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Special occasions call for extra special foodie experiences. These blow-the-budget treats include a beautiful venue to hire in Somerset, a luxury train trip and a once-in-a-lifetime cookery class in Sicily.
Take a look at our travel section for even more foodie experiences, local restaurant guides and top travel tips.
1. Merlin Labron-Johnson at Rocca delle Tre Contrade
A week-long luxury cooking experience in Sicily (30 March-6 April 2019)
Treat yourself to the delights of springtime Sicily and hone your culinary skills under the guidance of chef Merlin Labron-Johnson (under whose aegis London restaurant Portland gained a Michelin star). Staying at the grand Rocca delle Tre Contrade villa on the east of the island, you’ll spend your time learning how to make Sicilian dishes through hands-on classes, cooking demonstrations and market visits while enjoying five-star surroundings and meals.The blush-pink private villa and former wine estate of Rocca delle Tre Contrade is an impressive sight, perched on a hilltop, surrounded by palm trees, bougainvillea and jasmine, it has panoramic views of the blue Ionian Sea and Mount Etna. Classes take place in the villa’s sleek, purpose-built kitchen. With a maximum of 16 participants and four work stations, there’s ample workspace and personal attention from chef and his team. Lebron-Johnson calmly guides you through preparing classic Sicilian recipes such as pasta alla Norma, arancini and delicate pastries like cannoli. After each class, guests eat together to enjoy the fruits of their labours.
How to do it
The one-week course, 30 March-6 April 2019, is bookable exclusively through The Thinking Traveller and costs from £3,720 per person (based on two sharing) including all meals and accommodation. To book, visit thethinkingtraveller.com/merlin or call 020 7377 8518.
2. Durslade Farmhouse, Somerset
Luxury bolthole stuffed with art
Five years ago, the Somerset town of Bruton – already a honeypot for arty types and media celebrities – woke up to find that an ambitious modern art gallery complex had materialised on farmland a 12-minute amble from the high street. It was the vision of Hauser & Wirth – one of most prestigious names on the international art scene – and now visitors arrive from all over the world to experience it. At the centre of the operation is the gallery itself, housed in an ancient threshing barn. And then there’s the Roth Bar & Grill: just the sort of buzzy, convivial canteen you long for after all that art. Much of the menu has been grown in the walled garden or surrounding farmland, and meat and charcuterie are dry-aged in the salt room. Favourite dishes include the lamb merguez sausages, carrot & walnut dip, Dorset seafood risotto and Castlemead Farm chicken with chimichurri. You will want to taste everything, so ask for sharing plates. Mains from £12. Slap next to the gallery is Durslade Farmhouse, dating back to 1760, which can be rented by groups or families by the day, weekend or week, and sleeps up to 12. The style might be described as ‘salvage luxe’: think creaking floorboards, 18th-century wallpapers, avocado bathroom suites, sumptuous beds, a smattering of taxidermy and natural toiletries. Walls are hung with priceless modern art, including some (you have been warned) with an adult theme. Food is very much part of the welcome. On arrival, you’ll find a cream tea laid out for you and the fridge stocked – all other meals can be ordered.
How to do it
Rent Durslade Farmhouse from £600 per night, £3,000 per weekend, includes a fridge stocked with basics, meals extra.
3. Belmond British Pullman Hush Heath Winery tour
An opulent train journey with splendid food and wine (round trip on 19 June from London Victoria)
The Belmond British Pullman is a far cry from most other trains, built in the 1920s and 30s these are carriages with serious style. Stepping on board is like walking onto a film set, especially as most of the passengers are dressed in their best and the commuters scurrying past looked somewhat bemused. After checking in at Victoria Station and boarding the train, the food and wine seems to flow all day, starting with a welcome bellini and moving on via brunch to more bubbles and then a four-course dinner, all ably served by the train staff (being able to serve anything on a swaying train is a skill set that should never be overlooked). Once you’ve sunk into its comfy armchairs (so large they had to be fitted into the carriages before the roofs went on) you’ll enjoy the journey as much as the destination. This sister train to the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express is filled with beautiful details, from the brass luggage racks to the silver and linen on the tables. In the carriage, it’s hard not to keep marvelling at the comfort, and the scenery as the train moves through the Kent countryside, stopping for a transfer to Hush Heath for a tour of the estate and a wine tasting – the Balfour brut rosé and Nannette’s English rosé are excellent. Back on board, dinner arrives. We ate smoked haddock cakes with tomato butter sauce, wild mushroom soup with truffle cream, pork cooked three ways and Valrhona milk chocolate shortbread, British cheeses and coffee and petits fours, by which time you are lulled into a cocoon of happiness and it’s hard to step back into reality and public transport.
How to do it
Round trip on 19 June from London Victoria, departs at 9.30am, arrives back at 8pm, £465 per person all inclusive. To book, visit belmond.com.
4. Sölden, Austria
Wine tasting & Bond scenes
A contender for the world’s most dramatic restaurant setting, Sölden’s Ice Q can be reached by futuristic gondola. The building’s modern steel structure and floor-to-ceiling windows offer awe-inspiring valley views from the summit of the Gaislachkogl mountain. It’s also home to the new 007 Elements experience, where visitors can immerse themselves in all things Bond. More importantly for food lovers, Sölden hosts the Wein am Berg food festival (25-28 April 2019) every year, which sees world-renowned chefs create dishes to complement high-end Austrian and German wines. Local grape varieties such as grüner veltliner and riesling are ubiquitous but you’ll also discover more unusual wines, including sparkling whites and rich reds.The three-day celebration of food, wine and snow kicks off with a traditional Alpine dinner at Das Central, the luxurious hotel at the heart of Sölden, whose team is behind the annual festivities. Designed for ski-loving foodies, the festival offers buffet breakfasts, mountaintop wine tasting, local cheese and ham samplings and cosy chalet suppers. Insulated gear and snow boots are essential, but spring sunshine means you’re also likely to eat lunch in a T-shirt. Das Central’s comfortable rooms, generous bathrooms and spa are the perfect retreat after a day on the slopes.
How to do it
Das Central has double rooms from £175 per person per night, based on two sharing on a half-board basis. During the Wein am Berg festival, packages start from £1,355 per person for three nights in a double room, including access to the three-day Wein am Berg festival and a two-day ski pass. The closest airport is Innsbruck (just over an hour by car). Transfer can be arranged through Das Central. For more information, visit weinamberg.at and oetztal.com.
5. Koh Lanta, Thailand
Tropical spa treats and refined Thai eats
The ‘secret sanctuary’ of Pimalai comprises beautifully appointed villas that unobtrusively stud the hillside at Kantiang, one of Lanta’s most beautiful bays. With a strong commitment to preserving the surrounding rainforest and wildlife, Pimalai’s stilted villas come with private infinity pools, while the beach properties are a mere skip from clear sea waters. Pimalai’s multi-award-winning spa goes a long way in helping you find your zen. Treatments are taken in thatched bungalows, accessed via tropical forest and a network of wooden bridges.Choose your massage oil scent for the 90-minute Pimalai Signature that concludes with a head rub that will make you forget your own name, let alone any stresses. Scrubs, wraps and facials also feature on the extensive spa list, and a dip in the jacuzzi and sauna are part of your pre-cleanse for treatments. The influence of package tourism can make foodie gems hard to find on Koh Lanta, but not impossible. Pimalai’s beach restaurant Rak Talay serves up fresh Thai seafood and barbecues – grab a white-curtained shala complete with whirring fan overhead for the best experience. The resort’s signature Thai restaurant delivers an authentic menu of favourites, using organic ingredients from their farm in Chiang Mai, and herbs from the small allotment on site. Pimalai’s third dining option is The Seven Seas (2016 and 2017 winner of the World Luxury Restaurant Award), set high on the hillside with spectacular sea views and an exquisite gourmet fusion-style menu.
How to do it
Pimalai’s deluxe rooms start at about £300 per night for a high season stay (1 November to 30 April) and include breakfast, access to the resort's restaurants, infinity pools, fitness facilities and complimentary watersports. The quickest way to get from Krabi to Koh Lanta is the Express Transfer boat and taxi service, from £50 one-way.
6. Isle of Harris, Scotland
Freshly caught crab and local gin
There aren’t many self-catering cottages with owners who go fishing so there’s just-caught pollack in the fridge for your breakfast. Or dress the crab you’ve brought with you because you can’t face it yourself. Or race after your car because you’ve left all your smart clothes in the wardrobe and they don’t want you to miss the ferry back. Sound of Harris is no ordinary holiday rental, designed and decorated by Carol and Rob, an English couple who fell in love with the beaches of this beautiful island in the Outer Hebrides and built two cottages here, right on the sea.
The style is mid-century modern, with Ercol and Habitat originals and geometric artworks and ceramics along with the Borrisdale tweed they weave and sell in their tiny on-site shop. The Big House is designed around the fully-equipped kitchen, a cook’s dream, so bring supplies with you – Just Hooked near the ferry from Skye (sailing time 1.5 hours) can sort you out with local lobster, crab, langoustine and monkfish.
How to do it
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Travellers are advised to read the FCO travel advice for the country they are travelling to.