Food and Wine Destinations – France, Italy and Basque Country
When I arrive in a village, town or city I seek out the best places to eat. I don’t need crisp, linen tablecloths, chandeliers or michelin stars. A good meal rarely needs such frills, it comes down to the chefs use of good ingredients, passion and love for food.I’ve been watching Raymond Blanc’s new cookery programme on Sunday mornings, where he is on a voyage of discovery of the food in his homeland. I’ve written down every place he’s visited, adding them to my Bucket List. I want to go in search of the Compté cheese caverns, meat smokehouses and organic gardens he’s visited. I want to gorge myself on each region’s delicacies in some earthy eaterie where the staff can tell you where each ingredient has come from. This, for me, is a perfect holiday.
This summer I ate my way through Burgundy, Italy and Yorkshire and I’ve shared my experience with you on this blog. However, for the hungry foodies out there, I’ve managed to unearth another few options I’ve visited over the years, each providing mouthwatering food and heartwarming wines.
However, let me issue this warning: too much good stuff leads to one having to invest in new stretchy jeans. I sacrificed my black skinny jeans I’ve had these past five years and moved up a size. This is what eating my way through Europe has done, but believe me, I’m a happy bunny and that, for me, is all that counts.
Today, Thursday 16th August on Ireland AM I talked about some destinations for foodie lovers. All information is below.
BEAUNE, FRANCE (full post on my trip to Beaune is to come next week)
Tucked into the heart of Burgundy, Beaune is your quintessential old French city, replete with an ancient city wall, moat, interlinking cobbled streets and a population with a passion for the very best of food and wine. Beaune is not only famous for its close proximity to some of Burgundy’s finest vineyards – Pommard, Nuits-Saint Georges and Meursault, but for its countless restaurants (of which there are over 100), with a focus on using local produce in the creation of hearty regional dishes.
The old part of the city, within the confines of the ancient wall, is the main attraction. The cobbled streets are lined with restaurants, wine shops, art museums and cafes. Hôtel-Dieu (Hospices de Beaune), in the heart of Beaune, attracts droves of tourists who come to see the once charitable 15th century almhouse to learn of its intriguing history and admire the stunning Gothic architecture and its multi-coloured tiled roof. Its popularity increases in November during the famous annual wine auction, run by Christies, when the finest of wines are dragged from the basements of the hospice and sold to the general public.
Beaune makes the perfect base from which to explore the surrounding vineyards, not only does it have its own attractions in the town itself, but it’s only a short drive from some of the best vineyards and has become known as the wine capital of Burgundy.
For those looking to learn about Burgundy wines, it is worth doing a short course in the Wine School where you will learn the basics. The wines of Burgundy are so complex that people will do an MA to learn some of what there is to know. Here we learnt that the wines in Burgundy are made from one grape – Pinot Noir. The vineyards are steeped in history and tradition and many welcome visitors, offering guided tours of their cellars and wine tastings for a small fee.
Château de Pommard, an impressive Château, its courtyard dotted with Salvador Dali sculptures is one not to miss. Here you can taste wines in the cellars, browse the art gallery or dine in the restaurant.
Joseph Drouhin – located in the heart of Beaune, explore the labyrinth of underground cellars dating back to the 1800’s. €25 will let you taste 6 different wines in an atmospheric 15thcentury church.
Chateau de la Tour – drop in to this lovely chateaux and taste some wines, but book ahead for an arranged tour of the state.
Cave de Madelaine
Comptoir des Tontons – delicious food, flamboyant owners using locally sourced produce to create imaginatively scrumptious dishes.
Recommended Tour Guides
Stevie Bobes – he was my guide during my week in Beaune and was fantastic – Stevie Bobes <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sue, an Englishwomen who has been in France for many years, does pre-set one day tours that run 220 – 275 euros per person per day, lunch included, but no lodging. Also with the possibility to customize itineraries. Her website is
Getting there – The drive is just over an hour from Lyon airport, or trains leave on the hour from Lyon Part Dieu station.
Accommodation Costs From €80 per room per night
Hotels Bourgogne: www.hotels-bourgogne.com
Packages from €299 per person – 2 nights accommodation/tour of Burgundy vineyards for 3 days/2 dinners (1 gastronomique)/3 lunches
San Sebastian, in Northern Spain, has become known as the Gastronomique Capital of Spain. Rumour has it that it has the most michellin star restaurants per capita than anywhere else in Europe.
The best place to stay is in the old town, parte vieja, where there is a plethora of afforable pensiones, amidst countless bars and cafes famed for their pinxtos, otherwise known as tapas. Eat standing at the bar, gorging on a multitude of small bites, sip on frothy beer or local cider and enjoy the vibrant atmosphere of the old city.
Not surprisingly, food tends to be fish based, what with its location on the Bay of Biscay, and of course the pinxtos can be found in almost every tavern in town.
For those really wanting to treat themselves try out Arzak, ranked as the eight best restaurant in the world, however this will come with a rather steep price tag. Alternatively, try Akellare, another top restaurant with stunning views over the Bay of Biscay.
For something a little cosier, head to Juanito Kojua, nestled in the old town, serving some of the best fish in town.
Traditional – Asador Portuetxe
Climb Mount Urgull, to the east of the bay, a wooded peak with magnificent views across the city, capped by La Mota Castle, where there is a museum recounting the military history of the city. The beauty of San Sebastian is that you have history, culture, food and beach. A four mile promenade spans the cities three beaches, the nicest of which is La Concha, where the cities inhabitants flock on weekends to bathe, before hitting the taverns. For those wanting to suff, Zurriola is alive with budding surfers.
They take their food so seriously that San Sebastian has its very own culinary centre – Basque Culinary Centre where it is possible to do a full degree course, or choose one of the short day courses.
Food aside, there are cultural attractions to keep you occupied should you wish – the neo-Gothic Catedral del Buen Pastor, the Baroque Iglesia de Santa María and Palacio Real de Miramar.
Just a two hour drive from San Sebastian will bring you to Spain’s finest wine region – La Rioja, the capital of which is Logroño a beautiful old city, or visit Laguardia, one of the region’s most beautiful towns steeped in history and beauty.
One of the oldest vineyards – Marqués de Riscal has created an intriguing building, designed by Frank Gehry, the architect who designed the Guggenheim in Bilbao. The quirkily design of the contemporary building seems in contrast to the stone buildings of the old village, however, beneath are extensive wine cellars, over 100 year old. There is a swanky hotel and restaurant within The City of Wine, which comes at a price, alternatively drop in to the wine centre and have a tour of the cellars and tastings of the wonderful wines.
Take the bus from Bilbao Airport to San Sebastian (bus takes approx 1 hour and is under €10)
Accommodation Costs Starting from €60 per room per night
From €390 for walk through Rioja – Pamplona to Logrono includes 5 nights accommodation half-board, luggage transfers, transfers and holiday pack
Marqués de Riscal Hotel is currently offering 20% off rooms
Florence was voted the Trip Advisors Travellers Choice 2011 Best Food and Wine Destination, which is a pretty good recommendation. Before setting off to sample locally produced wines, why not take a short wine-course in the Florence Wine Academy, which will give you some great tips and facts on Tuscany Wine.
Sitting at the foot of the Appenines, Florence straddles the River Arno and can’t fail to impress with its many fine buildings – the Basilica di Santa Croce, Giotto’s Campanile (bell tower), Brunelleschi’s dome, while the cities galleries house some of Europe’s finest art.
Florence has a plenitude of restaurants, from traditional family trattorias, to stylish restaurants and trendy cafes. Food in Tuscany tends to be simple and wholesome and has always been based on foods grown in the region and so dishes vary
Dei Fresco Baldi – owned by a wine seller, you’ll not only have great food, but the best wine selection
Del Fagioli – a fantastic traditional family-run trattoria in the centre of the city
Florence is easily navigated by foot and has an excellent public transport system out into the surrounding Tuscan countryside. It’s possible to get into the Chianti wine region within an hour from the city, by public bus to villages such as Greve, Chianti’s capital and said to be Chianti’s most beautiful village or Panzano where you can do wine tastings and stroll the town’s old streets.
Getting there Florence is 173kms north of Rome and with no direct flights it’s easier to get a flight to Rome and either drive or get the train.
Train – Eurostar from €50 return (1.5 hours)
Accommodation Costs Starting from €80 per room per night
3 Star Stilhotel Signa – €469 per person for flights (indirect) and hotel (including baggage and taxes) (Friday 21st – Sunday 23rd September)