Ever thought about combining your love of food with your love of nature? Dine on local dishes on a private lodge terrace under the stars, have a picnic with a giraffe in a game reserve, or sip on wines from some of the world’s best collections around an open fire. These gourmet safaris for foodies are truly unforgettable experiences, from Botswana to Cape Town, Sweden to the USA.
Built on a palm island overlooking Botswana’s Zibadianja lagoon, Zarafa Camp is an intimate Relais and Chateaux safari camp that’s home to just four marquee-style tented villas. A large open lounge and dining room contain Botswanan art and artefacts and squishy leather sofas make you feel at home amongst the marshland.
Breakfasts are prepared by the kitchen staff to take into the bush with you so you can make the most of the surrounding wildlife – homemade muesli and granolas, freshly baked breads and berry coulis, and baked egg muffins. Lunch is served back at the camp, where chef Pierre van Zyl serves colourful salads and light dishes on a deck overlooking a lagoon and (if you’re lucky) passing herds of elephants. Otherwise, Pierre can whip up packed lunches to take out on lagoon boat trips, followed by homemade iced tea and ginger ale back at camp.
Sip champagne in your suite’s copper bath, looking out onto the surrounding greenery, then head to the lounge for pre-dinner drinks around the lagoon-bordering open fire and a candle lit dinner on the deck under the stars – try the seven-course tasting menu (Botswana beef is a highlight) paired with wines, craft beers and single malts.
Explore Sweden’s fragmented western coast (specifically the area north of Gothenburg and south of Norway) with a seafood search. The water surrounding the coastal villages and archipelagos of Bohuslän is home to some of Sweden’s tastiest shellfish; oysters, lobster, langoustines, prawns and mussels. Imagine postcard-pretty snapshots of red wooden houses teetering on the edge of glacier-clear water, bracing seaside walks and bountiful seafood platters and you get the picture.
With over 400 centuries of seafaring culture, the island of Smögen is a good place to base yourself. When it opened over a century ago, the Hotel Smögens Hafvsbad (smogenshafvsbad.se) was the place to stay on the island and today guests can still join one of the local fisherman on a crayfish safari.
Visit the island’s bustling daily fish auction, then cast off to the open seas in search of your bounty. Once you have landed your crayfish, it’s cooked on board. Afterwards your guide will maroon you on a tiny island to enjoy an al fresco picnic lunch, Scandinavian-style.
Set along the banks of the Banjaar River, overlooking one of the most renowned tiger-viewing spots in the world, Banjaar Tola in India’s Kanha National Park is a tranquil collection of 18 tented guest suites on raised wooden platforms. The fluid design (glass and canvas walls, bamboo floors, hand-printed textiles and intricate stone carvings) connects private suites and communal guest areas with the surrounding environment.
Food is a real draw, however. Before an early morning safari, tea, coffee and homemade biscuits are brought to your room to keep you going until you return for a traditional Indian breakfast (kathi rolls filled with cottage cheese, mint and onions; flat saffron rice with fresh vegetables; deep fried puffed bread stuffed with onion and potato and homemade lassis).
Regional dishes are served on a dining deck beside dramatic river views, and lantern-lit dinners in the forest provide magical evenings that blend traditional food, dancing and singing – think fresh green salads from the lodge garden with clay-roast chicken, or traditional Thali dishes of roast onions and bell peppers, chicken cooked with spinach, cloves and black cardamom or meat sautéed in cinnamon water with ground spices. Caramelised banana and butterscotch sauce sweetens lentil pancake desserts.
Informal cooking lessons are also encouraged with the camp’s chef showing guests how to pick, roast, grind and blend spices, and how to properly prepare vegetarian dishes with lentils and paneer.
Irish-born chef Liam Tomlin’s Chefs Warehouse & Canteen is one of Cape Town’s hottest tables. But he has now translated his tapas concept to the bush with a new partnership at Singita’s Lebombo Lodge.
Set on a 33,000-acre concession in South Africa’s Kruger National Park the lodge re-launched last year after a makeover of its clubhouse and 13 suites (there’s also a villa that comes with its own a star-gazing deck and 25m pool).
Tomlin’s new dining concept takes the shape of a vibrant, open-plan kitchen and dine-when-you-like approach though sundowners in the wilderness after a game drive and al-fresco dinners under the stars are still a focus. His small but perfectly executed plates include ostrich tartare with ponzu and garlic and beetroot tart with goat’s cheese, labneh and orange; much of the produce used in the kitchen is also grown locally.
Guests can also visit Singita Lebombo’s School of Cooking as part of a community tour. Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, this was set up to give the local community catering and other skills and students now also benefit from Tomlin’s expertise.
NAMIBIA: Onguma Fort
A rustic-chic Namibian camp in the Onguma Reserve, on the eastern edge of Etosha national park, Onguma Fort combines African design with antique finds and earthy stone walls.
The main lodge and eleven mini suites come with staggering views across the plain towards Fischer’s Pan; enjoy a drink on the terrace while the sun sets over Camel Thorn trees and wildlife at the neighbouring watering hole, then eat dinner beneath the stars.
Cooking here is as influenced by the destination as strongly as the architecture and while menus change daily to tie in with available produce the chefs often cook with farmed local game (think springbok steaks with South African red wine sauce). Breakfast is more European in style, with fresh fruit juices, cold meats, smoked fish, fresh fruits, cereals and salads, along with homemade breads and pastries.
It’s not only the swoon-worthy scenery and centuries of art and architecture that explain the allure of Tuscany but also its fabled culinary heritage. If you want to indulge that last attraction in more depth, sign up for a walking safari with Gusto Evoluto.
Set up by Tuscan chef, Paolo Coluccio (who manned the stoves at several London restaurants, and at the luxurious Hotel Monteverdi near Sarteano, before returning to his home turf), the idea is to introduce visitors to the authentic Tuscan table via scenic rambles through the Unesco World Heritage-listed landscape of Southern Tuscany’s Val d’Orcia.
Wander through swaying meadows and fields of wild flowers and herbs, stopping off for brunch at a farm, visits to olive oil and cheese producers and, perhaps, a cookery class to perfect your pasta-making technique.
Perched on the edge of Tanzania’s Kuka Hills, &Beyond Kleins Camp combines classic safari style with African farmstead chic and Masai elegance. Ten thatched stone cottages and a communal bar area open out onto a game-filled valley and rolling grasslands. Sit around a large open fire in the evening and enjoy a 180-degree view of Serengeti and Masai Mara national parks along with pre-dinner drinks and homemade snacks such as puff pastry twists and vegetable crisps, the latter made with veg from Klein’s Camp’s own vegetable garden.
Meals focus on wholesome comfort food – think slow-braised curries and fresh-from-the-garden vegetables. After a morning of game viewing, a huge breakfast buffet awaits with rustic röstis, homemade breads and coconut French toast topped with fresh fruit and syrup. High tea is a big deal on safari, and the chef’s chocolate, rosemary and pumpkin cake and Swahili coconut doughnuts filled with homemade ricotta, citrus and passion fruit are unmissable.
Healdsburg, in California, is quickly becoming one of America’s most talked-about gourmet getaways. The latest arrival to this food-minded city is restaurant-with-rooms SingleThread (singlethread.com). Serving hyper-local, Japanese-inspired Californian cuisine this promises to do for Healdsburg what The French Laundry did for Yountville.
Sandwiched between Napa Valley to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west, Sonoma County (in which Healdsburg sits) has a burgeoning food scene of wineries, artisanal producers, cafes and restaurants that lends itself perfectly to a DIY food safari; farm-to-fork is a way of life here.
Visit Healdsburg’s farmers’ market to get a flavour of what’s on offer then join a cookery class at Relish Culinary Academy. Further north you can get a flavour of Native American cuisine with fry bread tacos with shredded bison at the new Werowocomoco Café at Francis Ford Coppola’s Virginia Dare Winery in Geyserville.
Spend a night under canvas with s’mores by the campfire at Autocamp, a clutch of stylishly done Airstream caravans and luxury tents on the banks of the Russian River. The next morning visit The Barlow, an innovative culinary and arts centre housed in a former apple-pressing warehouse in Sebastapol, for bacon treats, sloe gin tasting and, at SubZero, customised flash-frozen ice cream and desserts.
Written by Aoife O’Riordain and Alex Crossley, February 2017