The new European vacation? Travelers are returning for trips that are all about food and wine

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When Colin and Jenoa Matthes left their home state of Utah to embark on a world tour in 2019, they found themselves drawn to the food scenes in places like France and Italy.

“We really loved, especially, the food in all of these different countries … and how local and specialized they were in different regions … That’s not really something that we get as much in the U.S. where we’re from, where it’s more of a smorgasbord of cuisines from around the world,” Colin Matthes told CNBC by video call.

Last year, the couple set up a tour company called Stay Awhile, which organizes trips “designed around food,” according to the company’s website.

Stay Awhile’s first destination was Bologna, Italy, where guests took part in a month-long food tasting and remote-working trip, trying the local mortadella sausage, tasting almond and pistachio granitas (a kind of sorbet) and eating authentic tagliatelle al ragu, a pasta served with a traditional beef and pork sauce.

Baking in Paris

Next up for Stay Awhile is a 10-day French pastry-making trip to Paris in June 2023, where guests will learn to make desserts and baked goods ranging from gateau opera, a layered sponge with coffee and chocolate filling, to the classic croissant, which involves a fairly elaborate process.

The Place Des Vosges, a square in the Marais district of Paris. Guests taking part in Stay Awhile’s French baking course visit the area to sample gourmet delicacies.
Andrea Pistolesi | Stone | Getty Images

While boulangeries (bakeries) and patisseries (cake shops) are seemingly on every corner in Paris, it can be hard to find authentic recipes to bake pastries at home, said Matthes, who is also an amateur baker. “I feel like so many of them have been adjusted and maybe simplified and … I don’t feel like I’m getting like a true French eclair recipe, for example,” he told CNBC.

To make sure guests cook authentically, Stay Awhile hired pastry chef Jennifer Pogmore, who trained at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris. Pogmore will instruct participants from an apartment with a large kitchen in the city’s 11th arrondissement, a district known for its restaurants, bars and opera house.

Along with learning to make French classics, the itinerary includes a day’s wine-tasting in the Champagne region as well as a guided tour of Parisian district Le Marais to try delicacies such as cheese, cured meat and chocolates.

Fresh loaves of bread at one of Poilane’s bakeries in Paris. The company said bakers undergo nine months of training to learn the trade.
Owen Franken | Corbis Documentary | Getty Images

There is also plenty of time for people to explore the city. Matthes recommended visiting Brasserie Bellanger for traditional French main dishes and family-run bakery Poilane for “arguably the best croissant in all of Paris.”

Stay Awhile’s Parisian baking tour starts at $5,400 per person, excluding flights. The couple has plans for an Italian cooking course at a villa in Tuscany, and a gourmet gastronomy experience in Spain’s Basque Country, famous for its bite-sized dishes known as pintxos.

“The main objective is for people to … have these in-depth experiences with food and cuisine, and specifically local and regional cuisine,” Matthes told CNBC.

A food tour of San Sebastian

Pintxos are a staple in San Sebastian, one of the most popular places for foodies in Spain’s Basque Country. The city is a highlight of northern Spain for luxury tour operator SmoothRed. It organizes bespoke wine and food trips to the area, with sales director Adam Stebbings recommending flying to Bilbao, and then experiencing the cuisine of San Sebastian and the vineyards of Rioja.

“The … Bilbao-San Sebastian-triangle with Rioja is very popular. It’s not just doing a wine tour … it’s a gourmet getaway,” Stebbings told CNBC by phone.

San Sebastian, in northern Spain, is known for its gourmet food scene.
Krzysztof Baranowski | Moment | Getty Images

A four-day trip might include two nights at Hotel Marques de Riscal, a luxury spa hotel in Rioja, with an eight-course meal at its Michelin-starred restaurant, followed by a night at the five-star Hotel Maria Cristina in San Sebastian and dinner at steakhouse Casa Julian de Tolosa. Prices start at £2,289 ($2,650) per person, including transfers but not flights.

For pintxos, Stebbings recommended Borda Berri and MendaurBerria, both small bars in San Sebastian’s old town. For lunch, he suggested fish restaurant Elkano, about a half-hour drive west of San Sebastian. Reservations are essential as it was named one of the world’s 50 best restaurants in 2021, Stebbings said.

Interest in food-focused trips is rising, said Stebbings. Sales are up 60% year over year from 2019, though some of this increase is due to bookings delayed from 2020, he said. The French regions of Burgundy and Champagne are especially popular, he said.

Pintxos, a traditional small-plate dish, in San Sebastian, Spain.
Malcolm P Chapman | Moment | Getty Images

Guests are staying longer and adding more excursions, Stebbings said. On a tour of the French Languedoc-Roussillon region, travelers can take a boat trip to an oyster farm off the coast of Montpellier. If they’re in Tuscany, they might add an e-bike tour of a vineyard or two.

Wine-tasting in Tuscany

Tuscany is well known for cities such as Florence and Siena, which are both close to Borgo San Vincenzo, a new luxury boutique hotel named after the patron saint of winemaking.

The hotel encourages travelers to get off the beaten track and experience the region in a more authentic way, through olive oil tastings from small producers to a cheesemaking demonstration at a nearby farm.

Boutique hotel Borgo San Vincenzo, in Tuscany, is named after the patron saint of winemaking, Saint Vincent.
Borgo San Vincenzo

Truffle-hunting near the historic town of Montalcino and a cooking class at a 13th-century castle with local chefs are popular, according to a hotel representative, while an e-bike tour to taste Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, a local wine, was also a hit with guests this year.

This fall, Borgo San Vincenzo will launch winemaker dinners, with a variety of producers providing private tastings. One of the dinners will feature dishes created by the hotel’s head chef Giulio Lombardelli, which will be matched with wine produced by his brother, Amadeo Lombardelli, from nearby vineyard Icario.

The Flying Monk Bar at the Borgo San Vincenzo hotel in Tuscany serves classic Italian cocktails, such as Aperol or prosecco spritz.
Borgo San Vincenzo

Pairings might include a pumpkin, leek and almond lasagna with Icario Trebbiano 2021, a white wine, or spicy shrimp with pioppini mushrooms paired with Icario Nysa Rose 2021.

Cooking in the Cotswolds

Local ingredients are at the heart of the cooking school at Daylesford, an organic farm and upscale estate in the Cotswolds, a picturesque region famous for its rolling countryside and villages with honey-colored stone buildings.

Half- and full-day classes at the school — which range from artisan breadmaking to a butchery workshop — provide a way for guests to learn about the region via its produce.

A chef prepares the table at the Daylesford cooking school in the U.K.’s Cotswolds region.
Daylesford

Participants can also sleep on the farm in one of its cottages, converted from the original 19th-century farmhouse, or they can stay in nearby Kingham, a village where Daylesford owns cottages as well as The Wild Rabbit, a pub with accommodations.

Daylesford also has a farm shop, garden and antiques center, wine store and restaurants, plus a spa and a range of organic skincare products.

But despite its expansion over the past 20 years, Daylesford remains an organic farm “at its heart,” according to chef James Devonshire, who oversees its cooking school.

It “either rears or grows a huge amount of varied ingredients,” he told CNBC by phone. Travelers might find a double Gloucester cheese produced at its creamery or a carton of heritage tomatoes grown in the garden.

“We use as much as physically possible from the garden throughout the whole year,” Devonshire said, adding that the garden is otherwise not open to the public.

A room at Fowler’s House, a rental cottage in the village of Kingham, part of the Daylesford estate in the U.K.’s Cotswolds region.
Daylesford

People pick produce for their class from the garden, with recipes recently including a fillet of beef with potatoes, capers and rocket and an onion bhaji with charred cauliflower.

Classes are held in a high-ceilinged stone barn, and some of the most popular classes include canape-making, a seasonal dinner party course and a summer barbecue and firepit class.

While Daylesford’s shops and restaurants can get busy, the cookery school is quieter, said Devonshire.

“It’s like a little oasis,” he said.

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