Please share recommendations for a culinary vacation
hello fellow hounds,
i am planning a culinary vacation for me and a friend, to celebrate some milestone birthdays in a memorable and rather gluttonous way.
after hitting up lonely planet, travel + leisure, frommer's and a few other travel sites i have relied on in the past, i am just not seeing anything that is doing it for me.
sure, we could always pick a city or region, research restaurants, and go from there.
however, we are looking for something a little more organized, structured and inclusive.
do you have personal experiences with a package deal, resort, agency or an organized trip you loved? please share!
who we are:
* late 30s. one gay man (self-described as "obviously gay", never left the country, but would like to) and one straight woman (visible tattoos, traveled abroad extensively).
* we're both single, and don't want a "hedonism", hook-up type place.
* we don't hate children, but we do not want to be surrounded by vacation-mode families.
here is what we are looking for:
* travel time between january 2010 and april 2010 (flexible within this month range).
* no preference between domestic US or foreign travel, as long as it meets our needs.
*resort, hotel or inn (or a stay in a series of similar, well-placed properties with easy and/or pre-arranged travel in between).
*minimal planning-- good package deals, full-service resorts or comprehensive "tours" preferred, and as little DIY was possible.
*we love to eat and want this to be the focus or emphasis.
we're not the black tie type, and don't care for expense account cuisine that's more expensive than delicious.
*relaxing environment in a tropical or un-winter location (example: not iceland in january).
when we lapse into food comas, we'd like to be in nice surroundings.
*availability of spa treatments, site-seeing, snorkeling, and other low-key activities which highlight the locale.
golf, athletics and extreme adventure type stuff are unimportant to us.
*$5K-ish range for the 2 of us, not including spending $.
we won't be featured on "lifestyles of the rich and famous" any time soon so renting an island or something equally awesome would not be feasible.
here is what we crossed off our list (and please tell me if the assumptions are incorrect):
* all-inclusive resorts (bad food, either/or between singles' hook-ups and families)
* cruises (we don't fit into their average groups of families or singles' vacations, age bracket, or the more tradtional/formal personality).
sorry for the high level of detail; i thought it would be helpful in gathering suggestions.
any recommendations or suggestions would be greatly appreciated!
and, i promise to write a full review afterwards, to share... :-)
Another idea would be a trip to South India, landing in Chennai and visiting Mamallapuram, Madurai, and points south. India is sort of gay-neutral--straight men hold hands. For a first trip outside the US, may be a little intense, but definitely worthwhile. If you love dosais, iddlys and curries, a trip to consider. We enjoyed the Ideal Beach Resort in Mamallapuram, ayurvedic massages were $7, and the food was very good.
Another vote for Phuket. The main cost will be the plane ticket getting over there. Once there, there are lots of very nice hotels for $100/night or less and food is still cheap for Westerners(even though it's pricy by Thai standards). Lots of activities that range from full-on scuba, to snorkling, to just playing in the water with fish. Spas, massages, or just generally laying out under the sun are popular activities.
It's really not difficult at all to arrange everything yourself. Book a plane ticket and hotel rooms and once you get there, your hotel will have tons of info on excursions and tours and will help you book the ones you want.
Phuket is very touristy(I'm pretty sure I saw more beautiful Scandinavian girls than Thai girls on my trip), but I still think it's a fun place to visit for people who just want to chill out for a bit. The food might not be as good as Bangkok or Chiang Mai, but it's still better than most stuff you can find in the US. Added bonus is all the restaurants will have English menus...which is more than I can say for Bangkok.
This may be above your price range, but the emphasis is on eating, and some of the trips include quite a bit of snorkeling. I haven't taken any, but I've taken many of her cooking classes and they are completely unreal.
She also gives week long cooking intensive classes, don't know if this interests you. You'd be in the SFBA, so lots of culinary opportunities outside of class as well.
After a tour of thailand last year, I can't recommend Intrepid Travels highly enough. Our experience was great. They operate tours for "independent minded" travelers on almost every continent.
There are multiple trip styles--active, luxury, gourmet. A gourmet trip might be what you are looking for.
I think you might reconsider the cruise option. Look into Oceania cruises, specifically. They are within you budget, going to places you'd love, and are having sales on some of their sailings. They're a luxury cruise line, not a family cruise line, and good food is an important aspect of the cruises. They also include air fare options in some of their packages.
Also, there are sooo many cruise options out there. Cruises aren't the same as they were even ten years ago. :) If I had 5k to spend, I'd totally take an Oceania cruise. :)
How long a vacation are you planning? If you have the time, a January vacation in Thailand would meet your requirements for a tropical setting with fabulous food at a reasonable price. The country is gay-friendly, Bangkok is incredibly dynamic, and the resorts are sybaritic.