As I sit sipping an Earl Grey tea beneath the centuries-old canopy trees overlooking the waterfront in Rhodes, I can definitely feel that spring is in the air. It is a sunny Saturday in the Mediterranean, and families as well as tourists are out for a seaside walk along the promenade of fishing boats, sailing vessels and, of course, the elegant and majestic Riviera. I just ordered a cheese pie, which I am reluctantly sharing with a few starlings. We chefs are always handing out food!
As I enjoy my lunch, I’ve been thinking about the recent launch of a wonderful new season of Culinary Discovery Tours™ in Europe. As you may remember, Oceania Cruises first unveiled Culinary Discovery Tours™ last year with the christening of Riviera, and we are thrilled with the success of these full-day excursions to the world’s most exciting open markets, restaurants and culinary destinations. I’m delighted to have the chance to share our experiences on this season’s tours.
As Riviera crossed the Atlantic at the end of April to begin the European season, she stopped first in Funchal and then Tangier, where we offer exciting culinary tours in both cities. Madeira, one of my favorite ports, is an enchanting island home to some of the most exotic fruits anywhere, and the local market in Funchal is always an adventure.
When we arrived, we took a short bus ride to a local fishing harbor where the fishermen were drying their bacala (a dry salted cod), for which the Portuguese are famous. After an hour in the market buying all kinds of passion fruit hybrids and local spices like piri piri, we took a stroll through the old city past brightly colored doors painted by local artists. We had a lovely tasting of local Madeira wines at Blandy’s and then sat for a delicious lunch at a local tavern where we sampled island fish and meat specialties and more local wines.
Then we were on to Tangier for a day in this city of exotic scents, eager merchants and charming locals. We strolled through the market, bought preserved lemons and herbs for our Moroccan cooking class and dropped some serious cash on a few tagines for the culinary center.
The highlight of our tour was lunch at Detroit, a restaurant that was officially not opening until the following week for the annual visit by the Rolling Stones but treated us to a special preview. We sat above the medina with a beautiful view of the sea while feasting on a meal of couscous and chicken tagine. Dessert was a flaky and delicately seasoned pastilla and a generously sweetened Moroccan tea – our lovely host impressed us all with his pouring skills.
Crossing the Strait of Gibraltar, Riviera continued on to Europe and the site of one of my favorite tours from last year, Marseille. I favored this tour mostly because of the delicious meal prepared for us by Gui Gedda, the undisputed godfather of Provence cuisine – not to mention the magnificent Bandol wines we tasted!
This year I kicked off the tour with a shopping stop in the charming fishing village of Sanary-sur-Mer. The merchants were so proud of their spring produce, as well they should be: bright green zucchini, blood oranges and early fresh peas, the ultimate taste of spring.
Here we met a pastry vendor who, upon hearing my English (and very bad French), asked if I had heard of Jacques Torres. Of course, I told her. She informed me she had studied with the famous chocolatier in New York City. We tasted her chocolate (we had to) and it was soft and flavorful. It just goes to show that the world of food really is very small!
After our morning admiring the colorful fishing boats and picture-perfect produce, we were off to the Domaine de Souviou for our lunch with Chef Gui and a wine tasting that we so loved last year.
Riviera then sailed for Monte Carlo, the point of origin for one of our most popular Culinary Discovery Tours™: a visit to the market in Nice followed by lunch at the famed Chateau Eza. The picturesque market in Nice was brimming with beautiful flowers and produce, and we were all especially impressed with the early white asparagus. Those sweet white vegetables and zucchini blossoms were only a few of the items we had to purchase at the market. And there is always time for socca and a hug from Theresa, the “socca lady.”
Then we were off to Eza and an unforgettable meal. I always think of Jacques Pépin on this tour because he remembers meals not only by the food but by the company as well. I am touched by the friendships that form around the table here at Chateau Eza. Our guests can relax, visit with one another, share stories of their families at home and enjoy what dining is meant to be, the perfect confluence of food and friendship. The food was exquisite, as always, and served with the ultimate flair!
Well, I have finished my cheese pie – and the starlings are full – so I will wrap up this blog and return to Riviera. Be sure to check the blog again this week, when I’ll share more stories of our latest Culinary Discovery Tours™ in Italy.
Following are some of the Culinary Discovery Tours™ mentioned in the blog and the sailings on which they are offered – in case you wish to join us!
Tangier – Market Visit, Tangine Shopping & Moroccan Lunch:
Marseille – Exquisite Flavors of Europe:
Monte Carlo – Local Market Visit & Lunch at Chateau Eza: