As I consider my travel options for the coming year, I thought I would share my top 5 tips for researching and planning food and wine experiences for when I travel alone.
The internet is your friend. I start out searching very broadly, getting a feel for the country or region I plan to visit, and what is unique to that area. What grapes are grown there? What are the notable vineyards? How can I get to them, or where else can I taste their wines? I look for local food specialties and everything from famous chefs to street food.
Subscribe to newsletters and mailing lists. I sign up for email from restaurants, wineries, food shops, cooking schools, local food writers, tourist bureaus, tour companies, food groups (like the local Slow Food Convivium)…anything food and wine-related, really. You will pick up all sorts of useful tidbits of information along the way.
Take advantage of the experiences of others by mining message boards. I personally use Chowhound a lot, both at home and away. You can post on your home board and ask for recommendations, and also post on your destination’s board and seek advice from local food lovers. But beware: browse the existing posts first, then ask specific questions, as the regular posters can become quite annoyed by being asked “I’m travelling to your city. What should I eat?” over and over again.
Read everything. Read publications geared to tourists – travel guides, tourism websites, official city sites – but also regular periodicals geared to local residents. How do you find out what’s going on at home? Use the same technique for your destination. I read the local daily newspapers, weekly entertainment guides, websites containing event listings and restaurant reviews, and food blogs.
Taking a cooking class can be an incredible way to really get to know a bit about the cuisine and culture of a new place. In a future post, I will describe my favourite class with a chef from a Michelin starred restaurant in Spain. Often you can find classes that include a bit more than just participating in cooking a meal, such as guided food shopping or touring local farmer’s markets. This is a great way to meet other food lovers and travelers, and the classes usually conclude by sitting down to share the meal that you have created, along with a glass of local wine. Or two.
Planning far ahead provides the opportunity to cast a wide net, and to learn a lot about the local food scene. But not planning at all can also result in fun and surprising experiences, and it’s important to leave yourself open for spontaneous opportunities. I once walked into a tourist office in British Columbia to ask about the area, and within the space of 15 minutes I was given an overview of the area, along with maps, guides and postcards, was interviewed by a journalist and had my picture taken for the local newspaper, and found myself onboard a minibus with 7 other solo travelers, headed for an afternoon of vineyard tours and wine tastings! You just never know.