Life
William Ham Bevan 4 Oct 2019 09:31am

Follow the food

Fancy a gastronomic mini-break? William Ham Bevan visits five destinations ideally suited to a swift gourmet splurge – and suggests ways to burn off all those calories

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Caption: Photography: Jost Gantar

Turin and Piedmont

The Italian province of Piedmont is all about hearty food and assertive flavours: beef braised in ballsy Barolo wine, tajarin pasta with shaved truffles, or salty bagna cauda broth for dipping fresh vegetables. Base yourself in Turin and you’ll be able to explore the foodie hotspots of one of Italy’s great cities. Piedmont is where the slow food movement was born in 1986. Visit the Albergo dell’Agenzia, once the King of Savoy’s palace, where it has founded a University of Gastronomic Sciences, a vast wine bank and a first-class restaurant (albergoagenzia.com) to exemplify its principles.

In Turin, try Guido Gobino (guidogobino.it) and Caffè Al Bicerin (bicerin.it). A local Punt e Mes vermouth is the essential aperitif before setting out to dine at one of the city’s historic restaurants, such as Ristorante del Cambio (delcambio.it). Once the haunt of the Count of Cavour, Italy’s first prime minister, its chef Matteo Baronetto reinterprets local classics such as vitello tonnato, cold sliced veal in a tuna flavoured sauce.

The blow-out: Around half an hour west of central Turin is the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Rivoli Castle. It’s now home to a museum of contemporary art, and to Combal.Zero (combal. org), one of Piedmont’s most innovative restaurants. Some of the creations of chef Davide Scabin are as startling as the artworks next door – including his yolk-and-caviar cyberegg, served in a sealed plastic bubble alongside a scalpel.

Walking it off: Serious hikers may want to head north to Gran Paradiso, Italy’s oldest national park. Closer to home, there’s less arduous terrain including wooded trails up to Maddalena Hill for a spectacular view of the city.

Ljubljana and North-West Slovenia

For more than a decade, Slovenia has been a fixture in travel magazine round-ups proclaiming the year’s hottest destinations. Most writers have lauded its lakes and mountains, and the buzz around its youthful capital, Ljubljana. But it’s Slovenia’s cuisine that’s now winning praise for the republic – and the accolade of European Region of Gastronomy for 2021. The food is much influenced by the surrounding countries: you’ll see Austrian-style strudels, Hungarian goulash stews, and pasta dishes that owe much to Italy. Other specialities, such as Carniola sausage and potica (a nut pastry), are entirely Slovenia’s own. And it’s a true land of milk and honey.

As in many alpine regions, cheeses and other dairy products are a dietary staple, and the honey produced by the indigenous Carniolan honeybee is highly valued and heavily used. Slovenia is slightly smaller than Wales, so it’s easy to split a short break, spending time in Ljubljana before heading head north-west to the Julian Alps and the lakelands. While in the capital, gastronomic hotspots to check out include the colourful Central Market, often featuring themed events and pop-ups, and Janez Bratovž’s acclaimed and inventive JB Restaurant (jb-slo.com).

The blow-out: Restaurant Hiša Franko (hisafranko.com), near the tiny town of Kobarid in the Julian Alps, has gained a devoted international following. Driving its success is Ana Roš, hailed as the world’s best female chef by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Her watchword is localism: ingredients are sourced, made, grown or foraged in the Soça Valley wherever possible. Signature dishes include herb ravioli, pulled lamb from nearby Drežnica, and cheese made on the premises.

Walking it off: The hiking opportunities in the north-west are endless. You can tarry in the Soça Valley and follow part of the Alpe Adria Trail, through the Soça and Mostnica river canyons and the Triglav National Park. Alternatively, head to Bohinj or Bled and access a web of trails around the beautiful glacial lakes. Further details are available at slovenia.info.

Vancouver

British Columbia is somewhat out of range for a short break, but a delve into the culinary glories of its biggest city is the perfect way to start (or end) a Canadian holiday. The main attraction is its diversity and eclecticism. Vancouver is a place where different cultures and cuisines rub against each other and mutate into something new. Asian influences are particularly strong, leading to such local inventions as the Japadog – Japanese hot dogs with teriyaki and seaweed, sold at the restaurant chain of the same name (japadog.com) – and the now-ubiquitous BC roll, a form of sushi based on British Columbia salmon. Its creator, Hidekazu Tojo, practises his craft at Tojo’s (tojos.com).

Elsewhere, you’ll find Indian (Vij’s, vijs.ca), Thai (Maenam, maenam.ca) and even Belgian joints (Chambar, chambar.com) that often feature in rundowns of Vancouver’s top eateries. Another great plus is the year-round calendar of culinary events (see tourismvancouver.com), as Vancouverites are not to be put off by the odd downpour. And every visitor should make a detour to Granville Island to check out the bustling Public Market (granvilleisland.com), where everything from freshly caught lobster to French macarons is on sale.

The blow-out: Greater Vancouver has a Chinese community numbering more than 450,000, and some of the best Chinese restaurants in North America. They include the top-end Mott 32 (mott32.com/vancouver), offshoot of a renowned Hong Kong establishment. The New-York-loft-meets-opiumden décor is as eye-popping as the prices, but the food is equal to its surroundings. The imaginative dim sum menu and the Peking duck, prepared in a custom oven, have won over most critics – though its location in Trump Tower has proved divisive.

Walking it off: As urban green spaces go, it’s difficult to top Stanley Park. Within its thousand acres (surrounded by a five-mile seawall path) are quiet lawns, flower gardens and rainforest, and the views over the city skyline are sublime.

San Sebastián

The gastronomic reputation of this Basque city can seem more than a little intimidating, with talk of secretive all-male dining societies and temple-like restaurants with waiting lists measured in years. In truth – and despite (or because of ) one of the world’s highest densities of Michelin stars – San Sebastián is a place where good eating is simply part of everyday life. It all starts with the pintxos. The Basque version of tapas could easily sustain you throughout your stay on their own, and the quintessential San Sebastián experience is to wander between bars, sipping and nibbling. The greatest concentration may be found around Calle 31 de Agosto and the grid of narrow streets beneath it.

Tapas classics such as tortilla, ham croquettes and salt-cod stews are widely served, but each bar has its specialities. Txepetxa, for example, specialises in anchovies, while Zeruko uses liquid nitrogen and all the apparatus of molecular cuisine to deconstruct the humble fare. A pintxo enthusiasts’ site, sansebastianpintxobars.com, has an impressively comprehensive list. And txakoli is to this part of Spain what fino sherry is to Andalucia: the slightly sparkling wine, poured from a height to take the edge off its tartness, makes a perfect partner for richly flavoured morsels.

The blow-out: How special is the occasion? The holy trinity of Arzak (arzak.es), Akelaŕe (akelarre.net) and Martin Berasategui (martinberasategui.com) are guaranteed to deliver a dizzying gastronomic experience, but you’ll need to book far ahead and set aside a hefty three-figure sum.

Walking it off: San Sebastián is on the Northern Way, one of the trails that make up the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route. An afternoon’s hike brings you to the harbourside at Pasai San Pedro, passing some beautiful coastal scenery – and, more likely than not, pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela in the west. Guides and maps at santiago-compostela.net.

Lyon

France’s third city was hailed as “the world capital of gastronomy” in 1935, and there’s still no better place for a gourmet break. There are just north of 4,300 restaurants in the Lyon metropolitan area. The late Paul Bocuse is without doubt Lyon’s most celebrated culinary figure. His flagship restaurant at Auberge du Pont de Collonges has held three Michelin stars since 1965, while 18 other establishments in Greater Lyon gained one or more stars in the latest edition of the Red Guide.

The blow-out: Secure a table at the Auberge du Pont de Collonges (bocuse.fr). It’s worth digesting the prices first, though. An up-andcoming alternative for immaculate French cuisine is La Sommelière in the old town (la-sommeliere.net). Booking well ahead is essential.

Walking it off: It’s worth seeking out the traboules – a maze of secret passageways that cut through private courtyards and undercrofts. For a brisk workout, you can shun the funicular railway and climb the steps to the top of Fourvière Hill; or for a more gentle stroll, take a tram to the confluence of Saône and Rhône and walk back into town along the tree-lined east bank.