A FRIEND OF A FRIEND USED TO STAGE elaborate picnic adventures for his dates. He'd write out directions to the surprise dining site, which often involved a hike or bike ride to reach it, then pack up his culinary creation, wine, linens, candelabra, and headlamps and set it all up on a portable card table in some offbeat spota bridge, a forest clearing, the 12th green of a golf course. Smart man. While most know food is a direct shot at the heart, he realized that the combination of good eats and the outdoors usually ensured a perfect score.
There's something irresistible about mixing outdoor activity with breaking bread (ideally, just-baked), hence the ever-expanding crop of weeklong culinary adventures. Now there are imaginative options for the active gourmand hankering for a quicker fix. Full-throttle picnicscall it alfresco extremeare the entrée du jour. Here are the prime new attractions that combine the great outdoors with tasty dining.
FOOD ON THE FLY
This newly launched "Fly and Dine" package in southwestern British Columbia combines scenic flying with inspired eating. From Vancouver, wing along the Sunshine Coast to the oceanside West Coast Wilderness Lodge. To work up an appetite, hike the three-mile Skookumchuck Narrows Trail, kayak to a nearby cove, or pick from angling options galore before sitting down to a dinner that may include smoked-venison carpaccio or caper-crusted wild salmon, followed by your pre-sunset (that is, before 10 p.m.) return flight. DETAILS: Package from $517 per person; 877-988-3838, www.wcwl.com
For outdoor dining on the run, catch the wildest foodie on wheels, "Sandman" Jim Denevan. Part surfer dude, part environmental artiste, this Santa Cruzbased gourmand tours the country by bus and enlists farmers and local A-list chefs to orchestrate Outstanding in the Field dinners. The goal? Bringing adventurous diners closer to the food source. Picnics are staged on the supplying farms or in hard-to-reach locationssuch as a Puget Sound sandbar or a sea cave in Pescadero that will fill with water once the tide turns. The meals themselves are righteous: five-course feasts paired with local wines and served at linen-draped, candlelit tables that seat 100. In 2006, look for Denevan's creations in Hawaii, Canada, the Texas Hill Country, and the Outer Banks of North Carolina. DETAILS: From $120 per person; www.outstandinginthefield.com
Jules' Undersea Lodge, in Key Largo, Florida, has the perfect solution for scuba aficionados seeking lunchtime submersion. You'll dive 21 feet below the surface of a mangrove lagoon, then surface into this underwater hideaway via the moon pool, a tiny swimming hole in the wet room. Drop your gear, grab a hot shower before lunch, then head into the futuristic dining area. Watch the world swim by in the oversize portal windows while your "mer-chef" prepares a feast of filet mignon, Florida lobster, and homemade Key lime pie. DETAILS: From $145 per person for the Mini-Adventure, including the dive down to the hotel for lunch; overnight submarine-style berths from $295; 305-451-2353, www.jul.com
Forget energy bars for beating the bonk on Getaway Adventures' ride through the thick fir forests, open meadows, and rolling hills of Annadel State Park, near Santa Rosa, California. Instead, you'll stave off your hunger with a wine-country-style picnic of seasonal specialties like pasta salad with sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes, and pesto; handcrafted cheeses; and artisan breads from a nearby bakeryall served on the shores of Lake Ilsanjo. Dessert: a quick dip and a nap in the sun. DETAILS: From $125 per person, including bike rental and local guide; 800-499-2453, www.getawayadventures.com
Presenting heli-picnics, a summertime splurge that allows viewmongers to get the altitude gain while feeling no painunless you count the calories you won't be working off with your heli-assisted summit. Meet your copter in Revelstoke, British Columbia, then fly along the Columbia River and up to Mount Begbie or Mount Englishwherever the views are best that day. Your dining room is decked with shining glaciers, tumbling waterfalls, and lupine meadows; your fellow diners are marmots and mountain goats. Provisions include homemade bread, house-cured meats and artisanal cheeses, fresh salmon and crab, and plenty of chocolate. The sunset dinner picnic is particularly sublime. DETAILS: Take to the skies for $617 per person ($821 per person for a private picnic for two); 888-837-5417, www.helicanada.com/summer/picnic.html