THE FESTIVAL: BORDEAUX
Make a break for Bordeaux when the world’s experts do. Europe’s biggest wine biennale arrives in the French wine capital 26 June when, for three days, the quayside will be lined with some 2km of viticulturally minded stalls offering tastings, premium vintages and an uncharacteristic amount of unbuttoned frivolity. This elegant UNESCO listed city has distractions enough, but there’s also the chance to get out into the surrounding wine country, with organised vineyard tours.
More info: bordeaux-wine-festival.com
THE BEACH BREAK: PRIORY BAY HOTEL, ISLE OF WIGHT
A favourite of families with bucket-and-spade-toting tots, little Isle of Wight (main image, above) can get overrun in the summer months. Go now to enjoy perfect peace at Priory Bay Hotel, a country retreat whose 70-acre grounds encompass a private beach, pretty woodland and even five luxury yurts where a hot water bottle is part of the turndown service. The outdoor pool has views along Priory Bay’s coastline, where you might spot the hotel’s team foraging for the sea spinach and shellfish for that evening’s dinner. Chef Oliver Stephens learnt from the best, working with René Redzepi at Noma. Book in advance to reserve one of the elaborate period rooms, or self-cater in style in one of the estate’s refurbished tithe barns.
If you do decide to strike out for the day, you can discover the best of the island’s produce with a Taste Trail, a self-guided tour taking in everything from prime places to pick wild garlic, to the home of award-winning Isle of Wight Blue cheese. Local ingredients are celebrated on the menu at the Oyster restaurant, where dishes sing of the seaside. Try the marinated wild brill, followed by Kemp Hill farm beef with a juniper sauce.
For more information on the Taste Trail and ferry bookings, go to: wightlink.co.uk/wighttastetrail
THE ITALIAN RETREAT: L’ANDANA, TUSCANY
With a vineyard setting and chef Alain Ducasse as restaurant partner, food and drink are at the heart of this stunning spa hotel in the Maremma – a part of Tuscany still relatively undiscovered by tourists. The hotel is surrounded by the estate’s ancient olive groves which produce a wonderful, grassy olive oil with hints of artichoke. Vermentino – the white found in most local bars and trattories – is the main grape grown here, along with viognier, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah. The tasting room is where you can learn about the estate’s history, sample its wines and buy bottles to take home. Owners, the Moretti family also have a franciacorta estate in Lombardy – Italy’s answer to champagne. Don’t miss the fantastic sparkling rose made with the estate’s alicante grapes. More lessons are on offer inside The Villa restaurant’s kitchen. At a one-on-one cookery lesson, we learn to make chitarrina (little guitar) pasta, served with yoghurt, chives and pecorino, and fondente al cioccolato (chocolate fondant), served at the flagship Trattoria Toscana.
Guests are encouraged into The Villa’s kitchen each morning for a lavish buffet breakfast: delicious peaches, creamy balls of mozzarella, salty pecorino and indulgent doughnuts. L’Andana’s knowledgeable staff can recommend places to visit beyond the estate, including the nearby beaches. In the neighbouring cathedral town of Grosseto, the casual, contemporary Grantosco, with its exposed brick walls, rustic food chalked up on a board and wines from small local producers, was a good contrast to the hotel’s glamour.
THE COOKERY SCHOOL: RICK STEIN’S SEAFOOD SCHOOL, PADSTOW
Rick Stein has been credited with putting Padstow on the map (and creating bottle-neck traffic jams during the summer hols). Book into his Seafood School now to beat the queues and choose the best classes from the school’s new 2014 programme which includes everything from cooking with kids to becoming a chocolate expert, or simply keep it to what Stein is famous for.
The Original Fish & Shellfish course, the school’s most popular, has new menus for Rick Stein’s Seafood school this summer, including some exciting Asian flavours, while its new skills workshops take in everything from fish filleting to Far-Eastern steaming. Among the new One Dish evening courses you’ll find Madras Fish Curry. Learn how to cook Rick’s perfect hot and sour southern Indian curry as seen in his travels on the subcontinent for the BBC.
Written June 2014