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While working on other people’s travel during the week, on the weekends I’m preparing for my own travels, as I head to a ship inaugural sailing in a few weeks. As I plan for a few days in Barcelona before embarkation, I share one of go-to tour plans that I always include in my explorations…

Connecting to a destination through food

In a few weeks I’ll head to Barcelona with a travel agent friend for a two-day pre-cruise stay, and the first thing on our agenda is something that has become a favorite for me: go on a walking food tour. Getting to know the culture through food is actually an awesome way to travel and get a more authentic view of a city and its people. It’s also perfect for learning your way around. I encourage food tours as a fantastic way to enhance your trip.

A few years back, I arrived a couple of days early for a tour of Northwest Italy and I did a food tour of Milan. First of all, the food was fabulous, and the food tour allowed me to enjoy areas of Milan that were not just normal touristy areas but instead wander a neighborhood to taste foods from the little, local shops.

Getting to talk to the locals, hear about the history of the different foods, why each food was so unique to the area, and about the impact on the farmers – all of this gave me a better understanding of the food of the Piemonte area. As I went through the rest of my trip, I could appreciate the different ingredients in the dishes that we ate along the route or items I kept seeing over and over on menus – the Parma ham, Milanese-style meatballs, Aperitivo.

A very cool experience that I had while in Northern Ireland was a day-long food tour. One of the stops included learning about the oysters that are harvested in that area. We actually took a tractor out into the riverbed to learn about how they grow oysters. We had a chance to walk in the mud of the riverbed and afterwards took the tractor back to a little shack.

There we tasted the raw oysters, which I normally don’t like. However these were fabulous and we had some champagne to go along with them. That’s the kind of thing that you don’t forget. Yet another reason why food tours can be such a great way to experience your destination.

Of course it’s not just about the food. Sometimes specialty beverages are included and can really add an extra zing to your trip. Once, I was escorting a group on a cruise of the Caribbean islands. When we stopped at Antigua, we went to a unique backyard rum shack where we tasted six different Antiguan rums, plus some Caribbean specialties like conch fritters, jerk chicken and conch ceviche.

It was such an authentic, local place – just a hole in the wall and you could tell that the locals hang out there. I would never have found it on my own. It was such a memorable way to connect with where we were.

When I traveled to Athens for a destination conference, I loved my Greek food tour because it was a great way to walk around and learn a little bit more about the city, get my bearings, and go to more local places versus just the touristy spots. It really allowed me to get connected and engage in conversations about their food’s special ingredients. We discussed how the Greek food is a ‘cuisine of need’ – whatever is available. And how it was a communal activity – they would make greek pies, since they had flour, cheese, and spinach available, and then in rural areas they would all come together to make the pies. Our guide made the point that Greek food has a shorter farm to table chain. Learning how certain foods have developed into specialties gives me a better appreciation of their Greek culture and history.

I loved the food tour so much that I arranged it again when my husband and I celebrated our anniversary in Greece last year – and had the exact same guide from three years earlier. We ate souvlaki on the street and then had loukoumades, which are like Greek doughnuts. In addition to trying so many delicious foods, through these walking tours I feel like I’ve learned my way around Athens.

I highly recommend taking a food tour of a city. It is a great way to connect with the culture and create a more unique memory of your time there.