Our Favorite Culinary Stops Around the World
Some people like to hunt for truffles, cruise open-air markets and talk shop with cheesemongers. Others prefer their culinary adventures to revolve around making the perfect reservations. No matter your inclination, good food that shows a sense of place is a welcome addition to any foray from home. We’ve got the scoop on a Tuscan cooking class, barefoot indulgence on St. Barts, and a gastronomic driving adventure along the French Mediterranean.
There are no shortcuts to making good homemade pasta, as you’ll learn soon enough, arms aching, belly full, after a cooking class at the Capezzana estate. The Tuscan winery is an idyllic setting for an epicurean escape, mastering the basics of Italian aristocratic cuisine among the vineyards and olive groves in one of the region’s most stately properties. In the 1990s the Bonacossi family, who have been making wine here since 1925, decided to open their home to the visiting public. Their personal chef began sharing his secrets, in one- and five-day cooking classes in a big, rustic kitchen just across from the main house. With translation provided by a member of the family, most of whom speak flawless English, the chef begins with a hands-on tutorial on pasta perfection. It starts with the flour, a mix of semolina and 00 pasta flour, in a volcanolike mound on the big wooden table. Eggs in the center, whisked in slowly with a fork, yield a gluey mess. Even for a pro it takes a strenuous knead to produce pasta dough that’s perfectly pliant. You’ll need to practice at home to get a sense when its right—in a kitchen in Tuscany it all comes too easily.
The pasta, rolled and cut into beautifully silky papardelle ribbons, is your first course at lunch topped with the wild boar ragu you’ve watched simmer all morning. There might be a Tuscan beef roast to follow, rubbed with garlic, rosemary, and sage, served with golden potatoes roasted in pan drippings, and grilled zucchini and eggplant dressed with olive oil just pressed on the property. The Bonacossis, who sell their intense green olive oil in the United States at fine gourmet markets, eat like this every day. The more time you spend here, the more you’ll learn to enjoy la dolce vita—the good life—as they do. If your timing’s good, Count Ugo Bonacossi, the family patriarch—now in his 90s—might be your host. He has welcomed Mario Batali and Jamie Oliver as guest chefs here, but leaves day-to-day operations of the winery, olive press, cooking school, and rented villas to his children and grandchildren. Play your cards right and he might even invite you inside the main house, where he still lives among the family art collection, for a glass of vin santo and a tour of the rose garden tended out back by his wife. On a clear day you can see the Duomo in Florence way off in the distance.
After lunch you’ll want to stroll among the Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon vines, and pick up the new-crop olive oil and latest wine vintage. In summer a cool breeze blows in from the sea, which makes this a great destination even in the hottest months. But autumn is when the property really buzzes. First comes the grape harvest, followed by a few feverish weeks picking olives for oil. Olive picking is an occasion around here, the entire community joining in to pick fruit from the trees. The payoff is enough gratis olive oil to last all winter long—not just a functional gift that enhances your own cooking, but a memory of a day (or few) spent among the Tuscan trees and vines.
St. Barts in the French Caribbean is well-known for its jet-set party scene, stylish villas, and glorious wind-swept beaches. But it’s the food that really separates this 8.1-square-mile speck from its neighbors. No island paradise has more good places to eat, particularly barefoot, sand between your toes. There are formal white tablecloth spots serving foie gras from France and lobsters from Maine, but that’s not really what this place is about. The best options for a romantic dinner or a languid lunch are as relaxed as you ought to be as soon as you step off that puddle-jumper onto the island’s very small runway.
These are restaurants like La Plage at the Tom Beach Hotel, where meals are delivered just steps from the water—no shoes required—with a DJ spinning lounge music tracks. The colorful cocktails and fresh local seafood are as vibrant as the scene itself. After your herbstuffed daurade or spiny lobster dressed in aioli you might find yourself dancing off lunch. The scene is a bit more sedate, but hardly stuffy, just up the beach at the ultra-exclusive Eden Rock Hotel. Top New York chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten recently took charge of the food here, overseeing the lunch served at the casual Sand Bar and the more serious dinner offered under the stars at the hotel’s long-running On the Rocks restaurant. A salad of local lobster in Champagne vinaigrette—available in bathing suit and sarong—won’t slow you down if you’re thinking of a long swim after lunch. The more ambitious fare offered at night in the open-air dining room features local seasonal ingredients with bright Asian accents like tuna tartare with fresh ginger and sautéed snapper with vinaigrette.
Caribbean-Asian fusion has been a St. Barts mainstay for ages, particularly at Maya’s, one of the island’s longest-running food institutions, a hotspot here for more than 25 years. This relaxed restaurant gets so mobbed in high season many villa dwellers opt to get their dinner to go. To meet the demand, a few years back the restaurant opened a take-out annex just across the street from the airport, where you can grab a mahi mahi red curry or Thai beef salad that travel exceptionally well. The menu at the restaurant changes daily, depending on what’s at its seasonal peak.
While you might want to eat light most of the week, save Fridays for an ambitious feast. That’s when Les Pecheurs, the restaurant in the fashionable Le Sereno hotel, serves its weekly bouillabaisse special, an authentic French seafood blowout. The fish itself is Mediterranean—flown in special from France once a week—but the setting, overlooking Marigot Bay, is pure Caribbean bliss.
For a small island, St. Barts offers a remarkably diverse range of restaurant options, from the authentically Creole—try Pipiri Palace in the capital, Gustavia—to the raffishly honky-tonk—Andy’s Hideaway is a favorite spot for off-duty waiters and bellhops grabbing pizza and beer. Along Shell Beach—literally covered in thousands of seashells—is one of the island’s most unusual spots, a castaway fantasy owned by a French sports star. Do Brazil, the chic wooden beach shack owned by former tennis champ Yannick Noah, is the place to go for upscale barbecue in an exotic mix of Asian, Latin and Caribbean flavors. Come by for sunset drinks, then linger for dinner and music late into the night.
There’s no better way to tackle a gastronomic tour of the French Riviera than at the wheel of a nimble new sports car. A small car, like the new two-seater MercedesBenz SLK 250, is perfect for hugging hairpin Mediterranean turns en route to your next hot food destination. Many of the top restaurants here are out in the middle of nowhere, up a tight alley, perched on a cliff overlooking the sea.
Fresh off the red-eye into Nice, it’s just a short drive to your first noshing stop, the covered Marche Provencal in downtown Antibes. This bustling food market is a great place to graze on local cheeses and olives and gorgeous fresh fruit. Grab a crusty baguette and other provisions to go and you’ve got an impromptu beach picnic for lunch.
Dinner is just around a few harrowing corners, along the coast road that hugs the Cap d’Antibes peninsula. Here you’ll find the Michelin-starred Les Pecheurs restaurant (no relation to the St. Barts establishment), where chef Philippe Jego turns Mediterranean seafood into gorgeous upscale creations. On the terrace overlooking the windswept bay, the catch of the day comes by on a cart. Pick your own fish if you like—they’re served simply grilled—but the chef’s more elaborate dishes are a much better bet. There might be enormous head-on red shrimp with chorizo, squid, and shaved summer truffles, or Parmesan-crusted turbot fillets in a delicate wine sauce made with the local white, vin de Bellet.
The next day you’re off up the coast, top down, wind in your hair. Heads turn as you pass the yacht-clogged harbor in St. Tropez. Your destination for dinner is just out of town at the boutique Hotel Sezz. Colette, the restaurant there, is the only South-of-France outpost of superstar chef Pierre Gagnaire (whose restaurant in Paris has three Michelin stars). Dinner, out by the pool, is casual-chic, featuring fresh local seafood adorned with exotic ingredients, like sole meuniere with an Asian-style barbecue glaze and green mango puree.
Linger a while in St. Tropez the next morning. It’s just a two-hour drive up the coast for your meal in Marseille. The alleyways that lead to the entrance of Le Petit Nice, the city’s only three-star Michelin restaurant, are a very tight squeeze. With its glorious Mediterranean view, the restaurant, overlooking rocks packed with sunbathers, is an ideal spot for a very long lunch. Chef Gerald Passedat offers a spin on a classic bouillabaisse that turns out to be an elaborate five-course feast with lobster, squid, pristine local fish, and an intense seafood broth. It may be the world’s most decadent bouillabaisse.
Polish your epicurean week off in Cannes, en route back to Nice. The city, best known for its film festival glamour, has never been a real food destination. Which might explain why one of its most enduringly popular restaurants is the extremely casual seafood brasserie Astoux et Brun. The bright-lit establishment, opened in 1953, doesn’t look like much from the outside. But there’s a reason so many locals line up every night to get in. The restaurant, which sells retail shellfish, too, is the best place in town to get simply shucked oysters and clams and big towering platters stocked with other good things from the sea—with cold lobster, big shrimp, miniature snails, and split langoustines. Everything here is impeccably fresh. And the stuffed mussels drenched in garlic butter are not to be missed. Whether you zip back to your villa at top speed or take a more relaxed approach, go with a sated appetite and the promise of a digestif (Cognac, Armagnac, or Calvados, perhaps) under the night sky.