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Food & Drink

Best foodie excursions for Mediterranean cuisine in Italy, France and Spain

Mediterranean cruise vacations evoke glittering blue seas, pastel-colored houses clinging to cliffs and, of course, some of the best food in the world.

Food is at the heart of travel for many people, with sampling global cuisine among the best ways to truly understand a different country and its culture.

Luckily, one of the many benefits of a cruise vacation is that you visit multiple destinations all in one getaway so you can taste food and drink from several nations, from tapas in Spain and pasta in Italy to cheese in France.

Virgin Voyages is a cruise line that gets the importance of full bellies and full smiles and offers a range of shore excursions (wittily dubbed ‘Shore Things’ – geddit?) that are heavily foodie-focussed.

The Mediterranean is one corner of the world that Virgin nails when it comes to cuisine so we’ve rounded up some of the best cruise excursions you can take when sailing the Med on newest ship Valiant Lady: The Irresistible Med, Spanish Obsession and French Daze & Ibiza Nights. Warning, don’t read when hungry.

France

French fare

The Irresistible Med and French Daze & Ibiza Nights itineraries both call in on the French ports of Cannes, Marseille and Toulon. Yes, these cities might be known for film stars, glamorous yachts and gorgeous scenery but they’re also celebrated for their French grub.

Cheese and wine are the names of the game in Provence – quelle surprise. The Cheesy Aix-en-Provence excursions lives up to its title for those stopping at Toulon, offering a walking tour (perhaps to burn off the impending calories?) and cheese tasting in Provence’s capital.

The former takes in medieval ramparts, aristocratic façades and a mystical fountain as well as the impressive Saint Sauveur Cathedral and the wide, pretty avenue Cours Mirabeau. As for the latter, you’ll munch on famous cheeses along the way and finish at a fromagerie – a.k.a. paradise found.

A foodie day out over in Toulon is Truffle Foraging – slightly more effort on your part but infinitely more show-offable when you return home. The Virgin Voyages excursion sees you traveling into the Provençal countryside to Maison de Truffe where you’ll be treated to a guided tour and a glass of wine (any forager worth their salt ventures forth post snifter we like to think…).

Then, alongside a truffle hunter and a specially trained truffle-sniffing dog (dream job, right?) you’ll head into the forest on a quest for France’s prized fungi: decadent black truffle. Yes, fear not, you can eat them later, all paired with tasty wines. Just please don’t boast about who found the biggest ones.

For those calling at Cannes, there’s the Provence, Picnics & Pétanque excursion. Fun fact, the Provence region is home to a whopping 18,000 hectares of vines, and on this trip, you’ll visit a chateau to taste the local plonk as you picnic in the grounds. All very Monet-esque Déjeuner sur l’herbe – we’ll understand if you take to the gram. Itchy feet? The ball game Pétanque will keep you diverted – it’s a popular pastime among local residents and most civilised. We like to play with a glass of wine in our hands at all times…

There’s more grapey booze on offer over in Marseille on The Dual Arts of Chocolate and Wine cruise excursion. On a visit to the small town of Châteauneuf-du-Pape (yes, home of the fancy stuff) you’ll sip on famous Rhone wines and get a chance to make your own chocolate before enjoying a guided tour of the culturally-rich city of Avignon.

Italy

Italian eats

Well obviously you can’t go to Italy and avoid pasta, so why not go the whole hog and cook some yourself? Those cruising with Virgin Voyages on the French Daze & Ibiza Nights itinerary to Olbia in Sardinia can join the Pasta, Sardinian-style excursion – you’ll visit the old town to discover the art of cooking traditional Sardinian pasta with an Italian chef… and the art of eating it (we’re good at that bit).

Pizza is an absolute must while you’re here too, so food lovers should join The Art of Sardinian Pizza and Pasta shore excursion in Cagliari on The Irresistible Med itinerary. You’ll be treated to a short walking tour of the La Marina quarter (one of the four historic districts) before learning the artisanal tradition of rustling up pizza and pasta – and yes this means getting your hands dirty. Also, no pressure, but this will be your lunch, so make it good and pile on that mozzarella!

Corsica is another Italian destination on the same itinerary, with Valiant Lady calling at Ajaccio. For yummy eats, sign up for the Local Artisans Trio Tour excursion. This includes stops at a honey farm (learn about the benefits of beehives at the honey farm and taste some of the Corsican sweet stuff), an essential oils distillery (discover 13 essential oils, floral water and massage oil) and a vineyard in the wild countryside where you can enjoy wine paired with local specialities. Highly likely you’ll end up buying a bottle of something on this one, let’s face it – no judgement if it’s all for you.

This Valiant Lady itinerary with Virgin Voyages also stops at Marina di Carrara where there are plenty of foodie trips out to make the most of. We like the look of the Tuscan farmhouse food-to-table experience called Adventures in Antipasti (mmm just our kind of adventure). Tourists will be driven through the idyllic countryside past olive groves, medieval villages and vineyards to a farmhouse. Here you’ll listen to the owners’ food stories as fresh focaccia bread bakes in the oven before feasting on traditional antipasti and pasta accompanied by local white and red wines. Heaven.

Spain

Spanish sustenance

Just as a vacation to Italy is nothing without pasta, so a jaunt to Spain is no good without tapas. Luckily Spanish Obsession sees Valiant Lady stop at Gibraltar where vacationmakers can join the Spanish Wine & Tapas excursion.

Check out Chatham Counterguard, home to the best restaurants in the city, to try a variety of wines. There’s sweet sherry straight from the barrel paired with a selection of Iberico meat and cheese, a refreshing, crisp white wine and a delicious red, too – all while learning about your surroundings and its Moorish history (although if you’re anything like us during wine tastings, this lesson will go in one ear and out the other).

The same Valiant Lady itinerary also visits Malaga where travelers are spoiled for choice when it comes to foodie trips. If you want to stay in the city, there’s the Gastronomic Journey through Málaga excursion. This includes a visit to a market, a tasting of traditional tavern appetisers and a stop at a classic cafeteria for churros and chocolate as dessert. We’ll hit the onboard gym tomorrow, we promise.

To get out into the surrounding countryside, opt for the Spanish Finca and Feast excursion. You’ll enjoy a scenic drive through Valle del Sol (Sunshine Valley) en route to a family farm where you and your hosts will whip up a Spanish farm-to-table feast featuring picadillo (a Latin American mince dish), paella and homemade cake. OK, maybe a lap around the running track, too.

There are more cooking opportunities for those who wish to extend their vacation after it ends in Barcelona (all three Mediterranean cruise itineraries finish in the Spanish port). The Post Voyage: Borne to Cook Class and Tour starts with a cultural guided tour complete with Roman ruins and a Catalan Gothic church and ends with a cooking class. You’ll get to tuck into local flavors before taking part in a tapas-making competition. Patatas bravas for us please! Oh, and diet starts Monday.

Set Sail

The Irresistible Med with Virgin Voyages

Duration: 7 nights

Where: Barcelona | Toulon | Marina di Carrara | Ajaccio | Cagliari | Ibiza | Barcelona

Price: From $1,980 per cabin

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Published 24.06.22