There’s no disputing the culinary prowess of France and Italy. Both countries have long been held up as examples of the finest food traditions, although for completely different reasons.
French cooking is notoriously complex, with sauces that require constant attention and fussy processes that intimidate many home cooks. Italians, on the other hand, pride their cuisine on its simplicity – it’s about using only a few of the best quality ingredients and making them shine.
In both countries, however, the emphasis is on food not merely as fuel, but as an experience to be savored. You can enjoy both the French and Italian approaches to food preparation and dining when you travel, getting as involved in the former as you’d like, with some of the tours and activities featured below.
Great Food & Wine Tours
In many parts of Italy, a “food tour” could be wandering aimlessly and eating one course at any restaurant or cafe that looks interesting until you’re full. But for a more organized approach – one that not only means you’re sampling the best of what’s local and fresh but also learning about Italy’s regional culinary history along the way – your best bet is to book a spot on a guided tour.
There are walking tours during which you’ll taste the best of what that city has to offer, and day trips that get you out into the countryside where key ingredients come from. And, of course, there are plenty of options for wine lovers to go wine tasting at Italian vineyards – something that can be challenging without a tour.
Whatever sort of tour you choose, you’re sure to create delicious memories. Here are just a few of the great wine and food tours in Italy you can choose from.
- Rome Food Walking Tour
- Milan Food Tours
- Taste of Italy Food Tour to Chianti & Umbria from Rome
- Frascati Wine Tasting Tour from Rome
- Chianti Region Wine Tasting Half-Day Trip from Florence
- Small-Group Tuscany Wine Tasting Tour from Florence
- Veneto Small-Group Wine Tasting Tour
- Valpolicella Day Trip from Venice: Wine Tasting & Verona
Italian Cooking Classes
When simply eating great Italian food isn’t enough to satisfy you, then up the ante – learn to make some of Italy’s most famous dishes from expert cooks so that you can recreate those tasty memories back home.
As mentioned, Italian cooking isn’t typically complicated – but that doesn’t mean Italian cooks aren’t sticklers when it comes to the quality of the ingredients or the precision of the process. There’s a right and a wrong way to do things, they’ll be the first to tell you, so you might as well learn the right way from someone who knows the difference.
Taking a hands-on cooking class gives you a lasting souvenir, not to mention a meal you get to eat after you prepare it. Here are just a few of the Italian cooking classes you can choose from.
- Small-Group Cooking Lesson in Rome
- Cooking Class & Lunch at a Tuscan Farmhouse with Local Market Tour from Florence
- Small-Group Italian Cooking Class in Florence
Unforgettable Dining Experiences
Even the simplest meal in the humblest Italian cafe can be unforgettable if you’ve got great company, but there are some dining experiences that you know will be unique before you even get there. You can take the evening meal in The Eternal City from ordinary to over-the-top with an exclusive Rome rooftop dinner followed by a Colosseum night tour.
During dinner, your view includes the ruins of ancient Rome to get you into the spirit of things. You’ll enjoy a four-course meal at a private table, and after dinner you’ll join your fellow diners on a small-group tour of the Colosseum – including the underground chambers – when the popular monument is blissfully free from crowds.
Great Food & Wine Tours
France has more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other country in the world, and you could certainly have an exquisite meal at any of them – but in a country that puts such a high value on great cuisine, you don’t need to pay through the nose for 5-star food.
Joining a food or wine tour in France gives you insider information from local experts about things like regional specialties, new-to-you ingredients or dishes, and what to look for in order to find the best of the best. This is an excellent way to dig a little deeper into what you’re eating and drinking in France without feeling like you’re going to culinary school – and what a delicious way to learn.
There are walking tours and day trips available, so you’ll find just the one to suit you. Here are a few of the great French food and wine tours you can choose from.
- Paris Chocolate & Pastry Food Tour
- French Wine & Champagne Tastings
- Wine Tasting & Winery Tours from Bordeaux
- Wine Tasting & Winery Tours in Provence
- Champagne Tours
French Cooking Classes
French cuisine may have a well-deserved reputation for being difficult to master, but in a post-Julia Child world we all know that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Perhaps the best way to get over any fear you might have over screwing up in the kitchen is by taking a cooking class in France, led by an expert in French cooking.
There are opportunities to prepare a multi-course meal, getting tips on all aspects of French cooking, or to focus on one particular specialty – such as French pastry, baguettes, or even macarons. These sorts of French cooking classes will demystify the process, giving you confidence in your own kitchen back home while simultaneously making you a smarter diner when you eat out in France for the rest of your trip.
Unforgettable Dining Experiences
In some parts of Paris, it’s not hard to imagine what life in the City of Lights must have been like in decades past, so little seems to have changed. To liven up your Parisian time travel experience, however, you’ll need to book a table at the world-famous Moulin Rouge show for VIP seating and dinner.
Take your place at a table in the VIP balcony for a two-hour cabaret show that will transport you to the roaring twenties. Your tickets entitle you to walk right past the long line at the door and a pre-show glass of champagne, and then you’ll dine on a three-course meal of French specialties while you watch the glittering revue. There are few better ways to spend a dazzling night in Paris.
–Contributed by Jessica Spiegel