There’s nothing wrong with a book and a beach but why not combine this year’s holiday with acquiring a new skill? And what could be nicer than learning to cook like a local? Here are our top tips for finding and booking a cookery holiday abroad.
A word of advice before booking
You can book package cookery courses or pay for your holiday and travel separately. When buying holidays or flights look for ones protected by ABTA or ATOL and take out holiday insurance from the time you book. Paying by credit card also offers protection if your holiday company fails.
Deciding on a short course or a longer one Do you want to spend the entire week cooking, or are you looking for a short course as part of a longer holiday? It’s worth thinking about how much time you want to spend in the kitchen and whether your course also includes trips to local markets or foraging for ingredients.
What size of group? This is another critical factor when choosing a course. With some courses you can be in almost industrial scale kitchens with lots of other participants. Others are far more informal and intimate. Will you be staying in a large hotel or a small B&B? What’s the maximum number of participants on your course? Is the kitchen at a secondary location? These are all important questions to ask. (Along with whether you do the washing up!)
5 TOP DESTINATIONS FOR COOKERY COURSES
Hams and other delicacies. Freshly made pasta and sauces bursting with flavour. Italy is our number one destination for cookery holidays. The food and style of cooking varies significantly between regions so it’s worth spending a bit of time doing your research. Our personal favorite is northern Italy around the beautiful Lakes such as Garda, where cheeses, superb olive oil and mushrooms in Autumn are cuisine staples. Another great place to learn to cook is Tuscany, and locations like the Toscana Mia Italian and Tuscan Cooking School run by two sisters, Simonetta and Paola, in Chianti. They’ve been offering cookery classes since 1990.
Some would say France is the spiritual home of all foodies and a great place to learn the art of high cuisine and fine dining, as well as regional dishes. It’s probably home to some of the most expensive cookery courses on offer but you can still find reasonable alternatives away from major cities and tourist areas. Provence, Bordeaux and the Dordogne have some great courses to choose from. Look for courses that combine cookery with wine tasting. And if you’re worried about language issues, check out cookery classes run by American Patricia Wells in Paris and Provence.
Perhaps a few years ago this wouldn’t have been on our list, but Polish culture is raising its profile and its appeal as a holiday destination. Closer to home, Polish restaurants vie for custom alongside their more established competitors from France, Italy and Greece. Learn to make pierogis, stuffed dumplings, or bigos, Hunter’s Stew, or wild mushroom soup. These days there’s even a website for ‘Poland Culinary Vacations’. As well as week long courses they also offer one-day cooking classes in cooperation with The Culinary Institute in Cracow.
If you fancy going further afield, Thailand offers cookery courses. There are a number of cookery schools in the northern town of Chiang Mai, such as the Baan Thai school or the Thai Farm Cooking School teaches cooking classes at its organic farm. Another area to check out is Ko Lanta Island in southern Thailand. There are also a number of day cooking courses that can be added to a more traditional holiday. We even came across cooking and yoga holidays.
Okay, technically not ‘abroad’ as such but easy to get to and you don’t need a passport (air travellers may need one anyway, or some form of photographic ID – so check). Plus the food is fantastic. There are some lovely cookery schools in wonderful locations plus the options of longer courses for those who want to come away with a qualification. For example, Ballymaloe Cookery in County Cork, probably one of Ireland’s most famous cookery schools and run by top chef Darina Allen, offers 12-week certificate courses down to one-day courses.
Bon voyage and bon appetit!