On the trail: 15 of the best European food adventures

Take a trip along one of Europe’s many glorious themed food routes, from a seafood trail on the Swedish coast to a pastry tour of Sicily.

By National Geographic Traveller Food
Published 2 Sept 2021, 15:05 BST, Updated 3 Sept 2021, 11:59 BST
Caffè Sicilia, on Corso Vittorio Emanuele in the town of Noto, Sicily, is a hallowed spot ...

Caffè Sicilia, on Corso Vittorio Emanuele in the town of Noto, Sicily, is a hallowed spot for cannoli. 

Photograph by Susan Wright

Dreaming about your first big trip in what seems like forever? As Europe slowly begins to open up, now’s the time to start making plans. And, as a food-lover, it's important to pick a destination that can cater to your desires. Whether you’re taking a chocolate-themed train trip through Switzerland, following the Cider Route in Normandy or traversing the olive groves of the Peloponnese, here are 15 of the continent’s best gourmet trails — each one a feast for all the senses. 


1. Take a seafood safari on the Swedish coast

Any seafood tour of Sweden’s west coast should begin in Gothenburg. This laid-back Scandi port city serves its seafood with a side order of industrial chic — graffitied waterfront warehouse cafes contrast with the linen-tablecloth restaurants lining the city centre’s wide neoclassical boulevards. Begin at church: Feskekôrka (‘fish church’) on the Rosenlunds canal is home to a wet market and seafood restaurants set under 19th-century vaulted gothic ceilings. The smoked salmon, in particular, isn't to be missed. Shrimp-topped smörgås (open sandwiches), along with fishy cheffy offerings, dominate menus city-wide, but book ahead for six-seater Hoze, the current hot-ticket restaurant, serving sashimi made almost entirely with the local catch.

And what a catch: West Sweden is Big Five country — a reference to the langoustine, lobster, oyster, shrimp and mussels that can be foraged, caught and cooked on a number of organised foodie safaris that take in the snaking, fjord-feathered coastline and rocky islands north and south of Gothenburg, which can be reached within a few hours. And with such a broad selection of delicacies on offer, it’s worth timing your visit according to your preferences. August is one long crayfish festival, when locals feast on these fiddly, dill-soused crustaceans; autumn (late September) is lobster season on the wind-blown islands and skerries of the beautiful Bohuslän coast, stretching some 100 miles towards the Norwegian border; and springtime sees the finest Nordic oysters speed-shucked in the Bohuslän towns of Lysekil and Grebbestad.

Getting started: Head north from Gothenburg to Lyckorna, where fisherman host Janne Bark will motor you out into a protected North Sea channel to search for mussels to cook on the decked terrace of his Mussel Bar (musselbaren.se), set in the seaside resort’s old clock tower. Further north west, in the wilds of Bohuslän, where little red cottages crown islands of their own, take an oyster tour of Lysekil aboard the Strandflickorna hotel’s vintage fishing boat. An hour further north brings you to Fjällbacka, where you can join a lobster fishing safari before tucking into a five-course fishy supper at Stora Hotel.

Don’t miss: Salt & Sill, just south of Gothenburg, can be credited with putting the region on the foodie map when it opened its restaurant on the west coast island of Klädesholmen back in 1999. Now complete with wood cabin hotel accommodation and a floating sauna, it still serves some of the best sill (herring) you’ll find, in a spectacular Scandinavian seaside setting. Sarah Barrell

Fisherman host Janne Bark cooking mussels on the decked terrace of his Mussel Bar. 

Photograph by Lola Akinmade Akerstorm

2. Sample the ‘sashimi’ of southern Italy

You don’t have to go as far as Japan to immerse yourself in a raw seafood culture. Across the Southern Italian region of Puglia, seafood and shellfish have been consumed straight from the sea for centuries, with little more than a squeeze of lemon added. Crudo (‘raw’) culture might sound like a new health food fad, but it has its origins in cucina povera — Southern Italy’s peasant cuisine, which focuses on simple ingredients. Ricci di mare (sea urchins) are the cuisine’s spiky emblem; plucked (with care) from rocky shores across Puglia, Calabria and Sicily, their umami-buttery insides ideally eaten instantly. But across Puglia you’ll also find octopus, cuttlefish, mussels, scallops, razor clams, oysters, squid, anchovies, red mullet, prawns, and lobster served just-caught at markets, stalls and simple restaurants.

Getting started: Bari is considered the crudo capital, its historic port and lungomare boardwalk the place to see catch landed then shuttled across the road to sea-view shacks.

Don’t miss: In the bay town of Polignano a Mare in Puglia, make for Antiche Mura, a cave-like restaurant serving a seasonal menu of raw food. Sarah Barrell

Sunset scenery of Polignano a Mare, town in the province of Bari, Puglia. 

Photograph by Emi Cristea

3. Indulge on Yorkshire’s Fish & Chip Trail

Yes, Yorkshire has an official Fish & Chip Trail, complete with a downloadable map highlighting where to enjoy that classic combination across the county. It includes both restaurants and cafes — where fish and chips and optional mushy peas are served on proper china plates — and seafront spots that dole out warm paper packages, their contents best enjoyed with a coastal breeze while fending off seagulls. Go in summer and take a road trip along the portion that traces the coastline, spreading your indulgence over a few days. The route takes in some of Yorkshire’s most beguiling seaside destinations, from classic resort Scarborough to the gothic haven of Whitby, where you can nibble chips while visiting spots associated with Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Getting started: Set off from Redcar and follow the coastline south for around 75 miles to Bridlington, stopping en route to explore beaches and villages. Follow the official trail map to seek out the best fish and chip shops.

Don’t miss: Quayside Whitby is lauded for its golden, fluffy chips (fried in beef dripping) and fish cooked in special-recipe batter — dished up in a 19th-century seafront building with dreamy coastal views. Ella Buchan

4. Cycle from smokehouse to smokehouse on Bornholm

The smokehouses on the Baltic island of Bornholm are renowned among the Danes. For them, a holiday there isn’t complete without a plate of sol over Gudhjem — a hot smoked herring fillet on rye bread, topped with radish, dill, salt and a raw egg yolk. To see what all the fuss is about, cycle this gentle, 64-mile route, which takes you round the coast of Bornholm, 20 miles south of Sweden, while stopping off to feast on hot smoked herring. Gudhjem is where the first commercial smokehouse started on the island, in the 1840s (the technique having been introduced by Scottish soldiers). With its steep streets and half-timbered cottages, it’s a good place to spend the first night. But the fish platters and atmosphere are better at subsequent stops, such as Svaneke, Allinge, Snogebaek, Nexø and Hasle (the latter is the last to still use the traditional method of open chimneys and alderwood). The tour is best done between early July and early September, when the weather is mild. A recent eruption of upmarket restaurants and cafes means there are plenty of fine dining options here, too, including Michelin-starred Kadeau, on Sømarken beach.

Getting started: Rent bikes in Rønne, head north through the forest to Hasle, then up to the ruins of Hammershus castle. Spend a night in Allinge or Gudhjem on the north coast, then one or two nights in Svaneke or Nexø, in the east, before returning along the south coast, stopping at Dueodde, the island’s best beach, or Kadeau.

Don’t miss: A tour of Hasle Smokehouse to watch the artisans dive into a smoky chamber above an open fire, before pulling out rods hung with golden-smoked herrings, which you then devour, warm, minutes later. Richard Orange

Jean François Guillouet-Huard of Calvados Michael Huard tastes the latest a batch of cider.

Photograph by Christina Holmes


1. Breathe in the ‘angel’s share’ on the cider route

Famed for its apple orchards, Normandy’s Pays d’Auge region is a joy in spring, with a dazzling display of white blossoms, while autumn sees the countryside ablaze with reds and yellows. The first stop on this trip is cider house Le Ferme de Billy, just outside Caen. Tuck into brunch at its cafe before wandering the estate and tasting the apple juices, ciders and calvados.

From there, head to Beauvron-en-Auge, one of Normandy’s many achingly idyllic villages, home to a jumble of timber-framed buildings. Have coffee on the terrace at Café Forges, then carry on to Calvados Dupont, a family-run estate in nearby Victot-Pontfol. Here, you’ll taste a range of apple brandies, as well as cider and pommeau, an aperitif that blends apple juice and calvados. Pont-l’Évêque, half an hour east, is home to the eponymous cheese — which, along with camembert, livarot and neufchâtel, comprise Normandy’s four PDO (protected designation of origin) fromages. Buy them at the town’s Monday morning market or call into one of the many cheese farms nearby (see terredauge-tourisme.fr for a list). Nearby is Château du Breuil, a grand calvados distillery where you can take a tour that takes in the cellar, with its soaring, timbered ceiling, and breathe in the ‘angel’s share’ — the smell of the calvados that evaporates from the barrels and lingers in the air. In the tasting room, learn to tell the difference between different calvados vintages and between varieties aged in either port, sherry or whisky casks.

Another distillery worth visiting is Père Magloire, near Pont L’Évêque, where L’Experience — a multimedia, multisensory attraction — explains the origins of the spirit and its production methods. To truly embrace the culture and character of the region’s apples, however, time your visit to coincide with the Apple, Cider and Cheese Festival at Conches-en-Ouche, in the south. This jolly event, at the end of October, takes place in a huge field surrounded by reddening trees and showcases dozens of Normandy’s producers, as well as its dishes, traditional costumes and dancing.

Getting started: Start in Caen, where Brittany Ferries can deliver you and your car to the port just after breakfast, then head east, returning to Le Havre or Caen for the ferry home. If you’re hiring a car, a one-way trip from Caen to Paris is also an option. Many of these stops feature on the tourist board’s official cider route.

Don’t miss: The calvados soufflé at L’Étape Louis XIII restaurant (etapelouis13.fr) in Beaumesnil, near Conches-en-Ouche. Carolyn Boyd

View of Iseo Lake from San Defendente hill in the Lombardy region of Italy. 

Photograph by AWL Images

2. Roam Lombardy’s hills for Italy’s finest fizz

Terraced into the hills that rise from Lake Iseo’s southeastern shores you’ll find one of the world’s most exclusive wine terroirs. It’s favoured holiday terrain for Lombardy locals who love both the uncrowded lidos of this lesser-known Italian lake and the chance to indulge in franciacorta, the country’s finest sparkling wine. A total of 110 vineyards sit within this bijou, 77sq mile DOGC (denominazione di origine controllata e garantita) territory, whose vines thrive in the mineral-rich soil of the Alpine foothills. Grapes such as chardonnay, pinot bianco, pinot nero and the native erbamat ripen in the unique microclimate here before being made into wine using a traditional method in which secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle. The luxurious end result has been dubbed the ‘cashmere’ of sparkling wine, with each harvest resulting in a subtly different flavour profile.

Getting started: The vineyards here are tightly clustered around 19 towns in the Brescia province. Bellavista, Ca’ del Bosco, Berlucchi and Ferghettina are the big names, while south of the lake tastings can be had at an array of smaller labels. franciacorta.net

Don’t miss: Book a wine-pairing dinner at L’Albereta, the region’s loveliest lake-view spa retreat. Sarah Barrell

3. Seek out riesling along the Rhine

Germany’s Rheingau wine region is wide ribbon of south-facing slopes on the north bank of the Rhine River. Here you’ll find the Rheingau Riesling Path, a 13-stage hiking route between the towns of Kaub and Flörsheim-Wicker. It passes through charming, half-timbered wine villages and vineyards with castles and monasteries, all the while offering glorious views and endless sampling opportunities. Amble at leisure, then plan your excursion to coincide with a cellar open day, festival or wine hike (a planned route with wine and food stands), or call ahead to arrange winery tours, tastings or a table at a seasonal winery restaurant.

Getting started: The landscape between the towns of Lorch and charming-but-touristy Rüdesheim am Rhein is dramatic. The stretch between Rüdesheim and the town of Eltville — known for its summer roses, cobbled streets and sparkling wines — is full of wineries, from the small and family-run to the internationally renowned, such as Kloster Eberbach, set in a former abbey. The region is particularly beautiful in the autumn — the vineyards are golden and the days still remarkably warm.

Don’t miss: Rheingau Wine Week, in Wiesbaden: a nine-day wine festival featuring around 100 Rheingau winery stands. Christie Dietz

González Byass winery in Jerez de la Frontera, one third of Spain's Sherry Triangle. 

Photograph by Alamy

4. Explore Spain’s Sherry Triangle

Just north of Cádiz, the Andalucian cities of Jerez de la Frontera and Sanlúcar de Barrameda and the town of El Puerto de Santa María make up Spain’s Sherry Triangle: 54sq miles of vineyard-dotted hills and 17th-century bodegas producing the country’s finest fortified wines. Tours are on offer year-round (except in August, when most close) explaining the art of fermenting and ageing palomino, moscatel and pedro ximénez varieties and include tastings paired with jamón. Jerez de La Frontera, home to Tio Pepe and Álvaro Domecq, is best known for its fino, a sherry with hints of almond and herbs, and for its oxtail slow-cooked in sherry. Sanlúcar de Barrameda, meanwhile, is the place to go for chamomile-scented manzanilla.

Getting started: From Jerez de la Frontera, it’s a 20-minute drive to El Puerto de Santa María and a 30-minute drive to Sanlúcar de Barrameda.

Don’t miss: Dating back to 1650, Bodegas Tradición is one of the region’s oldest wineries. Come for the extra-aged sherries (most bottles are at least 20 years old); stay for the art collection, featuring Goya and El Greco. Jessica Vincent


1. Take a Swiss chocolate tour

For those with a sweet tooth, the ideal trip to Switzerland may well begin with a bar of milk chocolate. But although Switzerland is famous for the smooth, creamy snack invented here in 1875, its cacao-based specialities come in many other forms, from dark chocolate pralines and pastries to cocktails and chocolat chaud.

A third of the chocolate produced in Switzerland is consumed within its borders (the Swiss eat an average of 11.7 kg per person each year — surely a sterling advert for what’s also arguably the country’s best-loved export). With the number of small, sustainability-focused, bean-to-bar chocolate-makers slowly increasing alongside the country’s multitude of high-quality, large-scale producers, there’s a wide range of excellent chocolate to be had here, and myriad ways in which to enjoy it.

There’s no official Swiss chocolate trail, but this suggested itinerary links up experiences that introduce chocolate-lovers to the history and culture of Swiss chocolate and showcases the breadth of Switzerland’s offering with visits to some of the country’s best-loved chocolatiers. The route winds its way south west from Zurich to Lake Geneva via the cities of Lucerne and the capital, Bern. Following the trail is straightforward by either car or train; the latter may be costly, but Swiss trains are the most reliable in Europe and the scenery they pass through is nothing short of spectacular.

And if you need a break from all the sweet stuff, Swiss cheeses are also well worth seeking out, as are the country’s wines. Summer is a great time to enjoy a spot of hiking or lake swimming between chocolate splurges, and for sitting outdoors at cafes. It’s worth timing the start of your trip with the annual, 11-day Food Zurich festival, which offers a programme of culinary events that includes cookery courses, food tours and unique dining experiences.

Getting started: Begin in Zurich with an exploration of the city’s numerous chocolate shops and a grand cru hot chocolate at the legendary Confiserie Sprüngli cafe. Head south west out of the city, stopping for a guided tour of the Aeschbach Chocolatier factory in Root, before arriving in Lucerne to join an exclusive tasting of the handmade pralines at the Max Chocolatier boutique. Continue west to Bern, the birthplace of Lindt, to take part in a chocolate and schnapps tour before ending your travels in Montreux, where you can hike in the countryside by Lake Geneva accompanied by chocolatier Olivier Fuchs.

Don’t miss: Anyone travelling in spring should extend their trip to Versoix, at the opposite end of Lake Geneva, for the annual Festichoc, Switzerland’s largest festival dedicated to chocolate. Christie Dietz

Homemade cannoli with pistachios. The Sicilian capital, Palermo, and its surrounding region arguably offers the most authentic.

Photograph by Bad Man Production

2. Make a pastry pilgrimage in Sicily  

The main event here is cannoli, with the Sicilian capital, Palermo, and its surrounding region arguably offering the most authentic. In Palermo pasticcerie, local sheep ricotta fills the crunchy, golden-fried pastry shells — with candied fruit or chocolate chips often thrown into the mix. Elsewhere, the hillside town of Piana degli Albanesi hosts the Cannolo Festival in April or May, and the sweet treat is centre stage at Easter’s Settimana Santa feasts. Outside of that time, head to legendary pasticceria Extra Bar for its 18cm-long cannolo, sweetened with local honey. Further west, the village of Dattilo is home to an even larger creation: the 22cm cannolo made at Euro Bar Dattilo, bejewelled with candied orange peel.

Getting started: Palermo’s Caffè Sicilia and the pastry shop at Monastero di Santa Caterina are hallowed spots for cannoli.

Don’t miss: Maria Grammatico, an authority on all things sweet and Sicilian, has a bakery, cookery school and cafe in the baroque hilltop town of Erice, high above the city of Trapani. Come for a cannolo, stay for the fig biscuits, almond torrone (nougat) and artisan jams made with bitter-sweet Sicilian citron. Sarah Barrell

3. Chateaux and gateaux in the Loire Valley

Between visits to the turrets and towers of the Loire Valley’s chateaux, the local patisserie specialities will satisfy even the sweetest tooth. Start with the nougat de Tours, a macaron-topped tart filled with dried fruit. Buy a slice at patisserie Maison Bigot, next to Château d’Amboise in Amboise. Nearby Angers is the home of orange liqueur Cointreau, which, at Le Cavier restaurant, at L’Hotel Moulin Cavier, is the star ingredient of chef Franck Houdebine’s signature Cointreau soufflé. The city is also known for the creamy dessert crémets d’Anjou — try it at Restaurant La Ferme. Further along the Loire is Nantes, home to LU, a biscuit maker that made famous the city’s speciality dessert, the rum-infused gâteau nantais. Try it at La Petite Boulangerie.  

Getting started: Château de Valençay, south of Blois, was where France’s first celebrity chef, Marie-Antonin Carême, created pastries that were the forbears to the likes of the éclair, profiterole and mille-feuille. A sound and light show in the chateau’s kitchen tells his story. 

Don’t miss: Quernons d’ardoise — tiny rectangles of caramelised almond and hazelnut nougatine dipped in blue-coloured chocolate. They symbolise the tiles that adorn the roofs of the region’s chateaux. Carolyn Boyd


1. Explore the legendary olive groves of the Peloponnese

There’s a reason why philhellenes love the Peloponnese with a passion. This three-pronged peninsula at the tip of the mainland is the Greece that time forgot: miles of white-sand beaches minus the crowds, mountain villages at the end of dusty roads, immaculately preserved ancient ruins and excellent, locally run hotels and restaurants catering largely for domestic travellers. And then there’s the olives. The Peloponnese is the home of kalamata, Greece’s famed fleshy purple-black, almond-shaped olive. The city that bears its name is a great starting point for foodie tours, not least for its open-air market (Wednesdays and Saturdays), where olives in almost every form, from oil to soap, brined to marinated, are sold alongside sfela (local feta), raw honey, just-picked figs, fresh fish, sesame-jewelled ‘pastelli’ biscuits, and herbs and teas from the Taygetos mountains, which slope away towards the wild Mani region to the south.

Olive trees carpet the Taygetos right down into the Mani, and groves also patchwork the Messenian plain to the north west. Many belong to family farms that offer tours and tastings. Try Ben Olive Mill for its koroneiki, a fruity local variety that’s used to make the lion’s share of Greek olive oil.

A couple of hours south, Eumelia, an agritourism at the heart of an organic regenerative olive farm, offers tastings, the chance to join in with the harvest (November-December), lessons in making olive oil soap and farm-to-table cooking classes.

An hour south, Kinsterna is a boutique hotel set in a restored Byzantine mansion with an infinity pool overlooking the olive groves and the Mani’s purple-hued mountains. Get smothered in local honey and olive oil in the spa, then sit back in the excellent terrace restaurant to sample olives and wine from Kinsterna’s estate (the malvasia is a highlight).

Finally, make for the Peloponnese’s southernmost point, where you’ll find Citta Dei Nicliani, a food-focused boutique hotel set in a hamlet of 18th-century stone houses complete with Ottoman-era towers. During October-December harvest season, the hotel organises visits to local olive groves, for tours, tastings and dinners.

Getting started: Seasonal flights serve Kalamata, otherwise Athens is within reach. Why not break the journey in the gorgeous, waterfront town of Nafplio — all neoclassical villas, tavernas and orange tree-lined cobbled streets, overlooked by a Venetian fortress. Book early, as it’s an Athenian bolthole.

Don’t miss: Head to Kinsterna Hotel in autumn to see the olive and grape harvests and try tsipouro — a fiery Greek version of grappa, made in an ancient, steam-powered pot still. Sarah Barrell

Operating the family-run walnut mill, Moulin Castagne. 

Photograph by Moulin Castagne

2. Go nuts for walnuts in the Dordogne Valley

Walnut groves have flourished on the shores of the Dordogne for over a millennium with the humble nut making its way into many dishes and drinks throughout the region. When following the Route de la Noix, start near Martel at family-run walnut mill Moulin Castagne to visit the groves and see the ancient stone grind walnuts for their oil, then have lunch at the welcoming restaurant. In the town itself, snap up walnut tarts and breads at the Boulangerie Bottero (rue Droite). In Souillac, look for walnut-based treats at the Friday-morning market, then pop into Distillerie Louis Roque (lavieilleprune.com) to admire the museum. The region’s most famous tipple is the plum liqueur La Vieille Prune, but La Vieille Noix walnut liqueur is also one for your cocktail cabinet. Most restaurants make their own walnut wine, too, so order one as an aperitif before an evening meal.

Getting started: Fly into Brive-Dordogne Valley Airport, then head south to Martel.

Don’t miss: Take a detour to Distillerie Denoix in Brive-la-Gaillard to discover its 180-year history and sip its Supreme Denoix walnut liqueur. For other places to visit, see noixduperigord.com. Carolyn Boyd

3. Harvest precious saffron in La Mancha

Saffron — extracted from the flower of the saffron crocus — is one of the world’s most expensive spices. It’s grown in Iran, Italy and India (among others), but Castilla-La Mancha — the central Spanish region known for its Don Quixote landscapes — produces what’s widely regarded as the world’s best. The crimson spice, brought to Spain by the Moors in the ninth century, is a pillar of Spanish cuisine, flavouring stews, soups and, of course, paella. The best time to experience La Mancha saffron is in October, when you can join farmers in a millennium-old tradition of harvesting, plucking, toasting and packaging the spice by hand. The Saffron Museum, housed in a former convent in Madridejos, is well worth a visit, but leave time to try the local queso manchego, a sheep’s cheese that’s best savoured with a drizzle of olive oil and a glass of tempranillo.

Getting started: La Mancha’s saffron farms are spread across Toledo, Cuenca, Ciudad Real and Albacete. The easiest way to visit them during the harvest is to book a guided tour with A Taste of Spain or The Spanish Touch.

Don’t miss: The Fiesta de la Rosa del Azafrán (Saffron Rose Festival), held in Consuegra every October, celebrates La Mancha’s legendary spice with a weekend of folk dancing, food stalls and saffron-plucking competitions. Jessica Vincent

4. Hop on the honey trail in Slovenia

Slovenia is one of the first countries to certify bee tourism providers. Its network of beekeepers and honey farms offers a range of activities and attractions. These include a restorative apitherapy honey massage, cycling the scenic Beekeeping Route and a visit to Radovljica’s Museum of Apiculture, where you can make heart-shaped honey bread in its restaurant. There’s also an ‘apicamp’, where visitors learn about queen-breeding and hive-building. The network is centred on the northern town of Radovljica, its shops stocked with artisanal honey and related goods. Most sojourns are within easy reach of the capital, Ljubljana, with many taking in agritourism addresses where local cheeses, wines and cured meats are produced and served.

Getting started: Tours and tastings are offered by Ljubljana’s many urban beekeepers, most linked by the Bee Path walking route.

Don’t miss: Radovljica’s Museum of Apiculture, home to 600 hand-painted panels from 18th- and 19th-century beehives. Sarah Barrell

Published in Issue 13 (Autumn 2021) of National Geographic Traveller Food

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