“Food,” James Beard, the quintessential American cook once said, “is our common ground, a universal experience.” The best way to understand where a city’s been and where it’s going—to glean an insight into its heady, complicated, invigorating intersection of economy, environment and culture—is to break bread with locals, to sup outside the tourist heat-map, to transport one’s taste-buds somewhere entirely unexpected.
In celebration of life’s simplest and most rewarding pleasure, we’re presenting our picks of toothsome culinary experiences dotted through Europe. From afternoon cooking classes to gastronomic tours to burgeoning foodie hotspots, there’s a structure to suit every wanderer: be it novice chefs with an afternoon to share, or the culinarian in search of new ways to connect with other people, and reignite all of the senses. Bon appetit.
The stay-in-one-place adventure: Rocca delle Tre Contrade, Sicily
Originally constructed in the 1850s as an aristocratic retreat, this 12-bedroom Sicilian villa by The Thinking Traveller is perched within a sprawling estate—all lemon groves, herb gardens and verdant orchards. Since 2017, it’s become a hub for ultra-discerning gourmands too, thanks to cleverly designed experiences feat. visiting chefs like Skye Gyngell. This November, Rocca delle Tre Contrade will host another week-long culinary affair, with chef Merlin Labron-Johnson, founder of Michelin Star-restaurant Portland and its sister space Clipstone—both of which he launched in his mid-20s. Guests will cook alongside Labron-Johnson and his team, and discover wines with Isabelle Legeron—France’s only female Master of Wine—in the neighbouring Mount Etna.
The DIY foodie tour: Lisbon, Portugal
In dining haven Lisbon, base yourself at Santa Clara 1728, a sanctuary bedecked with limestone staircases and minimalist wood furnishings. It’s the perfect starting point for a self-directed city tour, guided by your tastebuds—beginning with a simple, nourishing breakfast in the downstairs dining room, humbly made using ingredients sourced from the owners’ farm, Casa No Tempo. Later on, make for the century-old Manteigaria Silva to stock up on aged ham from acorn-fed black hoof pigs, or salt cod, cured for a minimum of six months (and up to 20), and carefully wrapped in paper before you. If you’re a carnivore, you must sample bifna—available at almost any Lisbon food truck. It’s thinly sliced fried pork marinated in white wine and generous lashings of garlic, served on a small white bun. Whole crab is a favourite in these parts too. At Cervejaria Ramiro, the crab is mixed with an aromatic sauce (comprising butter, garlic, onions, wine, peppers and chilli), and served together in the shell. Be sure to order extra bread—you’ll want it to mop up that sauce. If you’re in the mood for classic fare, you can’t go wrong with pizza spot Restaurante Esperanca Se, right on Santa Clara’s doorstep.
The new dining destination: Prague
Emerging from the shadow of communist rule in the 80s, Prague—the baroque building-dotted Rome of the north—has slowly been reclaiming its culinary scene, and elevating it to Michelin level. At the forefront of this Karlín, a walkable, super-compact neighbourhood with Manhattan-esque streets, built on a grid system (and the subject of a Monocle Food Neighbourhoods episode). There, we recommend Lokale, a former customs office turned wildly-popular pub serving honest, homely Czech meals, and Bib Gourmand-holding restaurant Eska, a bakery-and-retail space helmed by chef Martin Štangl, whose anchovy-laced cauliflower, made from locally-grown ingredients, can’t be missed. For vegetarians, Nové Město’s Sansho, run by ex-Nobu London chef Paul Day, is worth the reservation: think pre fixe Asian fusion dinners, served at communal tables. (Vogue’s Kat Odell suggests the ocra tofu sambal.)
The tasting menu: Ballyfin, Ireland
In this country home turned luxury digs in Laois—replete with traditional gilded ceilings and noble artifacts—you’ll be nourished by food that’s refreshingly contemporary. Head chef Sam Moody is a master of farm-to-table fare, and weaves the property’s storied history into its brilliantly inventive eight course tasting menu. For instance, you’ll find a dessert of buttermilk and watermelon granita, served alongside spiced poached pineapple. The mansion’s original resident would import the tropical fruit as a sort of show-off move: a way to show-off her family’s wealth to guests.
(A quick aside: when it comes to Irish cooking classes, Ballymaloe, at Ballymore House, still reigns supreme. We’re loving the sound of the 5-week summer cooking course and ogling over their half-day Sunday Roast course—the next one’s in October.)