03 JAN 2017: In saying goodbye to 2016, have we also kissed food tourism adieu? Food was declared the travel megatrend of last year. Skift Magazine dubbed it the Bourdain effect. I predict this trend will continue to gather momentum as ever more unique ways to discover a land through its gastronomy are put on the table. Here are some of the highlights from the past year.

Eating Around the Town

I get the gist of a town through my stomach and I’m not alone. Walking food tours have become part of the regular tourist offerings in many cities around the world.

When I was in Rome this year, I signed up for two food tours with Eating Europe, because when in Rome, you eat. The two I picked were one at twilight through the Trastevere district and the other a daytime visit to Testaccio and both were a delightful way to quench my thirst, my hunger and my curiosity while in Rome, with nary a tour bus in sight.

Eating Europe was founded in Rome in 2011 by American native, Kenny Dunn. His informal culinary strolls with friends and family became the Taste of Testaccio Food Tour. It has since expanded with tours and cooking classes in Rome, Florence, London, Amsterdam and Prague.

In July 2016, the company launched Eating Prague’s first beer tour, “Brews and Views”. www.eatingeuropetours.com My Roman adventures were booked through their specific Italian website www.eatingitalyfoodtours.com.

The Chef, the Market and the Cooking

Almost every hotel worth its salt has recognized the culinary travel trend and created special experiences for their guests with their top chefs. At the five-star Viceroy Zihuatanejo in Mexico, the hotel offered a “shop and cook” activity with Mexican native Chef Arturo Eduardo Avila Zarraga which of course I had to do.

My husband and I joined Chef Eduardo, his sous chef Freddy and two other Canadian couples (are Canadians the biggest foodies in NA?) for the morning which began with a walk through the local Mercado to buy fresh fish and produce. The market is a compact labyrinth of small stands selling all kinds of fresh seafood, local vegetables, fruits and herbs along with sundries, fast food and whatnot. It helped tremendously to have chefs show us the way, help us learn the Spanish names and uses of products we’ve never seen before and negotiate the buying.

We returned from the market laden with goodies that the chefs taught us how to turn into a delicious lunch in a hands-on cooking class, beachside. The highlight of the feast which we washed down with excellent Mexican wines was a butterflied, grilled large red snapper slathered with several sauces they had us make. www.viceroyhotelsandresorts.com

Wine in the City

The City Winery in SoHo in Lower Manhattan calls itself “the world’s first fully functional urban winery”. I met with the chief winemaker, David Lecomte, a native of France, and learned that the winery sources grapes from some of the best vineyards in California, Oregon, Washington and elsewhere where he maintains a constant contact with growers. Once picked the grapes are chilled and express transported in refrigerated trucks.

When they arrive at the NYC winery they are fermented on the spot in stainless steel tanks into wine.  Reds are then aged in French or American oak barrels. It’s a complete operation producing about 8,000 cases of wine annually of chardonnay, pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, syrah, merlot and more.

Also at the winery is a cozy 40-seat Barrel Room restaurant serving about a dozen wines on tap, 20 in-house produced wines, 500 international labels and tasty Mediterranean inspired dishes.

In their adjacent 350-seat venue space they host about 320 concerts a year (annually about 250 different performing artists are booked) with food and drinks available at the seats throughout the shows.

City Wineries are now in Chicago, Nashville, Atlanta and soon to be in Boston. The welcome surprize is that Toronto in the plans for in the future, using Canadian grapes from Niagara and beyond. www.citywinery.com

Detox Destinations

To counter the effects of over indulgence that travelling around eating and drinking can cause, detox destinations have sprung up. My favourite is Grayshott Spa in Surrey England. For over fifty years Grayshott has been a retreat for people looking to address health issues and improve their well-being. However, the particular regime they offer now was developed just three years ago, and is based on the belief that a healthy gut leads to a long life.

There were about a dozen of us signed up for the regime during the week my husband and I were there and our lunches were always taken together after an hour health lecture.

Every meal started with a fermented vegetable such as sauerkraut, and a shot of herbal bitters. Probiotic supplements were offered at lunch. The diet is somewhat akin to the paleo diet. In the paleo diet, if a caveman couldn’t eat it, neither can you.

This means eating anything man could hunt or find – meats, fish, nuts, leafy greens, local vegetables and fruits, and seeds. No processed foods such as pasta, cereal, candy, margarine and breads.

All regime participants also had abdominal massages, hydrotherapy baths and castor oil compresses but could add on other more enjoyable spa treatments. Each of us had a daily individual activity schedule. The results were amazing.

After a week at Grayshott Spa in the UK, I slimmer, healthier and more informed on how to live right. Others in my group who participated in the Grayshott regime that week saw blood sugar and cholesterol go from high to normal. www.grayshottspa.com

Bring on the new adventures with forks and the road in 2017

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Margaret Swaine

Margaret is a nationally published wine, spirits, food and travel writer, who has authored thousands of articles on these subjects for magazines and newspapers.

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