Autumn is the perfect time to escape to the continent: not just for milder weather, making sightseeing a much more pleasant experience, but also for food and wine. Autumn harvests and food festivals make Europe a tantalising hotspot at this time of year. From truffle hunting in Italy and Croatia to crayfish parties in Sweden, we round up five top places for foodies in Europe.
As the heat of summer gently fades, Italy’s bucolic landscapes become tinged with gold and orange and you can sense a new calmness. It’s harvest season across Tuscany; plump Sangiovese grapes are plucked from the vines and whisked off to local wineries, the excitement of another harvest hanging in the air. Anyone who loves anything wine-related should hot-foot it to Rosewood Castiglion del Bosco, where you can take part in the annual harvest event and pick the grapes before learning about the wine-making process in the centuries-old estate – along with a tasting, of course. Finishing off with a picnic between the vines and a bottle of Brunello di Montalcino should round things off nicely.
Another Tuscan delicacy is of course the exquisite truffle, which flourishes in the Tuscan countryside. Autumn is truffle-hunting season here, and you can get involved in the hunt by setting off into the woods and go foraging for the fragrant fungus with an expert guide. The Grand Hotel Continental in Siena provides a fantastic foraging experience, and after sourcing the elusive ingredient, you can settle down to a truffle-infused meal in a traditional Tuscan farmhouse.
Swedish gastronomy is having a moment right now, and it’s not hard to see why. Swedes with a passion for farm-to-table cuisine are crafting creative delicacies that make the most of its untamed wilderness. When the long summer days draw to a close, Swedes celebrate with crayfish parties – kräftskiva – which involves drinking Aquavit, singing traditional songs and devouring as much crayfish as possible, of course. In the Bohluslan Archipelago in West Sweden, you can head off on a shellfish safari, fishing for the local ‘Big Five’: oysters, lobsters, langoustines, prawns and mussels.
Meanwhile inland a treasure trove of culinary delights is in store. Forage for lingonberries and blueberries for your breakfast pancakes at Kolarbyn Ecolodge, a wilderness camping retreat in Bergslagen Forest where you seek out your own meals and go for baths in the pristine Lake Skarsion. And then of course there’s the totally unique – and secluded – Faviken restaurant, right in middle-of-nowhere central Sweden. It’s all about locally sourced produce, fetched on the same day, and an innovative tasting menu that comprises some 30 courses. You might sample beer injected cockles or roasted quail eggs coated in ash; whatever you eat here will be unlike anything you’ve ever tasted before.
Chances are, if you’re travelling to France, you’re in it for the food or wine (or both). France’s culinary prowess needs no introduction, but time it right and you could make your trip coincide with your favourite French fare.
In autumn, the wine, olive and vegetable harvests provide the perfect opportunity to celebrate France’s favourite tipple in the form of wine festivals. Visit Paris in early October for the Fete des Vendanges de Montmartre, where the bohemian Parisian district celebrates all things wine: it centres around the Clos Montmartre vineyard, a microcosm of what was once a thriving wine region. If it’s chocolate rather than wine that you’re hankering after, then come to Paris at the end of October for Le Salon du Chocolat. The sweet toothed among you will be drooling over the exquisite chocolate on display at more than 400 stands from Italy, Switzerland, Japan and more, and get to learn how chocolate is made: from picking the cocoa beans to the final package.
If you’d rather get your hands dirty and try out French cooking for yourself, whisk away to Le Saint James Bouliac in the bountiful pastures of Bordeaux’s wine country. At this boutique retreat you can unlock the secrets to French cuisine with the guidance of an expert chef – every week the class focuses on a particular ingredient, and in the autumn you could be learning recipes that incorporate mushroom, fig, game, chestnuts, quail or autumn cucurbits. All the while lapping up the views of the pretty citrus garden, glass of wine in hand.
The Basque Country is Spain’s most distinctive region, for so many reasons but notably for its language, history and cuisine. In fact, the Basques even do the typical Spanish tapas their own way: these are called pintxos and are more like edible pieces of art, with such delectable creations as chipirones en equilibrio (squid with caramel filigree); mejillones tigres (tiger mussels with egg-fried breadcrumb crusts); and Gildas (skewers of anchovy, olive and hot pepper). Learn how to make pintxos yourself and stay in the lap of luxury at Hotel Maria Cristina, home to its very own food and wine centre and gourmet shop.
San Sebastian is quite rightly lauded as one of the world’s best centres for food. Despite its size, it is riddled with pintxos bars and hole-in-the-wall gourmet restaurants and, as if it needed any more to add to this mix, 16 Michelin stars across ten restaurants. This includes the highly-esteemed, three Michelin-starred Arzak, an emblem of new Basque cuisine with top chef Juan Mari Arzak at the helm, considered one of the world’s top chefs.
Yes, the food is a delight, but so too are San Sebastian’s beaches; in fact it has been likened to Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro, with its crescent of golden sand and green pinnacles rising above the harbour. What’s more, the city is the European Capital of Culture for 2016, so between sampling pintxos and lolling on the beach you can delve into its programme of musical, theatrical and artistic events.
Croatia is making a name for itself in the culinary world. Known for its 1,118 miles of picturesque coastline, 1,000 islands and terracotta-roofed medieval towns, it is today a popular summer holiday destination; and its gourmet offerings are now keeping up with its visual delights. Those in the know visit Croatia for its high quality wines, as the country is home to 64 indigenous grape varieties. In 2012, four wine regions were established to break away from the age-old categories of simply ‘Coastal’ or ‘Continental’: Dalmatia, Istria & Kvarner, the Uplands and Slavonia & Danube, with a further 12 subregions and 66 appellations.
The autumn is a delightful time to relish wine tours in Croatia. Learn about the process of wine-making from vine to bottle on Pag where the salt and minerals in the soil enhance the quality of the grapes, or as you take in views of the picturesque countryside of the Istrian Peninsula in Bale. This is also where white truffle grows - in fact, the world’s second largest white truffle was discovered here! In September and October the hunt begins, so relish exquisite fare prepared using this highly coveted ingredient; washed down with a glass of local wine, of course. Base yourself between these two culinary hotspots at Hotel Bellevue on the island of Losinj, whose reputation as a wellness destination means that you can indulge in fine fare and feed your holistic side in one trip.