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The best source for dining, wine, & cooking vacation information, gourmet destination guides, & unique culinary experiences for discerning travelers: Nova Scotia, Spain, Costa Rica, Italy, France, Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Ireland, Canada

See our Guide to Vacation Cooking & Wine Schools divided by geographic region on the navigation bar at left, featuring the world's best culinary programs. Peruse our food, wine, & travel articles, gourmet destination and dining guides, and web resources, including our new report: Rome: the complete food guide.

Check out new updates to the guides to Bordeaux and Montreal. The Rome update coming very soon! 

Rome: the complete food guide
This month at foodvacation.com: Epicurean Guide to Rome

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Consider the romantic Moorish quarter of Granada, Spain, the serene wilderness of Nova Scotia, Canada, the timeless and refined gastronomy of Rome, or the cultural bounty and historical richness of Turkey.  All cooking school programs recommended here offer all-inclusive getaways and customized options for groups. Extraordinary cooking instructors specialize in hands-on food knowledge and ingredients-based cookery.

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Rome Restaurant Review: Checchino dal 1887




See our Epicurean Destination Guide to Rome!

 We were a bit surprised that the taxi driver didn't know where Checchino was. “Testaccio,” we said. For us, the restaurant was among the culinary certainties of Rome, and the taxi driver should surely know where to go.

After giving him the exact civic address, he had to go to the extent of plugging it into a talking GPS unit that told him how to wind his way there, in the old meat packing district just outside the centre. We had gone there before; always arriving in taxi, we had left once on foot, trekking our way across sedate residential neighborhoods and strange open spaces until we reached the Tiber and hoofed it rapidly back to the more familiar and strangely comfortable zone of Spanish Steps, fountains, and Rotundas.

Checchino gives lessons, every day, in how to become a destination, a landmark that weathers the storms of trendy times. It's Checchino dal 1887, wearing its hundred and more years of continuous food service as a badge of honour. We went back not exactly because we remembered the food as being the absolute best in Rome, or the ambiance and service as so transporting that this vaulted single room of a restaurant would be a must go on every trip to Rome.

No, Checchino was and is not our favourite restaurant in the Eternal City. But, it's there, nearly timeless, and always present with its somewhat quirky and very Roman emphasis on offal, its cheese cart under the cheesy glass dome, stained glass false skylight, and walnut veneer wainscoting.

We recognized the owners—they must be the owners—ever present and attending with an air of dignified and professional interest in the guests, not aloof, not bored, nor overly excited by their position as purveyors of culinary information and hospitality. Always friendly. We recognized at least one of the white-jacketed waiters from prior visits. The décor had not changed, since 1887 at the earliest.

From the street, one enters a single, very high-ceilinged, vaulted room with a large fireplace at the very rear. There's not a single window, which makes the room peculiar. There is a mysterious staircase to the upstairs, and a supposedly cavernous wine cellar downstairs, a little bar, a reception desk, the cheese cart, and lots of exactly uniform, white table-clothed square tables, some nestled together as 4-tops. We have heard that the restaurant is actually dug into Monte Testaccio, itself a gigantic pottery midden from ancient Rome—a dumping ground for hundred of thousands of amphorae used to carry wine, oil, and garum. So, the culinary heritage here is immense.

We called a few hours before to reserve for 8:30 and arrived just about on time, despite the talking GPS and nervous taxi driver. Overcoats were taken. Good evenings exchanged. We sit and receive our Pelegrino water. The dog-eared and somewhat stained heavy paper menus must be designed to slightly disorient the patrons, with their set menu promotions—with a take-away souvenir plate—in Italian and English, their somewhat non-standard divisions between courses written only in Italian, and the additional, smaller menu, which seems to repeat some of the larger menu, but not everything. In addition, one can order the dishes on the set menus separately, but only some make an appearance on the main listings.

Despite Checchino's (probably deserved) fame for its vast wine list, most diners receive a 2-page roster of suggestions included with the main menu.

None of the above is a complaint—just some observations on the quirky side of the place.

In fact, Checchino clearly belongs in the upper echelons of the ristorante category. Though family run and attended, this is not your casual trattoria. The Maitre D's dress in suits. All wine by the bottle receives a full opening ceremony—side table, tasting glass, smelling the cork, checking the label, ritualized pours to rinse the glasses, observation of the wine's color—all before the patron is given his or her taste.

The place has its well-established and comfortable routines for both itself and its guests. The menu is stable, the décor indelibly fixed, the staff amiable and not stuffy, but deft in their professional habits, though one over officious, non-Italian waiter did spill the wine all over hand and glass in a failing attempt to be helpful.

The food at Checchino strays from the typical Roman in its emphasis on old-style cucina romana, rustic, tasty, and meaty. With its heritage in the old butchery district, the kitchen feature lots of organs, trotters, hearts, and the house dish, ox tail in a concentrated tomato sauce.

The pastas rank good to very good: classic spaghetti alla carbonara, spaghetti with bavette di tonno, tonarelle a la griciaas well as arrabiata and amatriciana, etc. The rabbit with sweet black olives and white wine sauce was the best we've had anywhere in Italy, and was served completely bone free. The famed coda alla vaccinara arrived well cooked and flavorful on a too-small oval plate with literally no meat on the bones; a bit more flesh would have gone a long way. The origins of this dish dates back to the customary payment to a vaccinaro (cattle butcher) with the entrails, hide, and tail of the animals being butchered. As the butchers branched out to eateries such as Checchino, the name gained widespread use.

The recommended wine, from the local region of Lazio, was superb and well priced at 23 euros: Casale di Giglio's Madreselva, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot.


Granada Cooking School, Spain
Recommended by the London Guardian, New York Times,  & Miami Herald!


While in Granada marvelling at the wonders of the Alhambra Palace, take a break for cooking classes with renowned food experts at the Granada Cooking School. Located within the UNESCO World Heritage Site, in the historic Albaycin, the School offers hourly classes on a flexible schedule.  With a combination of detailed cooking demonstrations and hands-on culinary instruction, the School will also customize programs for small groups. 

Areas of culinary instruction include:

  • Mediterranean
  • Creole
  • Spanish
  • Food & wine appreciation
  • Spanish Wines & Sherries
  • Spanish language instruction focusing on culinary topics
  • Culinary hikes into Parque San Miguel, just behind the Cooking School
  • Food market tours

Participants can also arrange gourmet lunches and dinners that will add extra spice and interest to your time in wonderful Granada, a jewel of the Spanish Mediterranean! The School boasts a brand-new marble & granite teaching kitchen including a traditional cave cellar and pastry area, numerous terraces including the vine-covered front terrace, all with views of the Alhambra Palace, a rooftop herb garden, and walking access to the wonderful ingredients of the markets at Plaza Larga and San Augustin. 

Accommodations recommended by the School include boutique hotels and vacation rentals inside the UNESCO World Heritage Site, within walking distance or a short bus ride.

Granada, though home to the most visited historic monument in Spain, is often overlooked in favor of the Alhambra. This picturesque metropolisis at the center of the most geographically diverse province in Spain, and you can sun bathe at the Costa Tropical or ski at the Sierra Nevada all in one day. Granada city hosts of wealth of music venues, architecture from various era and style, gypsy cave dwellings, and the winding streets of the spellbinding Albaycin. Stay in the Parador--though book well in advance--on the palace grounds or the AC Santa Paula, or for small hotel charm: Ladron del Agua, Hotel Zaguan, or the Hesperia Granada.


The foodvacation.com 5 favorite destination hotel experiences for 2018!

San Sebastian, Spain Hotel
Hotel de Londres y Inglaterra

foodvacation.com has selected the 5 best hotel experiences for the new year. Selection is based on actual hotel visits or stays, and includes a consideration of overall service quality, comfort, and character as well as access to unique and high-quality gastronomy either in the hotel or nearby. The selection has emphasized "hotels de charme" more than full-service hotels, accommodations that truly express a sense of place. Each hotel has its own character and provides an authentic travel experience combined with the opportunity for a unique food-oriented vacation. 

Here are the Top 5 Hotels for 2016:

  1. The Merrion Hotel, Dublin, Ireland, including Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud: Superlative 5-star service, elegance, and comfort at the Merrion combined with a superbly orchestrated gustatory experience under the attentive eye of Mr. Guilbaud; stay in one of 3 Georgian townhouses in the heart of Dublin
  2. Hotel de Londres y Inglaterra, San Sebastian, Spain : The beachside location makes this grande-dame hotel stately without being dated and stuffy, located in one the world's great food cities, you can walk to world-class restaurants and lively tapas bars in minutes
  3. La Casa de la Marquesa, Queretaro, Mexico : refinement, elegance and to-notch service in an under-appreciated historic center with superlative culinary opportunities, both in the hotel and out; the Marquesa oozes Mudejar style
  4. Windamere Hotel, Darjeeling, India : Victorian charm overlooking the tea plantations, harking back to the time of the Raj; food that is comforting and nourishing; no TVs or telephones in the Ada Villa
  5. Trout Point Lodge of Nova Scotia : Authentic Canadian wilderness with the amenities of a small resort and cuisine worthy of its membership in Relais & Chateaux

Espresso Machines: The Serious Beginner's Guide

Coffee simply tastes better in Europe. Based on frequent travel and living abroad in Italy, Spain, Turkey, & France as well as Canada and the coffee-producing countries of Panama, and Costa Rica, the only conclusion we can draw is that the western European way with coffee wins out for robust flavor and drinking pleasure.


Even in France, Spain, and Italy finding the appropriate brand or kind proves difficult, involving day after day of trying new coffees, new grinds, new roasts. Any coffee afficianado will tell you that the water is important: the purer and better tasting the water, the better the coffee. In Costa Rica and Panama, we sample reputedly some of the world's best coffess, locally grown, processed, roasted, and ground. The results vary considerably, and with the best, a subtle, superior complexity of flavor shines through. But the Central American coffees are lightweights when compared with that flavorful, transporting experience of just-made cafe au lait, espresso, or cafe con leche.

In Europe, the espresso machine has won out as the only way to make epicurean-level coffee. Drip machines are tolerated for home use, but precise heat, pressure, and water combined and forced through a densely packed puck of finely ground, freshly ground coffee beans produces the quintessential coffee flavor.

As restaurateurs we have long wanted to reproduce this experience for our guests. In 2001, we had purchased what at the time was one of the best small commercial machines readily available in North America: the Pasquini Livia 90. This compact espresso machine has held up admirably and remains in use in the Dining Room at Trout Point Lodge of Nova Scotia.

However, new plans for a small guest cafe have steered us back into the market for a light commercial or serious home use espresso machine, something that will truly reproduce the European coffee experience we know so well.

To say that the world of small espresso machines in North America has changed in seven years puts it mildly.

Here's a rundown of several of the best choices we came up with after several weeks of research, and based on our eight years of experience with the Pasquini machine:

First, there is a basic tri-partite division of these machines. 1. There are inexpensive home machines that function without boilers or pressure—just direct steam creation. 2. There are single boiler machines that use one boiler to produce steam for both brewing and for steaming milk or providing hot water. 3. There are double boiler machines that have one boiler for brewing at one specific temperature, and a second boiler, usually at a higher temperature, for producing steam and hot water. Further variables can include the voltage (i.e. 110 versus 220), the power of the heating element(s) (i.e. 1500 watts), the size of the boiler(s), and the type of “brewing group,” the place where the steam comes into contact with the ground coffee.

All of the machines we have chosen are commercial quality and carry a fairly hefty price tag.

Our Selections:

The Elektra A3

The Marzocco GS3

The LaSpaziale Vivaldi II

The Vibiemme Domobar

The Elektra Verticale Semi-automatica

The Carmen: A Unique Representation of Granada's Food Culture

For centuries, the most traditional type of habitation in Granada was the "Carmen," though now this unique union of house & garden is on the cusp of disappearing. A carmen consists of a freestanding house with a tower, a garden-nursery, and a high wall that separates it from the street. Originally, it was a suburban smallholding with a dual use of the land: one part pleasure or ornamental garden and one part vegetable garden with fruit trees and, very importantly, grape vines.

The house remained a relatively small and modest, with the important part of the ensemble being the orchard / garden, where most of the time was spent outdoors enjoying the plants, the shade, the pools & fountains. Granadinos used mundane materials in house construction: brick, mortar, limestone and mosaics, in short, simple and inexpensive materials, although in modern times the carmen has come to have an aura of being a rich & luxurious mansion.

In the 14th century, the polymath Ibn al-Khatib in al-Badriyya Lamhat gave a description of the surroundings of Granada and said that outside the city walls, there was not a free place since everything was occupied by orchards and carmens:

Farms and gardens were in such number that Granada resembled a mother surrounded by children, with luxuriant herbiage adorning her sides as if she had donned a necklace covering the upper part of her breasts, whilst winds embalmed her with zephyrs. Villas and royal properties encompassed the city like bracelets. Nuptial thrones [i.e. beds] were set up for the brides of the gardens [i.e. the flowers]. The Sultan of the Spring [i.e.the rose] took his seat to review the rebels [i.e. the other flowers]. The nightingale of the trees preached a sermon, whereupon [all] listeners fell attentive. [Acres of] vines waved like billows, and the [whole] neighbourhood overflowed with their juice. Like the sky of the world beautified with innumerable stars so lay [the plain] with towers of intricate construction and equipped withstaircases. The winds exhaled perfumes, bringing Paradise to mind for whoso hopes for what God has in store for him by way of requital.

The sustainability of the carmens as agricultural enterprises related intimately to the sophisticated Arab-era water system. The channelling and distribution of potable water through internal channels and cisterns (Ajibe, from the Arabic al-Andalus Gubb, and the classical Arabic Gubb), tanks for storing drinking water brought by the major water channel (acequia) named Aynadamar from the village of Alfacar, led to the buildings in the Albaicin, their environs, and the numerous carmens. Each Carmen had an alberca (water pool or pond) and a system of irrigation for the terraced lands.

It was in the early 17th century when the Spanish term carmen was applied to houses that did not necessarily have all the characteristics of the earlier settlements, as a version of the Arabic term "karm:" the typical green space carmen of the Albaicin was popularized and exported to the slopes of the neighbourhoods of La Antequeruela, Realejo and La Churra. 

Although they had their origin in the Muslim-Andalusian era, it is from the fall of Granada and primarily in the 17th and 18th centuries that this important type of habitation came to fore in Granada, born from the carmen after the expulsion of the Moors. In just two years, from 1568 to 1570, the Albaicín went from being a heavily populated neighbourhood to one in ruins and the Spanish moved into spaces previously occupied by the Moriscos.

After the conquest of Granada, and due to the rise of the likes of the Habsburgs and concept of the Baroque garden among the Spanish, the Muslim al-Andalus gardens quickly disappeared from the horizon. Palaces and gardens were Italianized following the influence of the Renaissance, altering the carmen's style forever. 

In the Baroque era, there was a boom in the number of carmens, and in the 19th century during the bourgeois explosion in Granada, influenced by the 18th century Orientalists, the Albaicin was revitalized, rebuilding the green spaces of the old carmens but decorated with false oriental details. They also lost all connection to agriculture and food production, becoming purely pleasure gardens. 

In this era, having a carmen in Albayzin was synonymous with wealth, with its identity and name tied to a particular ownership, each possessing a unique bourgeois identity.The traditional, pre-romantic carmen in Granada is a product of its hillside development, organized in paratas (terraced plots for cultivation), a rather small living space, tied to the ability for food production. In general, it was not an estate of luxury, but a small house with a utilitarian garden, a smallholding with a series of terraces or paratas to ascend or descend, often shaded with vines, creepers and trees to mitigate the rigors the sun, having its access zone to the side of the plot, never in the center. 

There are no true carmens surrounded by an iron gate, as is the style in the rest of Spain; rather a Carmen is enclosed by high walls, a productive smallholding that has trees, fruit trees and ornamental shade trees, and under them roses, lilies, carnations, honeysuckle, valet mixed with lettuce, chard, tomatoes and spinach, with wide box hedges or myrtle. 

The carmens occupy the hillsides nestled between the channels of the Rivers Darro and Genil, and those in the Albaicin opposite the Alhambra, are considered the most valued for their views.Today it remains a tradition jealously kept by the owners of the carmens: although the ornamental garden (versus the agricultural aspect) has gained space in time, there is always a corner with a pergola with good grapes, and many fruit trees. Inherited from the time of Moorish legends, the true carmen has the sensual refinement and sense of intimacy of ancient times. Modest mortar walls hide the richness of the interior, an aesthetic and non-economic wealth.

Mr & Mrs Smith Luxury Hotels



Luxury Vacation Rentals Worldwide:
Unique & Superb Holiday Rentals, Granada, Spain: Alhambra Vistas

Surely with Sherry

Forget about your grandmother’s tipple. True Spanish Sherries are serious wines . . . Or so we discovered a few years ago on an unsuspecting tour of Andalusia.

We landed in Madrid, really on our way to Corsica, France. A cheap Internet fare lured us to crisscross through Spain on our way to the Mediterranean isle, and we settled on spending a few days in transit. Having no reservations for anything anywhere on the Iberian Peninsula, we rented a car and headed unsuspectingly south through the blazing sun, the moonscapes, and the olive groves until after a few hours we stopped in Cordoba, ancient city of learning and culture. It soon became obvious that somewhere between Despeñaperros, the mountainous frontier of the Junta of Andalusia, and the last olive tree, we had entered Sherryland (though not yet the snooty stuff they produce in Jerez further south, and which every Brit worth his or her instinctive salt knows to order by name).

In Cordoba, the waiter of each bar, cafe, and restaurant we entered took it as an insult if we failed to quaff a Fino or perhaps an Amontillado right off, little matter the time of day. Served very cold and produced very dry, it took no more than a few glasses to really love the stuff. We learned that Cordoba province has its own Sherry production from the region called Montilla-Morilles, and Sherry here, as in the areas surrounding Cadiz further south, is bred in the bone. You must drink it, using little flute-like glasses, there's simply no choice. The history of Sherry, like that of Port in Portugal, intertwines in an almost baroque way with British merchant interests and worldwide trade, starting centuries ago.

That's why you have traditional Spanish Sherry bodegaswith names like "Harvey," "Osborne," and "Garvey" in the middle of Andalusia. "Sherry" itself is an English mongrelization of the word for Jerez, while the Spanish themselves simply order a "fino" or an "olorosso." The English also used to call this high-alcohol wine "sack" and transported it in "butts," but we needn't get too intimate. Let's just say that Shakespeare depicts everyone from swarthy Fallstaff to various kings drinking copious amounts of it. The production of Cordoba finds its way more into Spanish bocas than foreigners, while Jerez wines travel the globe satisfying the Sherry habits of aficionados worldwide. Unlike the stuff your aunt used to serve from gaudy cut glass decanters, Spanish sherries have a sophistication, complexity, and culture of consumption worthy of appreciation.

I'm Fine with Fino

If you don't want to get into the messy vocabulary to follow, then stick with Fino, it sounds nice, is easy to remember, and has enough distinction to go for miles (or kilometers, in our case). The Andalusian bodegas make Fino primarily from palomino grapes grown on extremely chalky soils that occur only in two areas. It can be "dry" (seco) and "very dry" (muy seco), and has a very light to light straw color. The stuff from Jerez, which many consider the best, is generally a bit darker in color than finos from Montilla-Morilles, and those are the only two places it's made. When in Cordoba--an amazing city, home to the Great Mosque--you drink Montilla-Morilles, and when in Seville--home to the Alcazar and La Giralda Cathedral--you imbibe Jerez. In Granada, you drink whatever's available.

Fino, served quite cold, is extremely dry--vanish thoughts about Australian Chardonnay; in fact, remove normal wine parameters from your mind. It has bunches of very subtle flavors and smells, all in the dry format. "Like toasted almonds" is a good phraseology here, though there's much more dwelling inside a glass of Fino. It is, in our opinion, the quintessential aperitif. The Spanish work their butts off (no pun intended) making each bottle, in a production method known as solera involving multiple American oak casks and plenty of special yeasts, called flor, all housed in huge buildings, the bodegas, near to the coast for easy transshipment around the world.

The flor grows atop the wine in partially filled large barriques and prevents the wine's total oxidation. Flor adds tremendously to the flavor profile of Finos, as does the solera system of blending wines of different vintages to produce a consistent and wonderful production each year. The oak of the New World adds its own character, and a bit of historical continuity, for Andalusia populated most of Latin America. Each glass of Fino, in fact, contains the history of Sherry, with parts of the wine and the flor going back decades and perhaps centuries. The best known Fino houses include Gonzalez Byass with their "Tio Pepe" and the various sherries made by Lustau--not bad but try some from Montilla-Morilles too, if you can find them.

What the Heck, Give Me an Oloroso

Moving beyond Fino in Sherryland brings you to the sub-classification of Manzanilla, and then on to Almontillado and Oloroso--wonderfully sonorous names, aren't they? There's also "Cream" Sherry, but forget about it--that's the sweet stuff from your grandma's decanter. All Manzanillacomes from a town on the sea called Sanlucar de Barrameda; very similar to Fino, it has a slightly different color, and a saltier perhaps slightly nuttier, and smoother taste. Like Fino, it's perfect served very cold with seafood. Amontillado possesses a light amber cast, and has greater dry fruit flavors, like raisins and hazelnuts. It compliments more savory and complex dishes, including Spain's wonderful cheeses. Oloroso leans much more strongly to the thick, sweet side of things, and is a component of Cream sherry. Dark in color, it can have deep, almost molasses-like flavors, and may take some getting used to. The Spaniards drink it with full-flavored meat and game dishes.

Some Sherry Suggestions

Anything from Lustau, Cadiz Province: they produce excellent Finos, Olorosos, and Amontillados. Tio Pepe from Gonzalez Byass, pure palomino Jerez fino muy seco flavors. Also excellent for fino and others, and widely available: the products of Pedro Domecq, including "La Ina." From Cordoba Province, try any fino or amontillado you can get; production is very consistent amongst the different bodegas, but the style is quite distinct from Jerez. Consumption is mostly local, and little is exported.


a regularly updated feature of recently tasted wines


Vina Pedrosa Crianza 2005

Ribera del Duero, Spain 

A superbly balanced wine that displays the attractive qualities of Tempranillo at a relatively young age.

Book Review: The Heart of Bordeaux:

The Greatest Wines from Graves Chateaux

This handsome, hardbound volume will delight all lovers of Bordeaux wines, and especially its most emblematic region: Graves. Each of the 16 cru classe chateaux are profiled in depth, and foodies will find excellent recipes from chefs like Eric Ripert matched to each chateau. The history of each wine estate, the types of wines produced, and high quality photography fill the 215 + pages.

Hugh Johnson provide an eloquent Preface, noting that in Graves, over time a certain recipe, as it were, applied to a certain parcel of land, gave a consistent and distinct result: a cru with a life, both economic and gastronomic, of its own."

Such famous houses as Haut Brion and Carbonnieux receive detailed treatments that really bring them alive for the reader

Michel Bettane's Introduction will make a Graves expert out of even those learning about this wonderful wine region for the first time. After chapter-length profiles of each chateau, there is a handy reference table at the back summarizing their production and techniques.

stewart, tabori, & chang, 2009

"Numerous hotels have chosen to price themselves above the recession in the belief that the real luxury customer shares their immunity to the crisis. But I’m not sure it’s just a question of price; what has happened in the global economy has also brought about a change of style. Not everyone wants to be seen spending in the way they were before: the small, owner-run hotel somehow fits better with the quieter spirit of the times." Sophy Roberts, Financial Times

"“If I was 20 today and I was a truly creative person, I wouldn’t do molecular cuisine. Everybody is doing it." Hervé This, inventor of molecular gastronomy, Financial Times interview, February 16, 2008.

foodvacation.com : culinary travel redefined

as recommended by: Kitty Bean Yancey at USA Today, CNN, 50Plus.com, and Andrea Sachs of the Washington Post