SAN SEBASTIÁN, SPAIN
San Sebastián is the ultimate destination for food lovers. It’s got many world-class Michelin-starred restaurants like Arzak, Mugaritz and Elkano (be sure to book ahead), but day-to-day life here really revolves around ‘pintxos’. The Basque equivalent to tapas, they’re served at every bar in the old town – don’t miss Ganbara, La Viña and Bar Nestor. If you don’t want to do pintxos alone, book a lunch or dinner tour with Mimo Bite the Experience. A local guide will take you to some of the city’s best traditional yet chic spots. You’ll visit at least five bars to taste a range of dishes from fresh prawns to line-caught baby squid and perfectly charred steak, with each dish paired to a glass of cider or local wine.
Where To Stay: Newly opened this month, Villa Soro is a landmark 19th-century property in the heart of the city and the perfect base to discover its culinary scene. The main house has 15 charming rooms, a large sitting room, honesty bar and library. The old stables offer a further ten rooms, some with private gardens. Décor throughout is sleek and modern with touches of textured finishes and antique furniture. There is also an impressive collection of modern Spanish art, featuring works by Iñigo Manterola, Jose Cháfer and Eduardo Chillida.
Rooms from €250 per night on a B&B basis.
On the shores of Lake Geneva, Lausanne is one of Switzerland’s prettiest cities, with a stunning historic old town. It also sits next to the Unesco Lavaux vineyards, which extend from Lausanne to Montreux and produce some of Switzerland’s finest wines. Swiss wines go back to the Romans, with some archaeological digs discovering grape seeds in settlements dating back to the Iron Age. Visit some of the vineyards in Cully and Lutry to sample the wines with a few tapas. You can also enjoy vineyard walks or cycling and lazy lunches in the many restaurants you’ll come across in some of the quaint villages. Most will have the local speciality – perch fillets from the lake – which are delicious with French fries. If you are after something a little more special, head up the road to Chexbres to Le Deck, the restaurant at the Hotel Baron Tavernier. The menu is a mix of local, Alpine and Mediterranean seasonal dishes, and the views over the lake and Alps are incredible. Around 45 minutes from Lausanne, in the Rhone Valley, the spectacular Château d'Aigle is surrounded by vineyards with fabulous views all around. Aside from the history of the castle – the barons of Aigle were first mentioned in 1179 – Aigle is all about its vineyards, where you can meet the wine makers, taste the local wines (predominantly Chasselas) and learn about the processes and history of these ancient vineyards.
Where To Stay: Base yourself in the Hôtel Angleterre & Résidence, a collection of buildings grouped around a pretty courtyard garden and pool in Lausanne’s lakeside district of Ouchy. The older buildings date from the 18th century and the style is typical of this area of the Swiss Riviera, where Lord Byron wrote ‘The Prisoner of Chillon’. If you want a notch up in the luxury stakes, book into the sister property next door. The Beau-Rivage Palace is a stately, neo-classical landmark set in ten acres of gardens and is renowned for its superb service, two-starred Michelin restaurant (under the helm of Anne-Sophie Pic) and Cinq Mondes spa. Public areas and the 168 bedrooms are beautifully decorated in classical style with tapestries and antiques.
Kirker Holidays offers a tailor-made three-night holiday staying at the Hôtel Angleterre from £759pp or the Beau-Rivage Palace from £1,168pp, including flights to Geneva and car hire.
THE LUBÉRON, FRANCE
Bathed in sunshine for most of the year, Provence is a rich agricultural region producing mainly fruit and vegetables, including the quintessential ingredients of the local cuisine – olives, tomatoes, garlic and herbs. About an hour’s drive from Marseille, the Lubéron region is the heart of Provence, famous for its outstanding natural beauty and, above all, its many picturesque medieval hilltop villages. As you drive through the area, the impression is that there are vines everywhere – in fact there are over 40 vineyards in the Côtes du Lubéron and most will greet you with open arms for tastings. Some of our favourites include Domaine de la Citadelle in Ménerbes, Domaine de la Verrière near Goult and Domaine Des Jeanne in Oppède (for the rosé) – combine a visit to the latter with lunch at Le Petit Café in the village of Oppède Le Vieux. There are restaurants at every turn, from smart Michelin-starred establishments to small village cafés, so you’ll never want for excellent food. Finally, don’t miss the wonderful markets to shop for local produce – think olives, olive oil, truffles, honey and goat’s cheese. The biggest and best is in Isle sur la Sorgue on Sundays.
Where To Stay: There is no shortage of gorgeous places to stay to suit all budgets in this part of Provence. One of our favourite luxe properties is La Bastide de Marie, a restored 18th-century stone farmhouse situated in its own estate just below Ménerbes. It is owned by glamorous French hotelier family the Sibuets and, in line with their other properties, it oozes style and sophistication, is incredibly comfortable and the service is impeccable. Chef François Martin uses fresh, seasonal produce and heads out most morning to scour the local markets for inspiration for his daily menu suggestions. He can also prepare a wonderful picnic for you to enjoy somewhere quiet on the estate or to take with you on a bike ride. Overlooking rolling vineyards dotted with olive groves and lavender fields, you’ll be able to tour the Sibuets’ own Domaine de Marie vineyards and wine cellar, where some 90,000 bottles of red, white and rosé are produced each year from 11 grape varieties grown on the estate, including Grenache, Syrah, Roussanne, Vermentino, Cinsault and Mourvèdre.
Room rates start from £280 per room per night on a B&B basis.
COUNTY CORK, IRELAND
With a slew of fabulous eating and drinking experiences, County Cork is known as Ireland’s foodie capital. One of Europe’s oldest covered markets in Cork itself – the English Market – has been trading since 1788 and is a warren of food and drink stalls. For fine dining in the city, head to Greenes where the food is innovative and modern, based on locally sourced produce. For excellent seafood, Fishy Fishy in Kinsale is the place to go – here, owner/chef Martin Shanahan ensures that he is supplied with only the best of fresh fish from the waters off the south coast. In the small town of Midleton, Sage serves great Irish cuisine. And of course, there’s the national treasure, Ballymaloe near Shanagarry (see below). If you have a half day to spare, you could book into a course at the Ballymaloe Cookery School where some of our best-known chefs have started their culinary journey on Darina Allen’s intensive 12-week course. In July, for instance, you could join Darina, an enthusiastic forager, for a walk in search of wild foods. A walk in the countryside will never be the same again – you’ll learn how to identify and use over 40 seasonal wild food plants, flowers, as well as many foraged foods from the hedgerows. Or later in the year, book into ‘Ballymaloe Favourites’ for a demonstration of how to cook some of the classic dishes that have featured on the menu at Ballymaloe House for almost 60 years.
Where To Stay: Ballymaloe House is about 25 miles east of Cork airport and just a few minutes’ drive from the cookery school. When Myrtle Allen opened her restaurant in her farmhouse in 1964, her aim was to emulate the best Irish country house cookery. She had no idea she was about to change the Irish food scene for ever, or that her home would become a chic country house hotel. Today, the accommodation is unpretentious, elegant and comfortable – choose from rooms in the main house with view over the fields, cosy rooms at the top of the house in the eaves, or the newer light-filled garden rooms at the back of the house that look onto the river. There are also some rooms in the lime-washed, rose-covered farm building in the courtyard. Of course, your stay here is also about the food. The five-course dinner menu changes daily according to seasonal availability and is based on locally sourced and homegrown produce from the hotel’s walled garden and farm. Think hot Galway oysters on toast with parsley and lemon; house smoked free-range quail, clementine, date and fennel salad; roast guinea fowl with parsnip crisps, francatelli sauce and Ballyhoura mushrooms.
Room rates (from May onwards) start from €340 per night on a B&B basis. The 5-course dinner is €85.
Bordeaux is the capital of Nouvelle Aquitaine and, of course, the hub of an extensive wine region. It’s a lovely city – the world’s largest urban World Heritage Site – where you’ll find wide boulevards flanked by 18th-century buildings, pedestrian-only streets, grandiose squares and several museums. While you might associate Bordeaux with wine, the food is outstanding too and there are several excellent restaurants, many with Michelin stars. For fine dining, Le Cent 33 is one of the most difficult restaurants to get into so book well ahead. For something simpler, Le Bouchon Bordelais serves classic dishes but won’t break the bank. If you’re after a beautiful setting too, Le Prince Noir is just outside the city in a building dating back to 1453 in the grounds of a château. Take a cruise along the river Garonne to visit some of the many vineyards and châteaux that surround the city. If there is just one vineyard you must visit, it has to be Château Mouton Rothschild. There’s a museum on the property where you can see medieval glassware, silverware and tapestries. You should also explore the ancient, fortified hilltop town of St Emilion to the east of Bordeaux and the Médoc region north of the city – not forgetting to taste wines in both.
Where To Stay: Les Sources de Caudalie is an elegant hotel set among the vineyards of Château Smith Haut-Lafitte, a short distance south of Bordeaux. Its rooms, suites and stilted cabins are individually designed, most with a balcony or terrace overlooking the vineyards or lake. Be sure to book in for a wine-inspired treatment at the Vinotherapy Spa.
Abercrombie & Kent offers a tailor-made 4-night wine trip to Bordeaux, with guided tours of the city, visits to St Emilion and the Médoc, plus wine tastings. Price from £1,955pp including flights, 4 nights at Les Sources de Caudalie on a B&B basis and guiding. Click here for full details.
THE DOLOMITES, ITALY
The northern Italian province of Bolzano, which sits amid the majestic Unesco-listed Dolomites mountain range, is a food and wine lovers’ paradise with the highest number of Michelin stars in all of Italy. Known for winter sports, this area is a well-kept secret in the summer months when the snows have melted – this is the perfect time of year to make a gastronomic trip. Surrounded by jagged peaks, peaceful valleys and idyllic villages, you’ll find some of the best food you’ll ever eat, and you can work off the extra calories with some serious walks up the mountains – there are pathways and trails to suit all abilities of fitness. At sunset, the mountains take on a dazzling orange-pink hue – known as ‘enrosadira’ – that’s not to be missed. Be sure to try the local Trentodoc sparkling wine and visit the Ferrari Trento winery founded in 1902.
Where To Stay: The picturesque village of San Cassiano is home to the Rosa Alpina, now an Aman hotel. The 51 rooms and suites have a contemporary elegance with natural materials reflecting the natural surroundings, and living areas are furnished with local antiques. There is also a lovely spa with floor-to-ceiling windows. The three-Michelin-star St Hubertus Restaurant is the hotel’s jewel in the crown, the domain of legendary chef Norbet Niederkofler and his team. It has also been awarded Michelin’s newest distinction of a green star which recognises sustainable gastronomy. For the ultimate foodie experience, this summer sees the return of ‘St Hubertus Unplugged’, a six-course Sunday lunch in the hotel’s mountain hut at 2,000m altitude. You have the option to leave the hotel after breakfast and hike up there with fellow guests and the chefs, foraging for wild herbs, mushrooms and other ingredients that will then be used to prepare lunch on the cabin’s wooden fire. Non-hikers can take the cable car to the top of the mountain, followed by a gentle 15-minute walk.
The 2-night ‘St Hubertus Unplugged’ experience is available from €1,030pp and includes the mountain lunch (as above) plus Saturday and Sunday nights at the hotel on a B&B basis.
PORTO & THE DOURO VALLEY, PORTUGAL
Portugal second’s city is the home of port wine where centuries ago British merchant ships would sail into the medieval harbour to transport the region’s wines home. Today, Porto’s architecture remains a mix of Roman, medieval, Baroque and modern, with cobbled streets and tiled churches. Explore the historic centre, including the Stock Exchange Palace, the Cathedral, and browse the many shops selling porcelain and decorative tiles. A visit to the Taylor’s wine cellars is a must. As you’d expect, fish features heavily in most of the restaurants – for some of the city’s most outstanding food, book into Semea, which has fabulous views over the Douro river, and Cantinho do Avillez, which is owned by one of the country’s best-known chefs. And do not leave Porto without tasting the pastéis de nata (custard tarts) from Manteigaria in Rua de Alexandre.
Combine your visit to Porto with a couple of days in the Douro Valley, the hilly region inland from Porto, along the Douro river, and one of the few places in the world where grapes are still trodden by foot. You should stay on one of the many wine estates, some of which have luxe hotels among their terraced vineyards. You can cruise along the river in a traditional rabelo boat, enjoy lazy vineyard lunches and visit various wineries for tours and tastings, explore the villages and take in monasteries that date back to the 12th century. For some more active pursuits, there are some lovely walks, or you can go kayaking and mountain biking.
Where To Stay In Porto: In the heart of Porto on a slope on the south side of the Douro, all the rooms at uber luxe The Yeatman face the front with lovely views of the historic city centre. It’s the perfect place to stay for the wine buff, as it’s surrounded by the cellars of some of the most famous port houses; in addition, its own cellars house one of the most comprehensive collections of Portuguese wines in the country – some 25,000 bottles. The outdoor pool is in the shape of a wine bottle, with views of the city from underwater portholes. The wine theme even extends to the Vinothérapie Spa, with its products and therapies using vine extracts. The hotel is also a haven for foodies, thanks to its two-Michelin star restaurant. Also in the centre of the city, the Infante de Sagres hotel has recently been given a total refurb by the owners of The Yeatman. The neo-classical building, including its stained-glass windows and collection of antiques and tapestries have all been lovingly restored, and the 85 bedrooms have also been totally renovated.
Where To Stay In The Douro Valley: Set in a 19th-century manor house, Six Senses Douro Valley commands an enviable position overlooking the Douro, with many of the rooms and suites having views of the surrounding vineyards and the river. You can wander the estate’s extensive grounds, through the forest trails, organic vegetable garden and vineyard pathways. Daily activities include wine tasting, cooking classes, paddle boarding and kayaking. For total relaxation, get pampered in the fabulous spa, where the treatments include yogic detox and sleep programmes. The charming Quinta Nova Winery House is on a working vineyard that was founded over 250 years ago and is now one of the oldest and most scenic wineries in the Douro region. There are 11 bedrooms, an excellent restaurant and a swimming pool, as well as walking and cycling trails.
Kirker Holidays offers a 6-night holiday: 3 nights at the Infante de Sagres and 3 nights at Quinta Nova Winery House in the Douro Valley. From £1,398pp, including flights, private transfers and entrance to Taylor’s.
For an uber luxe experience, book Scott Dunn’s 5-night ‘Perfect Pairings: Porto & Douro Valley’ trip, staying at The Yeatman and Six Sense Douro Valley. Price from £5,400pp, including accommodation on a B&B basis, as well as exclusive tours, meals and experiences. Click here for details.
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