Redefining Luxury: How to Choose Luxury Travel Tours for Foodies

7 Golden Rules to Guide Your Choice

When I say luxury travel tours, tell me – what do you see…

The Bell family - Martyn, Lizzie, Alex, and Edward - the original Epicure Travel Group

Luxury Travel Tours, Exhibit A.
“Cheers” on Evening 6 of the ETG New York Untouched tour after a full day beyond Manhattan, wandering organic vineyards, private tastings and a culinary masterclass. Isn’t champagne the only way to celebrate an extraordinary trip to New York? We have your strawberry waiting…

Majestic river cruises, dusty wine labels, pinned table cloths and servers in black bow ties… or something similar, right?

But we believe the kind of luxury you deserve runs much, much deeper than that.

Especially if you like to discover a destination as much through its food as its people and culture. (Look at you, already getting comfy in your epicure skin!)

“The goal of culinary tourism,” explains USA Today, “is to educate and inspire food and wine enthusiasts while giving the traveler a chance to explore the local area and learn about local food trends, cooking techniques and food history. Travelers can do so by participating in a cultural immersion experience at select destinations around the globe.”

That’s dry, newspaper speak for “don’t skimp on your luxury travel tours”, but you get the idea. If you want to really sink your teeth into a destination then you need people who can get you ‘in’ with the locals.

Of course, if you don’t choose the right tour, then all you really have is a trumped-up dinner out with a hotel stay, rather than a true experience. I’m not the gambling type, but I’d bet that none of us needs to repeat that!

And once you’ve read this page, you’ll be far ahead of the Prada-toting pack.

So, here are the golden rules to make sure your luxury travel tours are truly memorable – and delicious.

#1: Get connected (but not how you think…)

Luxury used to be about 5-star restaurants and hotels.

But here’s the thing: if you’re a foodie, you’re already eating “well”. If you’re a traveller, ratings don’t matter anymore. No one needs to school you about local, sustainable, organic or ethical. You already know how to find a good meal.

So what’s the luxury you’re missing?

Connection.

Food is personal. It’s made with rough and delicate hands… connected to real people. You’re literally eating someone’s hand-crafted art, with a generous amount of care and skill and attention in it, over and above the flavours. Luxury is now being able to connect with people and things that matter, like this.

Here’s the kicker – this connection also makes you a better person. Not just because you’ve just enjoyed a fantastic meal, but because you’ve been enriched by a true artisan craft. You can’t ‘unexpose’ yourself to that.

So when you’re looking for outstanding luxury travel tours, seek out one that offers behind-the-scenes looks, that takes you to meet farmers and winemakers, that introduces the chef at the table. You might remember a fantastic meal, but you’ll scotch-tape the polaroid of you and the chef comparing notes on your bedroom wall, paint job be damned.

That’s how you get an experience that you carry with you even after you’re home, not just a fond memory.

“I believe certain people cross your life as guardian angels and some connections can’t be explained with words alone. It’s a soul thing, a feel.”

– Anonymous

#2: Do this before you book

So you’re ready to book, sitting there with your credit card in hand, excited for how generous you’re about to be with yourself.

Pause and do a quick check:

You are about to book an experience that you couldn’t get at home, aren’t you?

The American Culinary Traveler Study by Mandala Research reckons, “Over 39 million leisure travelers are ‘deliberate’ culinary travelers with an additional 35 million who are ‘opportunistic.’” Now those might seem like big numbers, but if you’re among them, you sit immediately in the top 2.5% of all travellers worldwide (top 1% if you’re the ‘deliberate’ epicure traveller).

And when you’re booking luxury travel tours, no one wants just a ‘tick the box’ experience, even if it is on the cover of Vogue Living.

Or ok, tick a couple of boxes but also get the personal, intimate treatment you expect from luxury, because it’s rare – and rarity is what makes luxury, well, luxurious.

Insider travel tip: ‘luxe’ experiences like Vogue Living covers are worthwhile in only 2 situations:

  1. If you’re with a big group of your best friends who’ll always remind you about ‘that time when…’ which is notoriously difficult to organise (schedules, kids, husbands…).
  2. If you’re Sarah Jessica Parker.

Otherwise a single sultry waiter, a moment of frustration or sheer loneliness could poison your special moment. You can have that kind of garden variety luxury in any old city.

Most epicure travellers intentionally seek out the extraordinary. The problem is that plenty of luxury travel tours nowadays are just ordinary tourism dressed up in gold leaf detailing.

And chances are good you want to avoid those traps. Especially because tours that would inspire Sinatra are within your reach. You can sidestep all the thin stuffiness with one quick check before you book: if it feels or looks like it “could be anywhere” (even if it’s 6-star), skip it.

#3: Cold shoulder the travel agent… here’s why (and who to talk to instead)

High-class, glittering ‘luxury’ experiences are a dime a dozen these days.

In fact, they’re probably easier to DIY than ‘shoestring travel’; all you’ve got to do is ‘sort by price: $$$$ to $'” or ask your agent.

And what do agents recommend (even the great ones), from their arsenal of tourist brochures?

Yes, tourist brochure experiences. It’s not their fault. They’re honest folk who mean well. And sometimes they even give you a gem. But somehow the photoshopped fantasy mostly leaves you hanging. Or it’s not really as unique and personal as you’d imagined. (Could have something to do with the multitudes of tourists on the same tour…)

So, what’s a luxury foodie traveller, like you, to do?

You don’t have to look far to find vaulted ceilings, huge chandeliers or squid ink pasta, but without the people and roots that anchor all that to a place, you lose the immersive experience you’re most likely looking for.

So instead of setting your sights on pure luxury, look for warmth.

  • Can you chat to someone who’s been there?
  • Do you have their personal mobile phone number?
  • Can they hook you up with local locals? (not just the ‘touristy’ locals)
  • Will their luxury travel tours be open to anyone with money or more hand-picked?
  • Are they people you’d like to hang out with around your kitchen table?
  • Are they generous with their connections, time, knowledge?
  • Do you feel like a friend or a booking reference number?

‘Sir’, ‘ma’am’ and glitz only goes so far these days, so set your sights on something greater. Because when the rubber screeches on the tarmac, your luxury travel tours insider intel is WHO you know, not what you booked.

#4: Follow The King’s advice before, not during your tour

You know that song by Elvis? “A little less conversation a little more action, please”.

Got it? I know, it’s going to be stuck in your head for days now… me too.

The King gives excellent advice you want to follow before your tour, and flip on it’s head during your tour.

You can have more of an experience if you do a little less.

Before you say it, I can hear you thinking, it’s normally the other way round.

Normally, you’d be right. Especially in a world like today where it’s all about ‘more with less’ and dollar cost averaging and other sleep-when-you’re-dead mores. But not when you travel. You’re allowed to slow down to see the world. You deserve to enjoy it. That’s what we want for you. In fact, I’d say if you try to do too much, you’re actually missing out on the most important parts.

So here it is – how to really get more “bang for your buck” (see? That cliche even sounds silly):

Do less with more.

It may seem counter intuitive but…

  • Invest a little more, for a lot less fluff
  • Choose a smaller menu, for much more flavour
  • Hand pick less experiences, for more peace of mind
  • Eat less dinner… to save more room for dessert!

By packing in absolutely every tourist attraction, market, meal and bottle of wine you can, you lose some of the value in each. Instead of trying to jam it all in, do less with your time … it always works out to be more. Invest your time in getting to know the people behind the scenes and in really diving into that sense of place.

Trust us, we’ve been those people who came back exhausted from a holiday (ask us about the Great French Expedition of 2004. It was 8 days. We almost didn’t make it.)

Come back energised instead. You’ll thank yourself (and maybe us) for it.

Try to do too much, and you end up with little to show, except bags under your eyes (and they’re not Chanel). “Less is more,” as Coco once said.

#5: Pay the big price tag for only these three things

This advice may not be as original as the others but it’s worth repeating.

You’ve been told before you should look for quality over quantity, and that means sometimes spending a little more than you need to. Because sure you don’t want to be throwing money around willy-nilly, but you do want to treat yourself.

So what’s worth ‘adding a zero’ for?

  1. Highly personal touches. You can’t hear this enough: who you experience your trip with, makes the experience. Tour hosts, servers, special guests, fellow travellers – you’ve finally found your people… that’s what matters.
  2. Hand-picked itineraries. You rank an experience in your top 10 if it’s designed to be special beyond any partnerships or commissions that the agent earns. (Unless you haven’t experienced that yet!). That’s why you almost never see smaller, 5th generation places on ‘big’ itineraries. If you do, book a place asap.
    Or if you like doing the bespoke thing on your own, there are plenty of people who do that too. We don’t because we prefer to bring people together and introduce you to other travellers you’ll love on sight. Like giving our guests an international travel family. And bespoke is generally much more expensive. But if you have to travel just the two of you, that’s one of your options.
  3. Hidden destinations and ‘closed door’ opportunities. You make actual trips of a lifetime like this. The magic is tucked away in villages Instagram’s never heard of and the dirt in your elbow crease after picking your own Italian black truffle. It’s in a place you’ve maybe visited before or perhaps even heard of through unexpected discoveries and new perspectives.

When you’re already travelling to soak in the culture, it’s worth ensuring these special moments stay, well, special.

The only caveat?

Make sure you spend wisely; pure expense doesn’t mean a meal is automatically a good bet, so keep these Golden Rules in mind.

#6: Unlock doors and unique experiences with one word

Martyn and Lizzie trying out pardron peppers in Union Square Greenmarkets

Rule #6 in action: Mum and Dad (Martyn and Lizzie) educate their tastebuds by trying spicy-or-sweet Padron Peppers in the Union Square Greenmarkets on Saturday.

You gotta take risks.

So eating a sea urchin isn’t your first choice of a good time… (Just quietly, we’ll try anything once but urchins are pushing the envelope. Still, you have to live your life right?)

But staying inside the safe confines of your comfort zone is no way to ensure memorable experiences.

Your brain remembers the novel, so if you want to make awesome memories, you’ve got to broaden those horizons. That means say yes more often.

So Golden Rule #6: make “yes” a mantra of your trip. Apply liberally.

#7: Follow your gut

The simplest rule of them all. We could say more, but… we trust you know how it feels when something’s, well, right.

Just promise us one thing – like a Traveller’s Oath – make sure that when you go on tour with a group, you choose one that wears their heart on their plate and puts the full weight of their soul into creating your trip. You deserve that and so much more.

And if you’d like to find out a little more about why people rave about ETG trips, we’d be honoured to share our hand-picked experiences and luxury travel tours with you.

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