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Gastronomic Decadence

Pursue culinary excellence over five wine breaks and eight recommended three Michelinstarred restaurants, with the aid of Larry Martin, award-winning travel specialist and President of Food and Wine Trails ( and Jeff Romeo of Bluefish ( By: Jeff Romeo, Kimberly Tan and Larry Martin 1 1. Louis XV Alain Ducasse, France; Image courtesy of Bernard Touillon









ITALY Find the elusive white truffle with Le Baccanti (, in the town of Alba in Piedmont, where vineyards, woodlands, castles and feudal towers fill a hilly terrain. Best found in autumn months like October and November, truffle hunting allows travellers to experience the oldest tradition while simultaneously discovering the amazing landscape of the countryside. The truffle hunt will lead you into the woods with your expert and his dog, Lara, who will sniff the misty woods of Piedmont. Her pausing and scrabbling in one specific spot of the soil indicates the presence of white walnut-sized truffles. The 150min tour (about US$470) includes an informative session on how to cook with the truffle, tasting and preserving it, followed by a terrific truffle lunch. Their aromatic perfume is destroyed upon contact with heat, thus they can only be shaved on top of the dish once the steam has dissipated. Guests may be able to keep a small black truffle depending on the truffle hunter’s discretion. Verona, the mythical home of Romeo and Juliet, is also renowned for Amarone, one of Italy’s biggest and most famous red wines. Within the nearby Valpolicella wine country is Dino Facchini’s fabulously restored 15th century Venetian Villa, named after Dino’s Byblos fashion label. The Byblos Art Hotel’s (www.byblosarthotel. com) Restaurant Atelier is lined with Sandro Chia paintings and a 15th century wine cellar filled with 300 carefully selected labels

including the St Emilion 1er Cru Classè 2001 Chateau Cheval Blanc at US$1,540 or the Chateau d’Yquem 1998 Sauternes 0.75 at about US$1,092. Try one of the several tasting menus such as the Land’s Tradition Tasting Menu, recommended for up to six people or the ‘Atelier of the Menu’ for two or more persons. In Florence, dine at the renowned Enoteca Pinchiorri (www., run by chefs Annie Féolde, Riccardo Monco and Italo Bassi. Sample the 20-course tasting menu (price about US$327 excluding wine), featuring octopus, green beans and horseradish, the restaurant’s version of the Bloody Mary, beef piccata in pizzaiola style and pigeon sandwich. Alternatively, try the signature main courses like the lobster with rosemary, paired with bell peppers in sweet-sour sauce and fried chickpea puree.





The only restaurant in Rome that has been accorded three Michelin stars is La Pergola, in Rome Cavalieri Hotel (www.romecavalieri. com/lapergola.php) has a wine cellar with more than 53,000 bottles, a water menu with 29 choices, vintage balsamic vinegars and olive oils from Italy’s best producers. The freshest ingredients have been sourced from the Mediterranean. La Pergola’s nine-course Gourmet Menu (about US$274) include amberjack marinated in balsamic vinegar with pomegranate snow, grilled ‘La Perle Blanche’ oysters on pumpkin cream with parsley puff and black cod with celery sauce and curry crust. 8

2. Beaucastel Entrance; 3, 4. The Byblos Art Hotel, Italy; 5. Accommodation on Grape Escapes Exclusive Champagne Tasting Tour, France; 6. Aquarell Gobelsburg; 7-8. Alain Ducasse Plaza Athénée, France, Image courtesy of Pierre Monetta














FRANCE In Reims, enjoy an Exclusive Champagne tasting tour with Grape Escapes ( The two-night tour (up to US$1,801 per person in the luxurious Imperatrice Suite in Château les Crayères) includes visits to three champagne houses with one tasting session. Guests can expect to try about 10 wines, with a full-day guided tour in a luxury MPV from their hotel. The tour kicks off with a visit to a small, family-run Grand Cru Champagne House where you’ll learn about the champagne-making process from press to bottle. It’s also an unrivalled opportunity to try your hand at sabrage, where you’ll open a bottle with a sabre. Travel to the village of Hautvillers, where Dom Pérignon lived and is now buried, and enjoy a tasting session of two of the finest champagnes paired with the cheese or charcuterie platter. Visit one of the larger champagne houses, such as Mercier, Veuve Clicquot, Ruinart, Pommery and Taittinger. Ending your tour on a high would be a six-course gastronomic dinner held at the Château’s two Michelinstarred restaurant Le Parc. Châteauneuf-du-Pape in southern Rhône is an unlikely place to find a vineyard, as instead of dirt, the ground is filled with rocks that the French call galets or pebbles - ironic as most are the size of softballs. Yet, between the rocks, vines somehow thrive and make a wine that has become (thanks in part to critic Robert Parker) one of the most expensive in the world. Kelly, an American-born and French-trained superstar sommelier wine guide, will introduce you to Château de Beaucastel, one of the region’s most celebrated wineries for a


private tour and tasting. Thereafter, you will be taken to a different nearby appellation for a gourmet wine-paired lunch at L’Oustalet Restaurant Gigondas (, cooked by their one Michelin-starred chef. If you’re a fan of truffles, try the Grand Menu Truffe (about US$153) instead. The restaurant, owned by the Perrin family of Château de Beaucastel, has one of the widest ranging wine lists in the region, including the 2003 Clos Saint-Jean DeusEx Machina (about US$1,364). The tour will cost from US$1,100 to US$1,200 per couple depending on the choice of wine. For further gastronomic delights, visit Paris’s finest, Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée ( Try the steamed langoustines served cold and paired with caviar (about US$255), or the lobster with sea potatoes (about US$170). An additional degustation dinner is also available at US$496, featuring four dishes from their specialties, cheeses and desserts to sample. These desserts include curdled fresh ewe cheese, caramel and pepper (at about US$46). In neighbouring Monaco, visit another Alain Ducasse restaurant – Le Louis XV restaurant ( in Monte Carlo. Choose from the various elements – the garden, sea and woods, farm and pasture land – with courses like Provence garden vegetables paired with black truffle, Terre Bormane Taggiasche olive oil, aceto balsamico and pure sea salt (about US$115), Gamberoni from San Remo served with delicate rock fish gelée and caviar (about US$202) and milk-fed lamb cooked in the fireplace, with sauteed peas, spring onions and broad beans (about US$118).

GREAT BRITAIN With Virgin’s Experience Days (, work together with renowned chefs in Reading’s one Michelinstarred L’ortolan ( for a unique behind-the-scenes experience (about US$1,517). The day starts with a chauffeur driven ride to the restaurant, where you’ll be briefed by the chefs and staff. Together with Executive Chef Alan Murchison and his team, you’ll also have a hands-on experience preparing for the lunch and dinner service, helping to plate the food or sending the chefs’ amazing creations out to the customers, ensuring that all the food is of topnotch quality, cooked and plated to perfection. A light lunch follows with the chefs before helping with the dinner preparation service - a fast-paced kitchen that will put your culinary skills to the test.

well as enjoy a glass of champagne and sample your masterpiece later. These dishes will also be specially paired with wines from the sommelier. GREECE For the gourmand or aspiring chef, 14 days on the Greek Islands will be an unforgettable, heavenly vacation – especially under the tutelage of Greekalicious founder and cookbook author Maria Benardis (www. The culinary quest (about US$7,673 per person for twin sharing) will begin with shopping at the agora (marketplace) in Athens to discover the Greek pantry’s essential ingredients. Visit Chios, the home of the magical masticha which refers to clear chewing gum used in Greek cuisine and also learn how to make ouzo and traditional spoon sweets.

For your efforts, you’ll be rewarded with a return visit (to be used within six months) to sample ten courses paired with eight wines chosen by a master sommelier, so you too can learn the intricacies of wine pairing the Michelin way. This Prestige Tasting Menu changes weekly, and might include courses like the escabeche of red mullet with salt cod branade and saffron or the lemon and lime macaroon complemented with pine nut ice cream and grapefruit jelly. Recreate the experience at home with a signed copy of Alan Murchison’s Food for Thought books and a bottle of Pommery champagne, honing skills picked up in the kitchen.

Aside from visiting Maria’s home, she’ll also take you to the best culinary experiences such as visiting organic farms, wineries and monasteries at Crete for the finest organic wine, olive oil and vinegar. Cretan cuisine is believed to endow its people with longevity and good health; indeed the Cretan people are touted to have the highest longevity and lowest mortality rate from cardiovascular and cancer. Taste the finest handmade filo pastry, the art of which is regarded to be lost, and equally impressive baklava.

Alternatively, in London, sign up for the popular master class at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay ( Learn to prepare a three-course menu (about US$914 per couple) chosen from the restaurant’s signature dishes. You’ll receive one-on-one guidance as

While in Greece, visit some of the best wineries with Wine Tours Greece ( in the Peloponnese, such as the Wine Estate Kalogris, located at Kapsia in Arcadia, in the famous wine region of Mantinia. Taste wines produced from the

10. Alain Ducasse Plaza Athénée, France; Image courtesy of Pierre Monetta 9, 11, 12. Louis XV Alain Ducasse; Images courtesy of Bernard Toillon for Louis XV Room and Thomas Dhellemmes for dishes 13, 14, 16. Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, Great Britain; 15. L’Ortolan, Great Britain;






Moschofilero, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes.This guided four-day, three-night tour (about US$877) can accommodate a maximum of 12 people and will also take you to ancient archaeological sites like Ancient Nemea. In Greek mythology, it is where Heracles overcame the Nemean Lion of the Lady Hera. AUSTRIA The Wachau Valley of Austria is one of the world’s most beautiful wine regions and also home of Schloss Gobelsburg, an awardwinning winery owned by Michael and Eva Mossbrugger. The castle Gobelsburg dates back almost 1,000 years and wine has been produced there since 1171, or not too long after the first discovery of America. Schloss Gobelsburg specialises in Grüner Veltliner, the most famous and widely grown grape in Austria. These white wines are deliciously dry and crisp and are a perfect complement to raw oysters or any kind of shell fish. Nearby is restaurant Weingut Jamek, which features modern-Austrian cooking. Tour the Wachau Valley


by bike (price for a private tour of up to eight people starts from US$717; inclusive of transfers from Vienna but not lunch) with Vienna Explorer ( Alternatively, join Napa’s Robert Biale Vineyards ( on a Uniworld River wine-cruise from 1 to 8 November 2014 along the Danube River and through the Wachau Valley, from US$2,747 per person. Travel around Tennengau, Salzburg’s province, renowned as a Genuss Region, an award given to a region with impressive culinary products, such as the Almkäse cheese and mountain lamb. This cheese is made from the best organic pasture milk produced in the region’s dairies, where travellers can visit alp cheese makers, alpine dairies and great restaurants. The picturesque location has a backdrop of the Dachstein Mountain and is just a few kilometres from the city of Mozart, Salzburg. To fully immerse yourself in Tennengau, book the Gourmet & Adventure Front-Row Seat package (about US$536 for a five-night trip in a half-board, four star accommodation) from Tennengau Guest Services ( The package will include gourmet biking or trekking, with a journey up and down the Bruno’s mountain world and a chance to sample the alpine cheese from Tennengau. It is also interesting to note that more than 50 per cent of the farmers in this area have chosen to go organic. USA Chef Mark Stark owns five California Sonoma County wine-country restaurants that include the Michelin rated Willi’s Wine Bar in Santa Rosa ( Converted from an old roadhouse, tourists and locals alike love sitting on Willi’s shade-covered patio to sample arrays of tasting plates matched with flights of perfectly paired wines like Siduri, a local Pinot Noir producer that focuses on the best single vineyards that they can find - from Oregon’s Willamette Valley to the Central Coast of California. Enjoy food demos and tours led by the Starks and wine tastings of Siduri wines led by Adam Lee - the winery owner,  by embarking on a 10-day Barcelona to Venice cruise on 1 June 2014, on Oceania Cruise line’s newest ship The Riviera. Pricing starts at US$3,474 including the private onboard programme, with the option to lunch and try wines at top wine estates, located on the sides of Vesuvius, overlooking the ruins of Pompeii Italy. Over in Yountille, California, try the French Laundry (www. featuring a unique nine-course tasting menu (about US$275) that changes daily. Throughout the meal, no ingredient is ever repeated. Dishes might include the Royal Ossetra caviar paired with Atlantic fluke tartare, Brokaw avocado, cucumber blossom, Meyer lemon puree and toasted brioche (at an additional US$75).


New York is home to seven three Michelin-starred restaurants, such as the Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare (, the first New York City restaurant outside of Manhattan to receive such an accolade. Guests can dine on Japanese-inspired dishes in a tasting menu (US$225 per person) that also changes daily. Prices for accompanying wines start from US$60. Sample dishes might include boneless short ribs that are braised in red wine and roasted and marinated beets with Roquefort and toasted walnuts.

17. Austria night skyline; 18. Schloss Gobelsburg, Austria; 19. Ruinart bottles, France; 20. The Riviera Ocean Liner, USA


NEW ZEALAND Most of New Zealand’s press focuses on Pinot Noir, but on the southern shore of the North Island is Hawke’s Bay, a region that also produces fabulous Bordeaux style blends. Built by Transpacific founder Terry Peabody, Craggy Range winery (www.craggyrange. com) is set against towering hills that form a spectacular backdrop, with its showpiece winery and visitor’s centre. Terrôir, an award winning restaurant set among the vineyards, serves cuisine leaning more towards French, perhaps to better match the wonderful Cabernet, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc the winery produces. On warm evenings, one can dine on the expansive stone terrace with views of Te Mata Peak. Try the roasted ‘Holly’ carvery pork rack for two, with crackling and Terrôir Nicoise salad (about US$65 for two), perfectly paired with the 2007 Craggy Range ‘Les Beaux Cailloux’ Chardonnay from Gimblett Gravels at Hawke’s Bay (about US$18). Travel in style with RidgeAir ( helicopters to a Malborough river (about US$649) to fish for New Zealand’s brown trout or salmon, depending on the season, where you’ll use quality spin fishing gear and pick up fishing tips and tricks from a qualified fishing guide. Depending on your personal beliefs, the fish can be cleaned and prepared to take home, or simply released back into the river. You’ll also get to enjoy a delicious lunch and complimentary wine tasting at one of Malborough’s finest wineries.




SPAIN Hailed as one of the founders of Basque cuisine, owner and chef of Arzak ( in San Sebastian, Juan Mari Arzak utilises creativity and techno-cuisine to highlight the region’s specialities. Today, his daughter Elena (named the World’s Best Chef in 2012) aids him, producing dishes that incorporate local ingredients like hake, line-caught calamari or beef while using aromas like tamarind, hibiscus, mango skin and rhubarb. Signature dishes may include the pudding de kabraroka con fideos fritos, a scorpion fish mousse wrapped in light and crispy pastry threads, or the incredible lemon curd cake, where the sauces form an amazing fractal pattern, giving the cake added flavours of bitter tea and sweet honey. While in Catalonia, go on a search for wild mushrooms with Gourmand Breaks ( to gain a greater appreciation for this humble ingredient. The four-day guided tour will take you to villages in the Alt Berguedà area and into the most secret places to find the best edible wild mushrooms over two mornings. Dine with the locals for brunch and enjoy sausage, cheese, cured meats and the famous Catalan tomato bread that is usually paired with a porron of wine. Enhance your knowledge of mushrooms with a visit to the market, where up to 100 varieties of mushrooms are up for sale. This market is only available in September to November and travellers can learn how to dry and preserve mushrooms on this trip.

Gastronomic Decadence  
Gastronomic Decadence  

Three-star Michelin restaurants, acclaimed wineries - degustation decadence!