Join the bounty hunters
From collecting truffles in Umbria to berry-picking in the forests of Finland, Xanthe Clay selects 10 great foraging adventures
Wild food is the true taste of the place. Gathering it yourself, discovering where it grows, snapping the stem, nibbling the leaf or berry – holiday experiences don’t get more intense than that. No wonder foraging is the standout memory of my holidays, starting with childhood summers in Scotland wobbling past hedgerows on my rented bike (I never was much of a cyclist), stopping to fill the pink plastic basket with sweet, wild raspberries.
As a teenager visiting my stepmother in Los Angeles, I’d pick small, dark avocados, leather-skinned and creamy-fleshed, from the trees growing on the West Hollywood street.
Years later, with my own family in Malta, we gathered bundles of wild fennel from tall plants whose delicate umbels swayed above the head of my four-year-old son. We bought a huge fish from one of the bright-coloured boats in Marsaxlokk harbour, and roasted it on the fennel stalks, before scattering over the tender fronds and tiny yellow flowers, so that it was imbued with the gentle, aniseed scent. Then we feasted in a dusty, garden pungent with bergamot trees.
No wonder food writers have always interwoven travel and wild food. Elizabeth David is wedded to the wild herbs of the Mediterranean; Patience Gray, whose biography Fasting and Feasting has just been published, devotes a whole chapter in her classic book Honey from a Weed to the edible weeds of Naxos.
And in recent years, foraging has become big news, with gastronomes travelling across the world to visit restaurants like Noma that major on wild ingredients.
That said, venturing out unguided is foolhardy. Some local, expert advice is invaluable, if only to get to grips with which wild plants to pick, which are not worth the trouble, and which are downright dangerous. We’ve foraged for the best holidays with the right slant, for your very own walk on the wild side.
1 Forage with the family in Lapland
The Nordics are kings of the wild food movement, so where better to take the kids than to the Arctic Circle for a week of foraging, fishing and adventure? In true Arthur Ransome style, there’ll be boating, camp fires and marshmallows to toast, but also lessons in animal tracking, and a pack of huskies to look after. Summer temperatures are surprisingly balmy, averaging in the high teens. Better still, there’s no need for extra pocket money as any spending opportunities are scarce.
A one-week Swedish Wilderness Family Adventure costs £1,575 per adult (children: £1,025) including full-board accommodation, return flights, a guide throughout, transfers, all activities, six-night lodge, one-night camp and camping equipment. Departures in July and August 2018. KE Adventure Travel (01768 773966; keadventure.com).
2 Ramble through Andalucia
Walking and eating well go together like crumble and custard, and this trip to Mairena on the southern slopes of the Sierra Nevada promises plenty of both. Andalucia is famous as the home of gazpacho and Jamón ibérico, both of which pair perfectly with the local sherry.
English couple David and Emma Illsley are the knowledgeable hosts at their characterful hotel – really a collection of village houses scattered through Mairena. There are visits to the local fish market and a cheesemaker as well as a wine tour, but the forage highlight is a walk gathering wild plants for the cooks, Sole and Conchi, to use in the paella cookery demonstration.
Seven nights’ Insight to the High Alpujarras tour costs from £1,285 including full-board accommodation, flights, transfers and accommodation at Las Chimeneas in Mairena. Departure in May 2018 (provisional dates for later in the year). Chapters Experience Holidays (01707 818441; chaptersholidays.co.uk).
3 Truffle hunting in Umbria
Truffles are the ultimate prize of forage, with prices for a kilo of black truffles reaching well into four figures. This trip, based at the 12th-century Castello del Nero is an appropriately luxurious way to discover Tuber melanosporum in its native habitat. There are optional trips to a cheesemaker, but the main event is a morning’s private truffle hunt with a cavatore (truffle hunter) and his truffle hound, followed by a slap-up truffle lunch.
Three nights in Umbria costs from £995 including flights, transfers and B&B accommodation at Castello del Nero, the truffle hunt and a gourmet truffle lunch. Available in October and November 2017. Steppes Travel (01285 601557; steppestravel.com).
4 Farms and feasting on the Amalfi Coast
The Amalfi coast isn’t just about lemons, and although you’ll find them aplenty on this trip, not least in the limoncello that hails from Sorrento, one of the visits included on the itinerary. There is fabulous seafood, too – don’t miss the clams and pasta. But the holiday highlight, and what marks this out from Italian gastro-tours, is a morning spent on a gastronomic walk and wild food forage, ensuring that you’ll be well clued up on future strolls. There’s also a farm visit as well as wine tasting on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius – volcanic vino is lava-hot with experts right now – and cookery classes as well as a demonstration on making the perfect Neapolitan pizza. A week’s Amalfi Food Adventure costs from £1,499 including flights, transfers, seven nights’ B&B in a three-star, family-run
hotel with pool, five lunches and two dinners. Exodus (0203 811 3008; exodus. co.uk).
5 Wine, cuisine and cultureure in Crete
Crete is Greece’s foodie hot spot, with an ancientt tradition of foraging for food including horta (wild greens), askordoulakous (wild d onions) and headily fragrant dittany, a kind of oregano. This is tour is led by Milonakis Stelios s and Angela Fenwick, the owners of Cellar Taverna in Kissamos, at the eastern end of the island, where most meals and cookery lessons take place. There are the usual visits to local producers but also to Stelios’s parents in a rural village, where you’ll try local,
homely special specialities, and a guided walk through t the Chania botanical gardens focusingfocusin on plants, vegetables, fru fruits and herbs. A seven-n seven-night Culinary Crete tour costs from £1,225 including flights, seven n nights’ b&b, four dinners, five lun lunches, transfers and tour guide guides. Departures in Sep September 2017 and April and October 2018. T Travel Editions (020 7251 0 0045; traveleditions.co.uk).
6 PickPic your own in PoldarkPol country
You’ll need to book your own accommodation for this t two-day course, but it’s wor worth going the extra mile to be guided by Caroline Davey, who s spent 12 years as an
ecological consultant before setting up Fat Hen foraging courses. Spend the Saturday striding across fields in search of wood sorrel and hogweed, as well as learning handy child-impressing tricks such as how to eat raw nettles without stinging yourself. Sunday is all about exploring the seashore, with seaweed galore and much rock scrambling. There are cookery classes, too, and Saturday night is a candlelit feast with, if you’re lucky, music from a band led by Davey’s husband, a musician and local GP.
A two-day Gourmet Wild Food Weekends costs £195 including morning coffee, lunch both days and dinner on Saturday. There is a list of accommodation suggestions on the website. Fat Hen Wild Cookery School (07767 792417; fathen.org).
7 Unspoiled Finland
Menesjarvi, a small reindeer herding village, set in a stunning, wild landscape of river valleys and fells, could be Moominland it’s so unspoiled – the perfect spot for a nature-focused trip that includes a lunch of reindeer sausages cooked on an open fire at a traditional Lappish kota (hut) before a walk through the pristine forest, for some berry and mushroom foraging. At night, with any luck, you’ll see the Northern Lights in all their glory since there is very little light pollution.
A four-night Menesjarvi Wilderness Auroras during the Finnish Autumn tour costs from £1,365 including return flights, full-board accommodation at Hotel Korpikartano, transfers, activities and guides. Departures in September, October and November 2017. Aurora Zone (01670 785012; theaurorazone.com).
8 Wild luxury in Sweden
Best of both worlds on this trip, with three nights in a smart Stockholm boutique hotel, followed by two nights in Kolarbyn Ecolodge, a sort of Game of Thrones meets Bear Grylls experience – there’s no electricity or showers, but the moss-covered wooden huts have lush sheepskin throws and open fires. There’s help on hand for berry foraging, chopping wood, fishing and cooking. After all that, finish the trip with three nights’ glamping on a private island near Stockholm – gourmet chef included.
Eight nights Foraging and Fun: A Family Adventure to Sweden costs from £4,700 including flights, accommodation and all meals at Kolarbyn Ecolodge and Island Lodge, plus car hire and boat transfers. Scott Dunn (020 3131 4104; scottdunn.com).
9 Talk and walk in Turkey
Turkish food is having a moment right now, with London restaurants such as Oklava in Shoreditch and Soho’s Babaji Pide leading the way. This trip to Faralya in south-west Turkey, just a few miles from the Mediterranean Sea, includes a trip to the local market in Fethiye – site of the ancient city of Telmessos – and a local gözleme (stuffed pancake) house in the Kaya valley. Forage fans get a walk in the local hills looking for wild herbs. There are five cookery demonstrations too, so you’ll learn how to use them as well.
A seven-night Turkish Cuisine Week costs from £1,125, including flights, half-board accommodation at the Mandarin Boutique Hotel, transfers, workshops and excursions. Departure September 2017 and June 2018. Cachet Travel (020 8847 8700; cachet-travel. co.uk).
10 Go nuts in Lunigiana, Tuscany
This tour to Lunigiana, a relatively undiscovered corner of northern Tuscany, includes lots of offbeat foodie treats, such as a lesson in making the traditional torta di riso alla carrarina pie, and a trip to the Carrara marble quarries where lardo, Italian fat bacon, is produced. A highlight is the woodland forage for sweet chestnuts, followed by a lesson in how to transform them into Marocca di Casola, the local chestnut bread, which is delicious for breakfast served with butter and jam or honey.
Five nights Tuscany: Food off the beaten track tour costs from £1,995 including return flights, full-board accommodation with wine at dinner, expert guide lecturer, tour manager, local travel entries and tips. Departs September 17 2017. Andante Travels (01722 713800; andantetravels.co.uk).
Caroline Davey collects seaweed in Cornwall, right; Mairena, Andalucia, left; and a truffle-hunting dog, below, in Umbria
The Amalfi coast, far left; a basket of chanterelle mushrooms, centre left; and foraging is an activity suitable for all ages, left
A group of friends enjoy nature’s bounty, above; go fishing on a wild adventure in Lapland, left, or gather fragrant bunches of wild thyme, above left