Over 1,000 islands sprinkled across the aquamarine waters of the Indian Ocean, the Maldives may be spectacular but they’re not known as a gourmet hot spot. Many of the archipelago’s hideaway resorts rely on imported foods and serve those ingredients in dishes that have little relationship with the islands. Recently, however, there’s been a shift towards more local and sustainable cooking. And Gili Lankanfushi, which pioneered sustainable luxury holidays when it opened 15 years ago, is leading the charge.
Food isn’t just an afterthought at this island resort, but a real focus. Like many Maldivian retreats, most ingredients have to be imported but, thanks to his upbringing in the Canadian countryside, head chef David Bakker is passionate about local sourcing. Local fish is a highlight of Gili Lankanfushi’s menus and guests are welcome to tour the resort’s organic market garden and witness the impressive range of vegetables, salad leaves and herbs that Bakker and his team have managed to propagate in the island’s recalcitrant sandy ground.
All of the resort’s 48 bungalows perch on stilts over a gin-clear lagoon. They may be chic but there’s a real Robinson Crusoe feel to them, with lots of wood, breezy lounging spaces, billowing fabrics and open-air showers. You can lounge on your private deck and watch fish dart through the electric-blue water beneath, or plunge into the Indian ocean to go swimming, diving or snorkelling around the reefs.
Hotel buffets will never seem the same after you’ve sampled the highlight of the island’s culinary week, the Asian Street Market. Held on the beach every Thursday night, this is a string of authentic food stalls replete with billowing smoke, flaming hobs and a procession of Malaysian skewers, Japanese pancakes, Sri Lankan string hoppers, Vietnamese pho and Peking duck.
The Nikkei By the Sea restaurant is another must-visit. Nearly all the fish served is supplied direct from the neighbouring island including high grade, line-caught, ruby red tuna. There’s also an underground wine cellar and chocolate and cheese cave. Plus a variety of secluded dining locations, from the Jungle Cinema to candle-lit barbecues on a tiny neighbouring island.
Familiarise yourself with Maldivian home cooking during a lesson with one of the resort’s chefs. I learnt from Aafag that the Maldivians like their food hot, as we made a fiery chicken curry heady with a mixture of ginger, lime, chilli and curry leaves.
Double rooms at Gili Lankanfushi start at £867 per night, room only (gili-lankanfushi.com). Return flights from London and Manchester to Male cost from £410 (emirates.com). More info visitmaldives.com
Lisbon, the charmingly tile-bejewelled Portuguese capital is fast-becoming one of Europe’s most Instagrammed culinary escapes, as travellers cotton on to its gutsy, internationally-influenced cuisine and exciting restaurant scene.
The country’s seafaring past is reflected in delis selling salt cod and spiced sausages, and on menus citywide, from the ubiquitous roadside kiosks serving chilled beer and piri piri-laced bites, to Tasca bars serving petiscos (equivalent to Spanish tapas) and slick restaurants like Loco in the Bairrio Alto, where ambitious chefs put an innovative spin on local flavours (loco.pt).
Set on the historic Praca do Municipio, where plans for Portugal’s formidable 15th-century maritime exploration were hatched, the 28-bedroom AlmaLusa hotel opened earlier this year. Housed in a building that once stored the city’s arsenal it’s stylish but approachable. It’s also pulsing with a sense of connection to the city, a showcase for the region’s finest producers, from the beds and towels to the coffee.
The hotel’s Delfina restaurant capitalises on the bountiful local larder to create dishes such as bacalhau a bras – a mixture of scrambled egg, salt cod strips, onion and moreish crisp fries. The outdoor terrace is an ideal spot to take in the city’s spectacular vistas and local wines (which are brilliantly affordable – wine isn’t taxed as it’s considered part of the lifestyle).
The hotel is a cork’s pop from the Tagus river, an ideal spot for morning runs or evening strolls. This comes in handy if you’ve been overdoing the pastéis de nata, which you will once you discover Manteigaria, where more than 4,000 of the custard-filled pastries are made each day (facebook.com/manteigariacamoes). Watch as chefs roll slabs of butter between pastry and inhale the cinnamon-spiked smell.
Or, head to By The Wine, a wine bar owned by local wine producer Jose Maria da Fonseca (facebook.com/ByTheWineJoseMariadaFonseca). Order some Domingos Soares Franco sparkling Moscatel Roxo rosé, a fantastic unpasteurised mountain cheese called Azeitao, and the best beef prego in town (a steak sandwich).
Open your mind to coriander. The Portuguese brought the herb back from Asia, introduced it to Europe and use it liberally in their cooking. Try its gorgeous citric freshness in clam and seafood dishes from the food stalls of the city’s Campo de Ourique market.
For bygone Caribbean charm – donkeys and goats roaming lazily in the heat, colourful houses against luscious greenery and locals sipping rum on shady porches – Nevis hits the spot. Here, in the shadow of Nevis Peak, Montpelier Plantation was once a sugar estate but, having been lovingly renovated by the Hoffman family, is now a luxury hotel. Its sophisticated take on Caribbean cooking has won it membership of the exclusive Relais & Chateaux hospitality association.
Rather like an English manor house in steamier climes (Horatio Nelson and Fanny Nisbet were married here), the Great House is home to the communal facilities, including the main restaurant, while the 19 bedrooms are largely in garden cottages. Uncluttered and simple, with whitewashed walls, high ceilings, hardwood floors and huge beds, one of their best features is the rainfall showers in the bathrooms which allow you to imagine you’re caught in a tropical storm. There are no TVs, but watching monkeys play in the trees from your terrace is infinitely more entertaining.
Flanked by the tumultuous Atlantic and the Caribbean, Nevis is in prime position to benefit from all manner of fish and seafood, and its fertile soils mean that there’s a rich larder of fresh fruit and vegetables – if you beat the monkeys to it (they’re particularly fond of the nuts from the roadside cashew trees). For the most part, food is simple; grilled fish served with chilli-spiked salsa, fiery jerk chicken, conch fritters and an abundance of sweet, meaty lobster.
Restaurant 750 is one of the best on the island thanks to chef Christian Bassi, who brings subtle twists to native produce in dishes such as yellowfin tuna tatare with wasabi mayo and steamed red snapper with veg spaghetti, ginger rice and coconut broth. The hotel also has a poolside restaurant (try the lobster roll), and organises a barbecue every Monday on its private beach, 20 minutes’ drive away.
Cooking classes at Montpelier use produce from the grounds in dishes such as pan-fried mahi mahi and chilli-spiked mango and papaya salad with coconut lime rice. Private rum tastings are also a popular add-on.
Further afield, the island’s beach shacks include Sunshine’s; don’t leave without trying one of its Killer Bee rum punch cocktails (sunshinesnevis.com). Or hop across the water to neighbouring St Kitts to visit Belle Mont Farm, an organic farm, hotel and ‘edible’ golf course (bellemontfarm.com). Whether you dine at its Kitchen restaurant, on the black sand beach at Arthur’s, or at the 30ft communal table on the farm itself, food is seasonal and 90% sourced from the farm.
Return flights from Gatwick to St Kitts start from £624 (ba.com). Regular ferries run from St Kitts to Nevis, or the hotel can arrange private water taxis. Double rooms at Montpelier Plantation start from £215, b&b (montpeliernevis.com). More info nevisisland.com
North of the yacht-and-spa circuit of Cabo San Lucas, Todos Santos flourishes like an oasis in the scrubby Baja desert. That’s because this little town is an oasis, its ancient underground aquifer nourishing the surrounding farmland and the Washingtonian palms that sprout over the horizon like a spiky green hairdo.
In its centre, farmers sell strawberries door-to-door, and galleries and cafés occupy colonial brick buildings erected by bygone sugar barons. For over a century, sugar cane thrived in Todos Santos, but when the aquifer mysteriously went dry in the 1950s, the sugar bubble burst, the barons left and expats, artists and surfers moved in. Water returned in 1981 and with it, agriculture. Mangoes, papayas, tomatoes, basil, avocados all grow here, but green-black Poblano peppers, a cornerstone of Mexican cooking, have emerged as sugar cane’s heir apparent.
Partly drawn by the culinary scene, tourists are starting to discover it. Underway is the Tres Santos development, which includes holiday homes and a boutique hotel as well as a 1.5-acre town farm; managed by local farmer Elizabeth Ibarra, its crops will supply a weekly community market and a restaurant from Tijuana superstar chef Javier Plascencia.
Rooms at the Todos Santos Inn, a period building with wrought-iron gates, palm-beam ceilings and 1930s murals, are sparsely furnished, with terracotta floors, wooden armoires and writing desks. Some open onto the hotel’s shady courtyard; others are camouflaged behind profusions of bougainvillea, hibiscus, heliconia, palm trees and desert roses in the garden.
The pleasures here are age-old and dignified: nightcaps by a gurgling fountain, chess in the library, cocktails in the hotel’s La Copa bar (rum sours infused with vanilla and cinnamon, a sparkling punch sweetened with piloncillo, and the best margaritas in Baja).
Almost every restaurant in Todos Santos does a take on stuffed and fried chillies rellenos but the most famous is Miguel’s (Carretera Federal 19). Todos Santeños also take their seafood seriously. At nearby Punta Lobos, fishermen haul in Pacific fish and sell them straight to local restaurants like open-air Boyitacos, where the salsas served with the fish tacos are so electric they could power the town (Calle Juarez 4, 00 52 612 145 0568). At romantic La Casita tapas and wine bar, tuna loins are sliced into delicate sashimi (lacasitatapaswinebar.com).
For dessert, nightly paletas at Neveria Rocco are obligatory; peer into the cooler and pick from popsicles stacked like neon blocks: watermelon, pineapple, coconut and dozens more (Calle Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla 8).
On the main drag, Casa Catalina y Galeria’s owner shares tips for cooking beans in the ollas de barro (clay pots) she sells on behalf of a co-op of potters in the Sierra de la Laguna mountains (facebook.com/CasaCatalinaYGaleria). Pick up a shaker of Tajín, Mexico’s most popular chilli, and adopt the Mexican tradition of sprinkling fruit with chilli, salt and lime. Or just spend your days surfing, mountain biking and fishing.
Turkey may not be an obvious holiday destination at the moment but, beyond the headlines, it’s worth considering. Prices are low, you can enjoy historic sites and attractions – without the crowds – in a way that hasn’t been possible for decades and it remains one of the most rewarding destinations for food-minded travellers. It’s also very much open for business.
For a family-friendly trip, Cirali is the place to head for. A small seaside village about 90 minutes’ drive from Antalya airport, it’s backed by tall, pine-covered mountains and is fringed by pomegranate and orange groves and a 2km-long arc of beach, interrupted only by a string of rustic little restaurants.
The wooden cabins at Hotel Azur are comfortable rather than chic, with modern bathrooms, great beds and rose-shrouded patios. They’re set within large grounds, almost every inch of which is given over to painstakingly tended gardens. Not quite though: there’s also a swimming pool and restaurant (don’t miss the breakfasts, a banquet of freshly squeezed pomegranate juice, figs, melon, local cheeses, honey, homemade breads and omelettes).
Simple grilled fish, salads laced with sumac, meatballs peppered with cumin, buttery rice, homemade chips and charcoal-grilled lamb skewers are the order of the day, and available at any of Cirali’s village or beachside restaurants. If you have toddlers in tow, they’ll love the Turkish pizzas and oven-baked-to-order flatbreads, sprinkled with black cumin seeds and served with tomato and yogurt dips.
For a sweet fix, head to Hayriye’s, an atmospheric café just back from the beach, where multi-coloured ribbons dangle from shady trees and there are lovely cushioned platforms to lounge on (lavantacottage.com). The owner serves homemade lemonade, delicious cinnamon and sage teas and perfect pancakes with honey or strawberry jam (the jam is made with fruit from her family’s market garden). Or try the manti, a kind of Turkish ravioli stuffed with ground lamb and topped with yogurt, garlic and paprika.
Other highlights include Ipek’s Patisserie, where you can listen to jazz and graze your way through mulberry and mastic ice creams, Turkish coffees or the owner’s baklava and Turkish delight (these come in a range of flavours, from banana and cashew to strawberry and pistachio).
Take a boat trip to quiet coves looking for loggerhead turtles, hire bikes and set off to explore ancient ruins or stroll to Herbisi to buy beautifully packaged herbs, spices and teas (facebook.com/herbisi.com.tr).
Return flights from a range of UK airports to Antalya cost from around £150 (thomascookairlines.com). Family rooms at Hotel Azur cost £80 per night, b&b (i-escape.com/azur-hotel). More info gototurkey.co.uk
Disclaimer: At the time of going to press it was safe to travel to Turkey but you should remain vigilant in crowded places and check fco.gov.uk for the latest information before you go.