Meal Tickets: The World Food Tour
From southern Europe to southeast Asia, six regions where great adventure is infused with even better food. Pack your appetite.
Some travel for adventure, some for food. Some like to combine the two into a maelstrom of uncontrollable pleasure. For those of you who like to have your cake and a mountain to eat it on, too, these six destinations should serve you well.
Laos and Vietnam
The food in Southeast Asia is wild and diverse, and you'll want an old hand to get fully immersed in the culture of it. Go with Maxwell Holland, a Wilderness Travel guide based in Thailand who has been eating his way through Asia for the past 20 years. His 14-day Indochine Culinary Expedition (from $5,595) starts off with the spicy-hot, Thai-like flavors of Laos in Luang Prabang, a Unesco World Heritage Site on the Mekong River. But the trip's primary focus is Vietnam, from the milder food of the north to the complex flavors in the south, where Holland and co-leader Mathew Smith have the inside track on the best local markets, cooking schools, chefs, and restaurants.
In Hanoi, you'll make traditional Vietnamese dishes like nems (spring rolls) with renowned chef Didier Corlou at La Verticale, then spend a few days exploring the South China Sea coast as you drive down to Saigon. There, shop the Ben Thanh Market for everything from papaya to water buffalo, then make a meal with chef Phuong of Hoa Tuc Restaurant, set in an old opium factory. Holland designates plenty of time out of the kitchen to visit temples and sail the islands in stunning Ha Long Bay.
Five hundred. That's how many miles of coastline you'll find in Puglia, which is in Italy's boot heel and dips into both the Ionian and Adriatic Seas. You'll also find copious fresh seafood, from squid to anchovies to mussels, in addition to bountiful fennel, cherries, figs, almonds, olives, pasta, and vino. Bonus: the rolling countryside and coastline are perfect for burning off the carbs on two wheels. Base out of Fasano's Masseria Salamina, an olive estate that has been in the same family for three centuries (doubles from $130). After classes in making olive oil, pasta, and bread, head to the white-sand beaches of Torre Guaceto Marine Reserve and sign up for sailing or windsurfing instruction with Centro Velico Torre Guacato, then savor the catch of the day at family-run Osteria Perricci in the seaside city of Monopoli. Rather not DIY? On Southern Visions' seven-day Cycling and Culinary Adventure, you'll ride up to 40 miles a day with stops to help chef and guide Rocco Cartia gather ingredients for cooking classes in a beautifully restored 19th-century farmhouse (from $2,699).
Tortillas were invented in Oaxaca, a southerly state with humid jungles, pine-covered mountains, and empty beaches. So was tejate, a pre-Columbian energy drink made from toasted cacao, corn, and mamey seeds. And while other regions take credit for inventing mole, the sauce was perfected here. All of which is to say that Oaxaca may be the most food-rich region in Latin America. Make your own mole at El Sabor Zapoteco (from $75), a cooking school with daylong classes in the tiny village of Teotitlán del Valle. But the real draw in Oaxaca? Mezcal, tequila’s smoky older cousin. Expert Eric Mindling leads guests on the six-day Drinking Agave tour (from $995), which travels to villages where the men still drink pulque, a pre-Hispanic fermented brew made from agave, and to Matatlán, the self-proclaimed mezcal capital of the world. You’ll eat empanadas in off-the-beaten-path restaurants like Comedor la Florecita and taste mezcal from rural stills and in stylish Oaxacan bars. Ride it off by renting a Trek mountain bike and tackling the 17-mile Oaxaca Flume Trail, which climbs 3,000 vertical feet right outside the city (rentals, $40).
Alaska? For food? Hear us out. By virtue of its sprawling size (twice that of Texas) and its residents' self-reliant ethos (the state is nicknamed the Last Frontier), Alaska is one giant countercultural foodie scene. Fly into Juneau, stay downtown at the Silverbow Inn (doubles from $89), and head straight to Tracy's King Crab Shack, a wood hut surrounded by picnic tables near the cruise-ship docks. Order an Alaskan king crab leg ($24) steamed to perfection and slather it in butter—heaven. To taste some of the best Alaskan salmon, time your visit around the Copper River Wild Festival's Taste of Cordova Seafood Cook-Off and Dinner, in Cordova (July 26–27), and stay at the nearby Orca Adventure Lodge (doubles from $165), a refurbished cannery. From there you can kayak straight off the dock into Prince William Sound. Prefer to catch your own? At Kachemak Bay Wilderness Lodge ($1,750 per person for two nights), on China Poot Bay near Homer, your guide will help you reel in and filet silver salmon or Dolly Varden char, then grill it over smoking alder. Just across the bay, perfect your cooking technique at the Cooking School at Tutka Bay Lodge, set in a renovated crabbing boat, where chef Kirsten Dixon will teach you how to make Russian salmon pie ($225 per day).
Two words: fusion cuisine. For that you can thank the harmonic convergence of abundant Pacific Ocean seafood, Lima's explosion of superchefs, and the country's indigenous and Spanish food, influenced by Chinese, Japanese, West African, and other immigrant cultures. Base in Lima, a Latin New York City when it comes to eating ethnic; there are more than 6,000 chifa restaurants—which serve a version of Peruvian Chinese food—alone. Stay at Hotel B (doubles from $450), housed in a refurbished belle époque mansion in Barranco that's just two blocks from the Pacific. Have a pisco sour at La Terraza, the rooftop lounge with ocean views, then head to Astrid y Gastón, where world-renowned chef Gastón Acurio serves homegrown specialties like cuy (guinea pig) and sea bass ceviche. Some of Lima's best restaurants are located in the upscale beach community of Miraflores, five minutes from Hotel B, where paragliders catch thermals off massive cliffs that plunge into the Pacific and surfers head to the reef break at, yes, Waikiki. Rent a board and wetsuit from Pukana Surfing School (rentals, $35 for an hour and a half). Afterward head to Pescados Capitales for arguably the tastiest ceviche and frothiest pisco sours in Lima.
Basque Country, Spain and France
It's all about fresh and simple here. Linked by the common language of Euskara, the 7,978-square-mile Basque region borders the Bay of Biscay and spills from southwestern France into northern Spain. Even more important than the linguistic bond is the Basque peoples' deep love of pintxos (tapas) and marmitako (fish stew), knocked back while visiting pintxo bars on ambulatory night adventures. Start in the Spanish coastal city of San Sebastián, less than 20 miles from the French border, which has more Michelin-starred restaurants per capita than any city in the world. Request a room at Hotel Niza with a terrace overlooking La Concha Beach (doubles from $150 per night), then pintxo-bar hop through Old Town. Reserve a table weeks in advance at Arzak, the world-famous restaurant of Juan Mari and his daughter, Elena, who cook “reinvigorated Basque cuisine” like red mullet with newborn broad beans.
To link the two countries on foot, hike the GR34, an ancient footpath that starts in Spain, follows the Basque coast into France, and ends 360 miles later in Brittany. Or go with Culture Xplorers' eight-day Basque Country Bonds eating-and-hiking adventure (from $3,090). You'll hike, meet local farmers, and, if you're lucky, eat and drink with the male members of Gaztelubide, San Sebastián's most prominent txoko, or “savory society”—one of many ancient clubs where men still don't allow women to prepare the food. Women can, however, eat it.