Excess baggage is a real problem if you are lured to the food tours discovered by Liz Cincotta.
New-Fashioned travellers curious about food are saying no to exorbitantly-priced Parisian baguettes, turning their backs on $15 coffees in Rome and overlooking "continental" breakfasts that consist of pressed sausage meat and a tea bag. Pourquoi?
Well, the humble food-lover is now well catered for with an abundance of gourmet food tours and culinary adventures on offer from top chefs and travel operators.
Tour content can range from modest cooking classes in home-stays and market shopping excursions to luxurious accommodation in French chateaux, visiting vineyards and Michelin star restaurants.
Melbourne cookery teacher, author and food consultant Meera Freeman combines her love of Morocco and its cuisine by taking gastronomic tours to the country in northern Africa. Her next tour to Morocco in October will encompass a week-long food festival in Marrakech and will include lectures, market visits, cooking demonstrations, picnics and special dinners.
"Food is a real part of making or breaking your holiday," Freeman says. "It's like when you're at home - one day you might want to go and have a bowl of soup, the next day you want to cook an extravaganza and the next day you want to go to Vue de Monde... I'm very careful to make sure that there's a balance, that people experience all levels of fantastic things."
Freeman says that there is a danger of food overkill when something is called a "gourmet" or "gastronomic" tour and that some people reach saturation point quickly. To counteract this, she brings things back to basics.
"Sometimes I just go to the market and buy some fantastic French cheese that you can't get here and we get the riad (traditional Moroccan house) to make a sandwich with some beautiful fresh-baked bread and we have a salad. It's like going to Italy and trying to see every church you can in two days, you just can't do it," the culinary expert says.
While travellers might instinctively think of Italy or France as primary food tour destinations, there's plenty more to explore in the gourmet world.
Adventure travel company World Expeditions offers several culinary journeys including north-east China with Australian chef Kylie Kwong and Flavours of Vietnam with culinary expert Joanna Savill.
The company believes its clients are sophisticated people who choose culinary trips because they are seriously interested in food; their expectation is for authenticity and adventure - in a cultural sense.
World Expeditions appoints high profile guides as culinary tour leaders, such as Kwong and Savill, who are involved in designing the tours as well as leading them.
Tours include a mix of activities, with a focus on food. While there is time put aside for sightseeing and museum visits, the bulk of activities involve cooking demonstrations with local chefs, market and restaurant visits and cooking classes.
Among the legion of food-related concerns that food historian, writer and adventurer Kate McGhie is involved in is her overseas food adventures to Norway and Morocco.
"Norway is a country that has not been touched (foodie-wise)," she says. "I'm an obsessive traveller but I'm also a traveller with a keen eye for something with a point of difference"
McGhie takes her guests to a small village north of Oslo and a privately owned, historic farm. Guests sleep in 16th century beds with reindeer throw rugs. The farm has ancient cooking equipment, so guests experience a taste of authenticity in culinary activities.
McGhie has spent years working with people in Norway and Morocco, who have become her friends.
One of her tour highlights involves visiting a private Norwegian home in Trondheim made from solid glass, rock and timber. The group shop at the market for "sausages and fish that you won't see in any other part of the world" before hiking for half an hour and crossing a lake by boat to reach the house. At night they watch elk graze by the lake (in the midnight sun) from the glass house. Another highlight involves walking up a mountain to a summer farm to meet a man who grows his own wheat and makes his own flour.
On her Moroccan odyssey, guests might learn where to find the finest saffron, eat local delicacies or share tea on ancient carpets under an olive tree with her Moroccan friends. The itinerary may change as the tour progresses and where comfort is concerned travellers may need to keep an open mind.
"There's an opportunity to go to an oasis (in Morocco), where you see camel milk cheese being made but you have to be prepared to go on a camel for a few hours to get there."
Tour operator Intrepid Travel formally introduced a Gourmet Traveller trip style to their extensive catalogue of tours two years ago.
Jen Bird, of Intrepid Travel, says: "Eating habits have become so much more international and people now generally appreciate other cuisines so much more than they did, say, 15 years ago. We are also finally recognising what an important part traditional meals play in a local culture and travellers appreciate that the cuisine plays a key role in the appeal of a destination. Going to Italy, we all dream of mountains of pasta; while for Japan, it is sushi."
Intrepid's six-day Thai Cultural Experience mixes Buddhist meditation and Thai massage with a traditional Thai home-stay on the bank of one of Bangkok's vibrant canals. Guests learn to cook Thai cuisine during their stay.
Wine lovers aren't forgotten either on a 10-day gastronomic tour through the wine regions of Chile and Argentina, sampling local favourites and learning chefs' secrets.
Sarah Stegley, one half of the team behind the Gourmet Tours of Australia and Howqua Dale Gourmet Retreat, believes their food is the key to understanding a country's culture.
Stegley and partner/chef Marieke Brugman's overseas gourmet tours involve luxurious, once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
"One of the reasons we do (the tours) is that it is terribly creative to dream them up, research them and then make them happen."
As part of their Royal Rajasthan tour in India Stegley and Brugman are invited, along with those on the tour, to the Maharajah of Jodhpur's birthday party each year (the group are the only non-Rajasthanis at the royal function). Guests stay in the maharajah's royal tents, which are placed within the ramparts of the 15th century Meherangarh Fort in Jodhpur and have a private cook.
If royalty isn't your cup of tea, then how about lunch with Monsieur Christian Pol Roger at his home at 44 Avenue de Champagne, in Epernay. On this Secrets of Paris and Champagne tour, guests explore the Champagne region's best chateaux, meet traditional champagne families and take part in private tastings.
"We've done the research so every meal they have is going to be a winner, it's going to be the best possible available in that part of wherever you are," Stegley says. Full article
Among recommended Walking and Fine Food Tour operators :
Walkabout Gourmet Adventures www.walkaboutgourmet.com
Walking and cooking gourmet trails in France, Italy and Australia; includes gastronomic Snail Trail journey to France and Italy with president of Slow Food NSW Leonie Furber.”