Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Europe on a plate

Eating out is one of the pleasures of going on holiday, but for some gastronomic tourists the food is the deciding factor for which destinations to visit writes Karen Creed

1. Turin
It is unlikely that anyone who visits Turin will be returning home on an empty stomach. The taste and variety of local dishes make a good case for the city being Italy’s food capital. So what’s on the menu? Visit famous café Molusanno for a nibble on delicious tramezzini (sandwiches), washed down by piping hot chocolate at Café Baratti & Milano. Turin’s other desirable edibles include fritto misto, a mouth-watering concoction of fried seafood that features fish, squid, crab and cuttlefish. Desserts are similarly lavish, with unique white truffles, pralines and gianduiotti chocolates being the very definition of guilty pleasures. Best of all, you could go on a café crawl to compare drinks as Turin is home to four of Italy’s eighteen best cafés, as chosen by Italy’s gastronomic bible, Il Gambero Rosso. Turin’s tradition does not extend solely to food and cafes with impressive wines also, such as the Malvasia and the Barolo. Before visiting Turin it is worth reading Eating in Italy by Faith.H. Willinger.

2. Marrakesh
Moroccans proudly assert that their cooks produce one of the four great cuisines of the world (the others being Chinese, French and Indian). From lamb tagine to minced lamb, Marrakesh in particular is a meat lover’s heaven. The food stalls in Djemaa El Fna offer the best taste of street food from some of the world’s biggest and most colourful al fresco kitchens. You can sample every Moroccan staple here - tajines and couscous, kebabs and spicy sausage. Beyond the square, in the narrow streets of the medina, there are places where traditional and tasting menus excel in elegant settings. Dine on chicken tagine on El Baraka’s terrace with a view of the Atlas Mountains or else consider l’Abyssin with a Mediterranean-influenced menu. Before leaving Marrakesh one may be brave enough to try the street food lover’s Holy Grail, the luscious meat scraped from a whole sheep’s head and served with crusty Moroccan bread. For more information visit

3. Budapest
With more than one thousand eateries in Budapest, how do you choose? The restaurants in Hungary stretch way beyond the stereotypical expectations of goulash. Apetito in the Castle Buda district is one of the most charming restaurants in the city with an eclectic menu including smoked mackerel with tomato ice-cream and pear and shrimp soup. Modern venues like Karma flank the vibrant Franz Liszt Square where goose liver and spicy pork are regular features. Hungary is not exactly the right country for vegetarians, but local salads are always fresh, and slices of barbecued sheep cheese are often offered. If you have a sweet tooth, do not forget to stop by at the First Strudel House in Budapest, where you can enjoy a good lunch, after which comes nothing less than a delicious roll. You can choose a strudel with cord, apples, cherries, plums, cabbage and of course poppy. For more information on food in Budapest consider, The Food Lover’s Guide to Budapest by Carolyn Banfalvi.

4. Lyon
Most French regions have their culinary delights and Lyon is no exception. One can hardly speak of this French city without mentioning the celebrated Paul Bocuse restaurant. Although it is not centrally located it is well worth the trek as the food is exquisite. For a delicious lunch alfresco, try frites from the stands in the park, or make a picnic with cheese from Mère Richard, bread from Jacquier Pascal, charcuterie from Reynon or Jean Plasse and chocolates from Bernachon. A gastronomical tour of Lyon would not be complete without the famous bouchons like La Mère Cottivet, where you can have a plate of meat from 10am onwards, or a saint-marcellin cheese with a glass of Beaujolais. Lyon happily benefits from a nearby vineyard, which provides a welcome addition to every course ordered in a restaurant. Côtes du Rhône and Beaujolais wines are a permanent feature of the Lyon restaurant table. For information on Lyon eateries visit

5. San Sebastian
Food is taken very seriously in this Basque city, as a stroll through La Brecha market or a bite to eat at one of many Tapas bars proves. San Sebastian has more Michelin stars per capita than any other city but even the most ordinary establishments serve food and drink of a high standard. Tapas bars are the ideal lunchtime hangout for price, atmosphere and most importantly taste with some of the best bites being octopus, sizzling kidneys, lamb brochette, potato omelettes and slices of glistening ham. Both cod with pil-pil and the baked crab are traditional dishes of San Sebastian while the two most popular tipples are apple cider and Txakoli, a dry white wine. To bring home a taste of San Sebastian you can purchase a dazzling array of deli items and wines at Solbes. Finally for a Michelin treat consider the stunning Akelarre, perched on cliffs looking out onto La Concha Bay. It is renowned for New Basque Cuisine and the house speciality of milk fed lamb cooked two ways. For food recommendations in San Sebastian visit guides/San_Sebastian

Friday, November 6, 2009

Lonely Planet founder stands by Cork as one of the world’s Top 10 destinations

The founder of Lonely Planet has fended off criticism after Cork was voted one of the top 10 places to visit in 2010 this week. Speaking at a travel conference in Galway, Tony Wheeler says he was overwhelmed by how much debate there was surrounding Cork, after it was voted one of Lonely Planet’s top 10 destinations. As the rebel county embraced the recognition, it sparked a nationwide debate on the airwaves, with some claiming Cork lacks the charm to be awarded iconic status. Lonely Planet’s front man, however, defended the decision by his publishing company to include Cork on the list, and claims the reason for the city’s entry is down to a number of factors. “Firstly the island’s Lonely Planet author would have said Cork is brilliant and deserves more attention. Also the Europe regional guide has a commissioning editor who would have picked Cork as a really happening place.” Tony says there was a similar reaction in New York two years ago when Brooklyn was heralded as one of the top destinations by Lonely Planet. “There was uproar in Manhattan, but the people in Brooklyn were delighted.”

Tony’s return to Ireland this week coincided not just with the launch of Lonely Planet’s 2010 hit list, but also to speak about a growing trend of adventure and activity holidays in Ireland. According to Failte Ireland the adventure holiday sector generates revenue of approximately €1.1 billion annually. Also this area of tourism is proving to be a lucrative market with activity tourists spending up to 40% more than the average tourist. Tony not only agrees that adventure and activity tourism is on the rise, but that it is crucial to anyone travelling in a recession. “People are trying to make their money go further and that is why adventure holidays are great. It makes sense to go off on a walking or cycling holiday as it is much cheaper than renting a car and driving around some place.” His recognition of the “staycation” is also at the forefront of Lonely Planet’s guidebooks, and changes have been made to encourage readers with more ideas for holidaying close to home if they can’t afford farflung destinations.

While the “staycation” is still a rather gloomy proposition for many Irish holidaymakers who crave the sun, Tony doesn’t believe that is a reason not to enjoy a holiday in Ireland. He claims our weather is in fact part of the attraction. “At the moment here in Galway there is wind, rain and the sun is shining all at once, “he says. “If you don’t like the weather, you just wait fifteen minutes,” he adds. Tony’s upbeat attitude to travel is what makes him so popular in the industry and successful in his world domination. Since the company started from humble beginnings in 1972 - when Tony and his wife Maureen wrote a book on how to travel around Southeast Asia on a shoestring – it is now developed into a multi million euro business that publishes over 500 books and has 400 staff.

So are there any countries or destinations that remain undiscovered by Lonely Planet? “There are always new places to find and explore,” says Tony. “I try and go to at least a few new ones every year. I would be disappointed if there wasn’t a new place to visit. This year I went to Malawi and then Costa Rica which is a bit like Ireland with lots of adventure.”

Next year his wife Maureen is off to Charleston in America (as voted in Lonely Planet’s 2010 hit list) while Tony has yet to narrow down his wish list. Cork aside, Lonely Planet’s nine other desirable destinations for next year include Cuenca, Sarajevo, Abu Dhabi, Kyoto, Lecce, Singapore, Vancouver, Istanbul, and Charleston. Tony rates Sarajevo as one of the most intriguing. “It was once totally off the radar and now it is back on it. Similarly Cork has been getting more popular all the time.” In fact Cork was one of the first places that Tony visited in the early years of Lonely Planet. His preference is Cobh to Cork city and he remembers his fascination with the Titanic and the Lusitania during his first visit to the seaside town. “I have a friend who has been to every single country in the world but I haven’t got to his stage quite yet.” says Tony with an obvious intention to achieve this record some day. Perhaps if he is not scuba diving in the Pacific, or eating delicious noodles in Singapore, he might come back to Cork next year to see if the city really deserves the Lonely Planet title.