Four Seasons Vail between June and August can participate in a unique culinary adventure, part of a comprehensive “Wellness with Attitude Experience.”
For $790 per night per room (based on double occupancy), guests will find the fridge in their rooms pre-stocked with healthy snacks and beverages and be able to design a wellness retreat itinerary including yoga sessions, outdoor fitness classes and adventure activities. On Sundays, foodies can visit the local Vail farmer’s market, just a short walk away, to pick fresh ingredients before they head back to the kitchen for a chef-led lesson on creating garden-focused, wellness-inspired meals.
9. Visit an oyster farm
The Wauwinet (Nantucket, Mass.)
Located on Nantucket Island, the amenities at this luxury seaside resort include private beaches on both the Atlantic Ocean and Nantucket Bay. The restaurant at The Wauwinet, Topper’s, taps into local products from the land and sea. One of its most popular dishes is Retsyo oysters served on the half shell; the oysters are cultivated and harvested in nearby Wauwinet Bay. Chef Kyle Zachary says that similar to wine, oysters derive much of their flavor from the environment in which they are grown.
The hotel offers a complimentary bay cruise for guests interested in visiting the oyster farm, during which time the cruise captain educates guests about oysters and shucks some for sampling right on the boat.
10. Join a chef on a market trip
Argos in Cappadocia (Cappadocia, Turkey)
Argos in Cappadocia is a boutique hotel featuring 55 guest rooms and suites in six different “mansions” connected by underground tunnels. Located in a small village in the Central Anatolia region of Turkey (about an hour by air from Istanbul), the spectacular setting offers views of ravines, valleys, cliffs and volcanic peaks; the property sits atop land that once housed ancient 6th century monasteries, churches, cave dwellings and houses.
Seki, the hotel restaurant, specializes in regional and Turkish dishes, sourcing its ingredients from its gardens as well as from local purveyors. As a free amenity, guests can handpick fresh herbs and greens with the chef and accompany him to local markets, where they can learn about the regional foods and produce they’ll eat at dinner that evening.
Irene S. Levine is a psychologist, lifestyle and travel journalist, and member of the Society of American Travel Writers who produces MoreTimeToTravel.com, a blog offering advice and inspiration for travelers over 50.