We learned throughout our round-the-world trip that when you travel with your 2 best friends, differences of opinion will arise on how to spend the days. When one of us lobbied hard to browse the local markets (Amanda), another made a case for exploring nearby hiking trails (Holly) and a third insisted on squeezing in a little downtime at the beach (Jen). Still, one mission always united us: to sample and savor as many local delicacies as possible.
While we’ve discovered a memorable morsel or tasty sip in the most unlikely places, a few destinations stand out on our list of “must-visits” for great food and wine. If you’re like us and don’t consider a trip complete unless your taste buds are seduced, stimulated and totally satisfied, then we suggest checking out one of these outstanding culinary locales on your next journey.
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If Charleston’s rich history, seaside views, carriage rides on cobblestone streets and Southern hospitality weren’t enough to charm you, its elegant spin on soul food certainly will. An influx of award-winning chefs over the past several years has helped cement Charleston as a culinary hotspot. On a recent visit, I sipped and tasted my way across notable restaurants such as FIG, Husk Restaurant, McCrady’s and Hominy Grill. My “don’t-miss” menu items: FIG’s coddled sea island farm egg, McCrady’s butter poached scallops and Hominy Grill’s okra and shrimp beignets. Delve into the town’s hip foodie scene year-round for world-class seafood, fresh-from-the-farm produce and authentic Lowcountry cuisine such as Frogmore stew and shrimp and grits. Or time your visit with the annual BB&T Charleston Wine + Food Festival in March. So many women have been planning weekend getaways to coincide with the festival that organizers now offer such female-targeted travel packages as “Shop, Sip and Savor.”
While road-tripping across New Zealand’s north and south islands one month, I discovered 2 things: the country is more breathtaking than it appears in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. And its reputation for producing the world’s finest sauvignon blancs is spot on. Oenophiles should head to Marlborough, the nation’s renowned wine region and popular vacation destination thanks to year-round sunshine and picturesque marine and mountain landscapes. Tempt your palette with samplings of topnotch sauvignon blancs as well as pinot noirs, chardonnays and rieslings from notable wineries (and personal faves) such as Oyster Bay, Kim Crawford Wines and Cloudy Bay. Book a quaint bed-and-breakfast and explore the vineyards through an organized or self-guided tour. Or splurge on a luxury cottage at Herzog winery, a boutique estate that serves limited editions at their Cellar Door wine bar and boasts the award-winning Herzog restaurant.
Finger Lakes, NY
The Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York is gaining attention for its profusion of scenic wineries and award-winning rieslings. Less than a 5-hour drive from NYC, this is a destination where red leaves light the hills on fire in autumn, apple trees and grape vines thrive, and old barns are converted into antique stores. With a plethora of farm-to-table restaurants, it’s also quickly becoming a center for agritourism. Executive chef Stephen Landon takes advantage of the abundant farms in the Skaneateles Lake area at the French Steakhouse located inside Mirbeau Inn & Spa. His menus include New York State beef and Finger Lakes’ produce and cheeses. Another of my favorite restaurants is the bistro at Red NewtCellars Winery Bistro by Seneca Lake. Owner and winemaker, David Whiting, partners with local producers such as Autumn Harvest Meats, Lively Run Goat Dairy and Red Jacket Orchards. Then he transforms just-farmed local ingredients into comfort food dishes such as the divine wheat ravioli with pumpkin, chevre, dried cranberries and nutmeg cream sauce.
Some of my favorite ways to explore a destination are to ride through it on a bicycle and get a taste of the culture by eating local dishes. Ciclismo Classico offers bicycle vacations in Italy, arguably the most culinary-acclaimed country in the world. The company announced the first gastronomically-focused “Slow Food” cycling tour in Puglia. On the tour, travelers explore the heel of the Italian peninsula and its cuisine during the peak of harvest season. They pedal past ancient olive trees, manicured farmhouses and fertile vineyards. The itinerary includes cooking classes, so you’ll make up for any calories burned by indulging in your own handmade pasta and fresh bread, or by sampling fresh mozzarella during a cheese-making demonstration. Wine lovers won’t be disappointed. Crisp white wine made locally is almost as abundant in the region as water.
In recent years, the colonial port town of Cartagena has been giving Buenos Aires a run for its money as the must-visit foodie destination in South America. While touristy standbys La Vitrola, Café del Mar and Club de Pesca have been serving dinner crowds for decades, a new generation of restaurateurs has joined the act. Teaming up in groups as large as 5 or 6, these internationally trained teams of 20- and 30-something restaurateurs are opening trendy, ultra-modern eateries in centuries-old buildings, fusing the flavors of Europe, Latin America and the Pacific Rim with the region’s traditional cuisine. Jen and I have both made weeklong jaunts to Cartagena to check out the food, sampling the goods at Tabetai, a Latin riff on the popular Japanese temaki bars; La Perla, a minimalist-chic seafood restaurant with a killer cocktail menu; and Mila Cafe & Patisserie, an irresistible bakery and champagne bar housed in a converted colonial mansion. Go now before the crowds swell and prices balloon to match.
One of the reasons that Jen, Holly and I think that Thailand may have been dubbed the “Land of Smiles” is because you don’t have to go far, look hard or spend much to get an impossibly tasty meal. Delicious dishes and satisfying snacks are seemingly everywhere -- and served by seemingly everyone. Lightning-fast chefs prepare sizzling stir-fry and whole grilled fish at the Taling Chan Floating Market. Matrons ladle out steaming bowls of tom yum soup and plates of green papaya salad at modest -- but always-packed -- street-side cafés. And you can get pretty much any fruit, veggie or type of meat on a skewer -- the latter often seasoned and grilled, then handed to you with a plastic bag of sauce to drizzle on as you walk. You’re not always sure of what you’re getting, but there’s certain adventure to be had as you sample. And we never met a dumpling or noodle dish that we didn’t like.