Where should you be holidaying this year? Editorial director of Lonely Planet online and seasoned globetrotter Tom Hall shares his insider tips.
When planning our holidays, one thing is at the forefront of our minds: food. Beyond well-known culinary hotspots, there are plenty of more unconventional choices for a gastronomic pilgrimage. Tom Hall from Lonely Planet has years of travel writing under his belt so we called on him to advise us on lesser-known destinations to visit this year.
Tom says: “We’ve talked a lot about Denmark over the last few years due to Noma being the world’s best restaurant, plus Denmark is the focal point of 'New Nordic' cuisine. But I think an overlooked Nordic country is Finland. If you visit Helsinki, you’ll find a lot of places making local and/or traditional Finnish cuisine and it’s very off travellers' radars. If it feels a bit exotic you can join the masses fighting for a table at Noma, and Copenhagen is very accessible and affordable to get to from the UK. It’s a great place for dining too, there are plenty of places to enjoy open top sandwiches, or ‘smorrebrod’."
Best for: A long weekend
Western Isles of Scotland
Tom says: “I was really struck by the unusual foods you find in the Western Isles of Scotland [the Outer Hebrides]. They have their own take on black pudding - the delicious Stornoway pudding - that shouldn’t be missed and really awesome seafood. It feels like somewhere that’s very undiscovered and untouched, and that’s true of both Harris and Lewis. I spent a lot of time cycling and going to cafes when I was there, but it does require some planning – for a place that’s remote, it’s quite well visited, so you’ll need to reserve restaurants and hotels."
Best for: A wild and remote British getaway
Tom says: “South America has been in the spotlight recently with Peru in particular spoken about a lot, but there’s a lot of interesting things going on a bit further afield. Chile is one such place – it has a hugely diverse range of foods as it’s such a long, thin country. In the north you have lots of dry desert, while in the south you have the wilds of Patagonia. The place I call out in particular is the island of Chiloé. It’s thought to be where potatoes originated, so they have vast varieties of potatoes that you can’t find anywhere else in the world, and it's an island that has retained its indigenous population."
Best for: An adventurous long-haul break
Tom says: “Perennially popular, and rightly so, is Vietnam – it’s about to overtake Thailand as the most popular destinations on the Lonely Planet website. It has a hugely diverse cuisine thanks to the brilliant ingredients you find in Thailand, but also the colonial influence, as found in the Vietnamese baguettes. We recommend taking it in via a road trip from Hanoi. It’s also the best place in Asia for breakfast – expect quite a brunch-y affair."
Best for: Backpacking
Deep South of America
Tom says: “The food of the deep south of America has really taken off in the UK recently, and while we’re familiar with pulled pork and fried chicken, we’re less familiar with po boy and collard greens – it feels like there’s much more to break out. A lot of Southern specialties are extremely tasty and there are loads of places to go to experience that – particularly Nashville or New Orleans, which have very distinct cuisines. It gives you a different perspective on America – there are so many upmarket burger joints in the UK now, but in the US it’s just not really about that. It’s more about barbecues and regional specialties. It’s good at any time of year, too."
Best for: Road trip fans with a healthy appetite
Tom says: “For a different take on the whole Italian peasant food agriturismo holiday, visit this Mediterranean island. Some standout foods include casu marzu ‘maggot’ cheese, spit-roast pig, plus there’s unbelievable seafood to enjoy. It’s a place apart from the more popular Sicily, and it’s well connected by budget airlines."
Best for: A romantic Mediterranean holiday
Tom says: “Former French colonial territories tend to offer some great food. I visited Madagascar a few years ago and it was an amazing melting pot of the French colonial influence, Malaysia and Africa, and the food really reflects that. You’ll enter a tiny village and see a woman with a basket of baguettes on her back. You’ll also find Creole cuisine, seafood stew, rice-based dishes and tropical ingredients. It’s a pricey place to get to, although once you get there things don’t cost that much."
Best for: A blowout, once-in-a-lifetime holiday
Tom says: “The whole north coast of Spain is brilliant for tapas, or 'pintxos' as it’s called there. Bilbao’s bar-hopping scene is fantastic, and the whole region has a very laidback, casual approach to dining and a very distinct identity in terms of its food. Santander is another brilliant city that you could nibble your way around."
Best for: A relaxed group holiday
Tom says: “Cape Town has a world class dining scene, and at the moment [July 2014] the pound is very strong against the rand. Flights are quite expensive, but once you’re there it’s very affordable. There’s also the wineland around the city to enjoy, such as Franschhoek, brilliant restaurants attached to wineries, plus really stunning scenery. It’s also suitable for off-season travelling."
Best for: A cost-effective long-haul break.
Where are you holidaying this year? We’d love to hear your suggestions and tales from far-flung lands.