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A growing taste for culinary travel

By Marnie Hunter
CNN
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(CNN) -- Travelers seem to have a healthy appetite for culinary tourism, whether it involves making caldo verde or sipping Cabernet Sauvignon.

"It's definitely a growing market. I think it's becoming a very important market as a subset of cultural tourism," said Dr. Rich Harrill, director of the International Tourism Research Institute at the University of South Carolina.

"It's really a fun thing to do," said Barbara Courtney, 54, of Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, who spent three days in March taking cooking lessons with her daughter in Tuscany. "When I travel I like to do activities. I'm not a go-sit-on-the-beach kind of person."

While there has been little research into the growth of food tourism, industry insiders are expanding their offerings to keep pace with demand.

Jo-Ann Gaidosz, who owns Active Gourmet Holidays and arranged the cooking portion of the Courtneys' Italy trip, started organizing and booking tours in 2002 and has doubled her business since 2004 when bookings really started to pick up.

"I think there's just been a lot of awareness brought to cooking and food through all the food shows," she said.

Gaidosz is not the only travel provider who credits the Food Network and other food-themed programming with helping to boost interest in food and culinary travel. (Tips for finding local flavors)

Michael Coon, director of the Culinary Institute of America's Worlds of Flavor travel programs, believes television shows and an increased interest in educational travel have a lot to do with it.

"I would say people are looking for an alternative to lying on the beach and sort of having more educational elements to their vacations versus relaxation," Coon said.

Culinary tourism providers see a range of ages among food tourists, but people in their 40s and 50s are most common.

"I think that the foodie market is related more or less to the baby boomer demographic," Harrill said. "You have people who are retiring, people with lots of discretionary time and income, some level of sophistication. They're educated, they're interested in wine, they're interested in food."

Delicious destinations

For the truly committed food-lover, learning to replicate a destination's regional specialties can be a more fulfilling travel experience than hitting the renowned museums and top tourist sites. (America's best cooking schools)

Patricia Wells, author of eight books including "Food Lover's Guide to France," has lived in France since 1980 and has hosted cooking classes in Paris and Provence since 1995. She started with two one-week sessions and now hosts courses 13 weeks a year.

"I think Americans, especially, have a greater awareness of food and quality of food, and everybody's got a brand-new kitchen, and they want to figure out what to do with it," Wells said.

While France, Italy and Spain are hot spots for culinary tourism, far-flung destinations and major time commitments aren't required.

Dr. David Edsall, 58, a physician anesthesiologist from Waterville, Maine, has taken the occasional cooking class with his wife, Patricia, since the 1970s. Most recently they participated in a two-day getaway at the Rabbit Hill Inn in Lower Waterford, Vermont. Each recipe in the cooking class was maple-infused.

"They flew in a salmon, had it air-freighted in, and it was just a day old out of the ocean from Alaska. And [the chef] showed us right in front of us how to fillet the salmon, and how to cut it up and then how to make the maple glazing for it," Edsall said.

The program was part of the inn's ongoing series called "Inn Good Taste." Packages for two range from $680 to $1,000 and include accommodations, gourmet breakfasts and dinners and a three-hour cooking class.

The level of participation in food preparation varies quite a bit from location to location and tour to tour.

At the Rabbit Hill Inn, the chef demonstrates techniques for each dish, and the class samples the recipes stove side. Courtney's instruction in Italy came as part of a home stay with an Italian family, and she and her daughter, Lauren, 21, learned through a more hands-on approach.

"We made pasta and we baked foccacia and we grilled eggplant -- we made all kinds of things. And we both came home and replicated our meals, which was really something," Courtney said.

Their three-day stay in the family's farmhouse, built in the 1300s, cost about $2,000, Courtney said, and included the cooking instruction, all their food and wine and some local side trips.

Travelers who are more interested in eating than cooking also have organized touring options.

Most of the tours offered by Food and Wine Trails, a division of HMS Travel Group in Santa Rosa, California, offer a day of cooking instruction out of eight or nine days. The company looks at food as a path to a deeper understanding of the destination, said Larry Martin, company president.

"When you travel through the world exploring food, you get this interesting window about the culture and the environment because food is the bridge between the land and the culture."


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Chef Jeff Fairman demonstrates a recipe for guests during a cooking class at the Rabbit Hill Inn in Lower Waterford, Vermont.

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