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Food options determining vacation destinations

Are the food options ever a major/primary factor in choosing a city or country for you vacations? We're thinking of a long weekend to celebrate a 50th birthday in December, and so far the major determining factors are the weather and the food options. Stuff like things to see and do (besides eat), travel distance, costs, etc haven't even been mentioned!

If you're like us, where might you go in Europe?

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  1. Spain. Definitely for a 50th birthday. Start in San Sebastian and work your way in and around.

    Runners-up: France. Austria. Germany. Norway.

    I've been to a lot of places and have only been disappointed going to one place where I couldn't think of what they were known for in a culinary sense. Irrespective of what you want to see, you have to eat, so you may as well choose accordingly.

    You can also throw Italy onto that list; I'm just not that keen. And Poland can be fun but expect really big portions.

    2 Replies
    1. re: wattacetti

      +1 for Spain. The most exciting food in Europe is going on there at the moment - definitely add Seville to the list for their tapas, and as wattacetti says, work your way around.

      1. re: wattacetti

        Norway in December? Not all of it is snowbound - we have family in Stavanger, where the climate is much like northern Scotland. And you might have a chance to see the Northern Lights. But outside the really large cities, food choices are mostly pretty plain. Potatoes twice a day. Fish soup (which I think is always good, no matter which bestemor (grandma)'s recipe they use. Apple cake. There's a smoked lamb that's served in thin slices like prosciutto that's served at Christmas, and a rice pudding that's like kheer. The country pretty much shuts down...can't remember if it's noon on the 23rd or noon on Christmas Eve, but stays that way until the 27th. We spent Christmas there several years ago, and it was interesting gastronomically. But I would also point out that that far south in the country the sun rises around 9:15 a.m. and is gone by 3:45 p.m.

        I love the country, it's beautiful, and would love to do the Hurtigruten (coastal steamer) in the winter under a full moon. But just be aware. And yes, Oslo and Bergen have better restaurants. And be aware: it is hellaciously expensive by American standards.

      2. Most definitely! Aside from my annual food/girlfriends trip which is exclusively about food, dining options are always high on the priority list. Which is why you won't find my family at an all-inclusive resort or on a cruise. I carefully research and read on CH and get as much good advice from fellow CHers whenever we travel. I don't think I've ever been disappointed by the advice given here either.

        As for Europe, I've not had the pleasure of much travel there, however, I have been to and cannot say enough good things about the food and culture of Portugal. Not to mention it's incredibly inexpensive there too. It's often referred to as Europe's best kept secret. The abundance of seafood, cured ham (think Jamon), leitao assada (suckling pig) and pastel de nada (egg custard tarts) is mind-blowing. And they have great wines that you won't find in the U.S. made of grape varieties unique to Portugal. If you care to know more I wrote a lot about it on my blog. There is a link on my profile.

        Happy Trails!

        1. Nine Decembers in Europe. Here are my favorites.

          London for the theatre and especially pantomines. I have it on great authority that British food is no longer boiled for a minimum of 3 hours prior to service.

          Nurenburg for the Christmas market. Drink the hot mulled wine and have the glazed nuts. Head down to Munich for the rest of your stay. I always found the food better there for some reason.

          The chateaus on the Loire. No snow in the Alps so my bride and I headed here at the last minute for our Christmas holiday. Wonderful food in Angers and Nancy. Everything was open. No crowds of tourists and we had some great meals and wines along the way. Never made it to Paris as we were enjoying ourselves so much here.

          Never made it to Vienna or Rome during December. The ski slopes always got in the way.

          Please follow up with a trip report. And Happy Birthday!!

          1. Croatia! Especially in Istria - extremely local and fresh. Some places grow/raise the produce, game, fruit, nuts, wines, olive oil, etc. right outside the door. Not only that but the white truffles are divine and in season in December. And think fresh grilled seafood and fish. PLUS Istria used to be part of Italy so has some Italian influences such as risotto, polenta, pasta, pizza...

            I've been to many countries in Europe and we loved Croatia so much we bought a house there so I am a wee bit biased but with good reason. :-)

            Every country/region we have been to in Europe has had great food - you just need to be open minded and adventurous.

            2 Replies
            1. re: chefathome

              Chefathome, could you e-mail me (on my profile page). Have an off topic question re: Croatia if you don't mind...

              Thanks!

            2. Yes, though more as a limiting factor than anything else. My husband and I are both vegetarians, which can prove to be a pain when travelling, especially if there's a language barrier. We're both apprehensive about international travel because vegetarianism is not very popular or prevalent in many countries.

              4 Replies
              1. re: tazia

                Since you mention international travel rather than just Europe, worth mentioning that India has a huge tradition of vegetarianism, and many of their more well known dishes are vegetarian; many (most?) people in Indian are vegetarians. There are also very strong vegetarian cuisines in China and Japan, largely from Buddhist traditions, which can be largely vegan as well (dairy is not common in the cuisine).

                1. re: limster

                  There are definitely vegetarians in India and it is a well understood concept (very often it excludes eggs too, but dairy is retained). However, it is definitely not "most" people and even "many" might be put to debate if we looked at it in terms of percentage of the population. Still, not only is it well understood, it is also a well respected lifestyle choice here and even non-vegetarians sometimes undergo periods of eating only vegetarian food. Of course, financial factors play a part in keeping meat a bit of a special occassion thing for many people, but also religious reasons may make an avid meat eater with cash to burn go for dal-chawal-sabzi for an extended period of time.

                  Anyway, what a digression, India certainly is worth a visit! You'll certainly get great food and see some amazing stuff.

                  1. re: Muchlove

                    I was under the impression that it was >50% vegetarians in India as a whole but it's possible that the Indians I hang out with who tell me these things happen to be from the vegetarian regions.

                    1. re: limster

                      I've seen figures from as little as 20% to as much as just under 50%. Can't speak for the accuracy of these figures though. A lot of people respect vegetarianism and view it as an ideal but may not follow this through. Remember that vegetarianism in India is actually a relatively "new" thing that was brought into Hinduism to win back followers from Jainism and Buddhism which both stressed non-violence to other beings (though Buddhism itself doesn't actually have to involve vegetarianism at all and I'll go as far as to say most Buddhists aren't veggie). The Hindu epics mention plenty if meals involving meat.

                      The "vegetarian myth" is another one of those things that gets pulled out along with "everyone speaks Hindi", "everyone watches Bollywood", etc. India is a huge country with many different cultures, religions, languages and cuisines. You can say something about one particular community in one particular area and it can be true, but go a mile up the road and ask someone else and it will be false.

                      For the OP, all that matters is that vegetarian food is very common and even non-vegetarians eat veggie at many meals.

              2. One additional factor that can be important is season. To scratch the surface - game tends to be autumn/winter, many variety of mushrooms in the autumn, morels and asparagus in the spring, truffles in late autumn and winter etc...

                1. I am mostly not interested in going to England for the dearth of unexciting food.

                  On the continent, I would go anywhere in Europe, though food was dreary in the Czech Republic. We ate very well in Poland - and even Slovakia though there was limited selection. All other places are intertesting enough for me to visit or revisit.

                  Anywhere else in the world I would find fascinating to eat as long as there is no serious food scarcity such as having nothing but millet in some destitute area of Africa.

                  Vienna would be great for a food weekend.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: Steve

                    Steve, have you been to England? I think you will find there has been a huge revival in excellent, British food over the past few years.

                    1. re: pj26

                      It goes beyond British food. The quality of produce, especially meats and dairy, is impressive and it raises the deliciousness of many diverse cuisines. And in cities like London, the range of cuisines is very broad.

                      1. re: limster

                        I totally agree - I was going to expand a lot more but to be honest couldn't be bothered to respond to rather sweeping generalisations!

                      2. re: pj26

                        Ah, I see. I haven't been in a long time, so perhaps I stand corrected. My wife, who I consider to be an Anglophile, just came back from a trip to Cornwall, Birmingham, and Northampton, and she found the food to be dreadful. She is not a Chowhound, though, and I am sure she just went to average places. Still, the average seemed fairly abysmal to her.

                        The question is: are you talking about seeking out special experiences, or are you talking about the overall level of cuisine? I do not doubt there is seriously good food in London, just as you can find good food in most Europeam capitals.

                        1. re: Steve

                          You can find good food anywhere in Britain, but you can't expect to walk into an average restaurant or takeaway place and expect to be blown away. Some research beforehand is well worth the effort, and if self catering, the selections of fresh seasonal produce, cheese and meats is impressive and reasonably priced.

                          I've noticed that many American tourists treat finding restaurants in Britain different than on the continent. There's plenty of dreadful food in France and Germany too but somehow tourists seem to avoid these places more easily than in the UK.My guess is that Americans seem to assume because the language is English they can just walk into any place in the UK and they'll be fine, whereas in France or Germany the language barrier forces tourists to check guidebooks and ask hotels for recommendations, so they end up being directed to the better quality restaurants.

                    2. Transplant,

                      My BF and I plan all of our vacations around food! Even when we are camping in a NP; we plan for the camping food (and wine!) carefully. Usually those trips are a couple days camping, a night in a hotel with a nice diner out.
                      We do make it to Europe at least once a year, as he is from Paris....
                      Last years was France and Spain. We did 3 days in Barcelona, with wonderful meals and sights to see - not to mention the fabulous Bouceria Market - world famous food oggling, eating, shopping:). Then an easy days drive to San sebastian for 3 days; pinxto's hopping nightly, and a couple of lunches at world famous restos in area.. we ate at Mugaritz and Extebarri. Extabarri day was combined with late afternoon at Bilbao.
                      We would highly reccomend this for an anniversary holiday! Lot's to see and do, and of course eat! There are many threads here on CH for both destinations. Have a great time, and let us all know where you decide to go.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: gingershelley

                        Thanks, GS! Barcelona and the surrounding area is definitely on our list, so I've made a note of your suggestions. San Sebastian sounds wonderful.

                        He's leaning towards Portugal right now, since neither of us has been there. I'm starting to research to see which of those might work out.

                        1. re: Transplant_DK

                          See my post above about Portugal. I can't say enough good things about the food, culture, architecture and value of a trip to Portugal.

                          San Sebastian would be lovely. I haven't been but I've read a great deal and it's on my "must do" list. Gourmet had an excellent issue devoted to the area a couple of years ago. You should go to www.epicurious.com and do a search.

                      2. ITALY!

                        Start in the north at Parma and eat my way south to Palermo.

                        But that's me.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: PotatoHouse

                          PotatoHouse...

                          I think you've got the right idea. Altough, I might start in Parma, eat my way through Modena to Bologna, then back to Parma.

                          But that's me.

                          1. re: thomco

                            We love France. We still talk about the amazing food in Israel. The Inbal hotel's breakfast is worth the flight. Seriously, Israel has the most amazing fruits and salads. And to finally taste what hummus is suppose to be will spoil you for life.