One summer not long ago, we were thrilled when the head guide from our walking tour of Turkey arrived for a visit to Southern California. Cemil (pronounced JEM-ul) is the kind of guy who loves to reconnect with old friends, so we knew we were in for a treat when his rather hefty carry-on bag revealed bottles of raki, Turkey’s national drink. Flavored with anise-like the infamous ouzo in Greece, raki has a reputation for adding a certain wallop to festive proceedings.
That got us to thinking about other iconic libations we’ve run across during our travels. As self-confessed foodies, we look at international cuisine much the same way. How many times have you recalled an outstanding meal or an exceptional beverage that came to symbolize how you felt about an entire destination?
Here at Classic Journeys, it’s a pretty common phenomenon. Not only because our walking tours are conducive to raising a glass at the end of an active day…but also because food and drink play such a sensory role in our cultural explorations. They don’t even need to pack a punch like raki. Their true power is the ability to create a vivid memory, one that even years later can take you back instantly to a favorite vacation moment.
Wherever you’ve been or still hope to go, proposing a toast to your good fortune is a ritual worth preserving. Here’s just a sample of the popular pairings our guests enjoy as they meander all over the map:
* Tuscany & the Cinque Terre – For most of us, hearing the word “Tuscany” conjures up two distinct images: endless vineyards and ancient hilltowns. Our itinerary obliges with plenty of both as we ramble the footpaths of Chianti, savoring private tastings in intimate cellars and soaking up the medieval towers silhouetted against the sky.
* Southern Tuscany to Rome – After sampling the Super Tuscans indigenous to this region, you could be forgiven for thinking they were produced by superheroes. Actually, it’s the vintners of Bolgheri who are responsible for the famed Sassicaia, a signature blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.
* Amalfi Coast & Capri – You’ve seen photos of the famous cliff-hugging villages, but the region’s real pride and joy is the humble lemon. Hence the wildly popular liqueur called limoncello, locally produced and happily sipped by our guests on a private tour of the factory.
* Bordeaux & the Dordogne Valley – The medieval village of St. Emilion in southwestern France may be a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but for oenophiles, it’s home to flinty red vintages coaxed from the limestone hills. They’re the perfect accompaniment to a week of historical time-traveling (like the wines of the Cotes de Nuits on our walking tour of Loire & Burgundy).
* Normandy & Brittany – Another region, another specialty…this time the potent apple brandy called calvados that springs from the orchards of Normandy. Distilled from dry apple cider (using up to a hundred different varieties of apples), it’s enjoyed as an aperitif, a keynote ingredient in cocktails, and even in cooking sauces. Like the pastis of Provence, yet another anise-flavored liqueur, calvados is a staple of local culture.
* Ireland – Take it from the toucan on the famous 1930’s-era poster: “It’s A Lovely Day For A Guinness.” For our guests, the legendary stout and national drink of Ireland is a fine way to cap off a day of walking the emerald green hills and coastal paths. (Meanwhile, several hundred miles to the north, guests on our Scotland walking tour have a lovely day of their own, sipping single malt at Glenturret Distillery while drinking in the highland scenery.)
* Morocco – “Exotic” doesn’t even begin to describe the ubiquitous green tea with mint. In the traditional ceremony, the host deftly pours the tea from a great height into tiny glasses, topped off with hard sugar cones or sugar lumps. It’s especially enchanting in the firelight of our Berber tent encampment in the middle of the Saharan desert.
* Costa Rica & Panama – The tasting room at a working plantation high in the hills of Central America is where coffee is meant to be savored. We learn about the process on a private tour of the coffee fields and roastery, which somehow makes the flavors taste even richer. You’ll never look at Starbucks the same way again.
* Argentina and Peru – In Patagonia’s Mendoza region, we follow the “Route of the Wines,” touring the vineyards and tasting fine Cabernets and Malbecs with an expert agronomist. In Peru, it’s all about the pisco sours, the national cocktail consisting primarily of grape brandy, lemon juice and sugar…the perfect pick-me-up “sundowner” following a day among the ruins of Machu Picchu.
If you’ve had a special moment (or two) when someone catered to your thirst for adventure with the right beverage at the right time in precisely the right place, we’d love to hear about it. Drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until then, cheers, santé, ¡Salud!, sláinte, and salute!
PS One final note: Our nominee for Most Acquired Taste goes to yak butter tea, served to us by villagers in a remote Tibetan valley ringed by mountains on our walking tour of China. Guaranteed to put the old maxim about “When in Rome…” to the test.