Food and Drink

Photo of Burgundy by Alex Cretey Systermans

Stop being just a wine drinker—be a sommelier.

Destination: France

What a laugh 2020 had at the plans I made, especially a highly anticipated summer trip to France. I can still picture what could have been: Equipped with just a rental car, Google Maps, and a decade-long adoration of French rosé and pinot noir, I would finally visit the vineyards of Burgundy and Provence to sample some of the world’s best wine. 

When international borders closed, I road-tripped along the California coast instead. The pinot noirs of Santa Barbara, chardonnays of Sonoma, gewürztraminers of Mendocino—they all fueled a new kind of passion for wine, one that shifted my focus from imbiber to educator. In an effort to find more approachable ways to educate and diversify an industry that doesn’t typically market to Black wine drinkers, I enrolled in a weekly online course for my Wine and Spirit Education (WSET) Level 2 certification. I also partnered with a sommelier mentor to launch virtual winetastings. The more I missed the world, the more I remembered why I first fell in love with it through wine: people-watching over a glass of rosé at a bistro on a side street in Paris; the universal, celebratory sound of corks popping and glasses clinking. All of those human connections.

My new plan? When France reopens to American travelers, I’ll arrive in Aix-en-Provence and Côte de Beaune with more than 200 hours of wine education and tastings under my belt and, hopefully, the title of sommelier. I’ll go to Château de l’Aumérade, one of the first vineyards in the region to produce Côtes de Provence wines, and splurge on a Grand Crus in Gevrey-Chambertin. Reflecting on the journey it took to get there will make that first trip abroad all the more memorable, and whatever’s in my wineglass won’t hurt either. —Kristin Braswell

Head straight for the best bananas—however far-flung—to up your banana bread game.

Destination: Hawaii

Forget sourdough. I defaulted during the pandemic to finessing the finer details of banana bread (secret weapon: rum-braised raisins—thanks, Nigella). So I’ll be setting out on a pilgrimage to the Big Island, Hawaii, where I can gorge on, and learn about, bananas in equal measure. (Hawaii has a reputation for its quality bananas.) The Amy B. H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden is renowned for its collection of rare bananas, while Rob Guzman’s micro-farm in Kalapana Seaview Estates sells an assortment of varieties beyond the Cavendish that dominates every grocery store produce section. Try the Gros Michel, he says, which once dominated the global market before falling from favor when it was blighted by disease. “It has a firm, creamy texture unlike pasty, mushy Cavendish,” he says. I want to try the long, skinny Tu’u Gia, too, an ultra-rare banana with jasmine and cinnamon spikes to its flavor. Where to stay? Where else but here: Bananarama Ocean View Cottage—Mark Ellwood

Courtesy of Justyna Mielnikiewicz for Culinary Backstreets

Go abroad in pursuit of the perfect meal you’ve been trying to cook at home.

Destination: Republic of Georgia 

My partner and I have always been driven by food, but the lockdown magnified our obsession. He took up sourdough baking (a cliché, I know) and I’ve been playing with recipes from international cookbooks. One of the countries we’re most excited to eat our way through is the Republic of Georgia (one of the first to reopen to vaccinated travelers)—and Culinary Backstreets’ Harvest Time in the Cradle of Wine trip seems like the perfect introduction. The September journey is timed to the rtveli, or grape harvest, and weaves in market trips, cooking lessons with Eleni Gavradze (who trained under celebrated Tbilisi chef Tekuna Gachechiladze), and generous family-style banquets served in local homes and restaurants.

“Georgians feast with great passion,” says Ansel Mullins, the Chicago-born, Lisbon-based cofounder of Culinary Backstreets, a tour operator known for hosting hyper-local food experiences in more than a dozen cities around the world. “This trip is in pursuit of the supra, that unique Georgian style of feasting which flaunts the culinary bounty of the country,” he says. But unlike the dinner-show supras staged for tourists, Mullins & co. worked like crazy to build an itinerary that showcases the supra as a native Georgian might experience it. He likens one homestyle meal, set in a rustic village in the wine region of Kakheti, to a visit with cousins if your cousins were “particularly excellent cooks.” Folding khinkali (dumplings), fire-roasting mtsvadi (meat skewers), or just hanging out in a stranger’s backyard, glugging homemade qvevri-fermented wine—that is exactly the kind of food-centric camaraderie we’ve missed most this last year. —Ashlea Halpern

Remind yourself that whisky drinking is super cultural. 

Destination: Scotland

My friend jokes that I’ve become a whisky influencer of late, since all I seem to post on Instagram, aside from photos of my kids, are pics of whatever single malt I’ve gotten my hands on. I swear this isn’t a cry for help! It’s the pursuit of my Scottish heritage, I tell myself, and a semi-frequent chance to feel connected to a place I miss. With a bit of Oban 18, I can relive my time in the coastal town, in a pub filled with locals toasting with drams of the namesake whisky out of tiny plastic cups; a ceilidh band played a live soundtrack to our merriment. Through virtual whisky tastings with Away from the Ordinary, I’ve “visited” Dornoch in the northernmost reaches of the Highlands, Speyside, and Campbeltown. I took to heart what our host said at the time: “Whisky is for sharing—it’s a convivial thing. Though it tastes better in Scotland.” I plan to finally get to Scotland’s Isle of Islay, known for some of the peatiest, Ron Swanson–iest drams at distilleries Bowmore, Laphroaig, Ardbeg, and Lagavulin, and up to the Isle of Skye to sample a new favorite, Talisker, surrounded by some new friends. —Laura Dannen Redman

 

Photo of Single Thread by Rachel Weill

Reunite with la dolce vita.

Destination: California wine country

During the pandemic, I cooked like crazy, conjuring exotic destinations through flavor: ras el hanout marinated chicken for Morocco, za'atar-flecked labneh for Israel, sake, soy-soaked vegetables for Japan. A travel writer’s gotta travel, right? I won’t have to go far to revive my palate this summer, though: I’m off to California wine country, which has more gastronomic inspiration per square mile than some major cities. 

Where to start? I want to investigate the California Cheese Trail, which links 30 farms and creameries in Sonoma; dine on farm-fresh meals at Single Thread (recently awarded a Michelin Green star for sustainability); test Dustin Valette’s “terroir” centric  the Matheson and a farm-to-fork feast at Kendall-Jackson. The sustainable seafood pairing at St. Supéry  is on my hit list along with stops at buzzed-about bakery Quail & Condor and Aperture Cellars’ floating-in-the-vines culinary center. 

I’ve signed on for Farmhouse Inn’s “Rutherford to Russian River Valley” 20th anniversary package, which includes stays at its rustic-luxe hotel in Sonoma and the glamorous Auberge du Soleil in Rutherford along with meals at both hotels’ Michelin-starred restaurants and exclusive wine experiences. I’ll add an extra night at Macarthur Place Hotel—a massage there using locally sourced lavender from Matanzas Creek Winery sounds like heaven. —Amy Tara Koch

Adventure and Sport

Photo by Juan Camilo Mora
Photo by Juan Camilo Mora

Mask up—underwater.

Destination: Sea of Cortez

Ever since I got my PADI certification as an elective back in college (University of Florida offers it, I know you’re wondering), scuba diving—just being in the moment underwater, with no distractions from above—has been my favorite form of meditation. Over decades of scuba adventures, I’ve dived in a drysuit to see icebergs from their undersides in Svalbard and visited the seafloor to watch a tiger shark pass overhead in Papua New Guinea. And then the pandemic hit . . . and I was landlocked in lockdown.   

Now I dream of finning through shipwrecks and alongside juvenile whale sharks near La Paz in Baja California Sur, and having my fins nibbled by cheeky sea lions at Los Islotes, the Sea of Cortez (famously called the “world’s aquarium” by Jacques Cousteau). But when will I return? “There’s a season for everything underwater here,” says Jay Clue, who runs Dive Ninja Expeditions in Cabo San Lucas. From April through July, schools of hundreds of mobula rays—like great winged underwater carpets—greet free divers off the coast of Sargento. Off Cerralvo Island starting in late May, giant mantas swoop up from the depths. And come December, migrating whales—humpbacks, grays, and even blue whales—breach and blow so close to shore you needn’t even board a boat to have your breath taken away. —Terry Ward

 

Hit the (city) trails on two wheels.

Destination: Central and Southern California

There’s a large tract of urban wilderness just behind my house in Los Angeles, a hilly oasis of coastal sage scrub and grassy lawns offering hiking trails, playgrounds, a Japanese garden, and a fishing lake, all sandwiched between two major roads and an oil field. It’s called Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area, and I recently discovered a pretty serious network of single-track mountain biking trails—it’s the only nonconcrete place to ride for miles around. Since then, I’ve been wondering where else I can add some thrilling downhill action to my travels, buying ancient ride guidebooks for southern California and the Central Coast, and eying MTB Project and Trailforks for the latest. I’ve always loved seeing city streets in the saddle; now I’ll see where the more rugged trails take me. —Tim Chester

Get your kicks doing muay thai far from your living room. 

Destination: Kao Lak, Thailand

After a year-plus of So Much Sitting, my limbs need to be reminded what they’re here for. I’m not one to exercise for its own sake, though—I require additional payoffs, like getting to kick things and yell a lot. So I’ve been dreaming of returning to Rawai Muay Thai Camp near Phuket. I’ve dabbled in martial arts since college, but I’m still an uncoordinated amateur, so Rawai was perfect for me back in 2016 when I needed another fitness boost: It has the cred (founded by a former professional fighter, with pro teachers and champions) but none of the pressure. The trainers were patient, full of humor, and adaptable to students of varying abilities (from "When do I bow?" beginners to more serious scrappers competing in local tournaments). My fellow bad-asses were incredibly supportive and friendly—men and women ages twentysomething to sixtysomething who came from all over the world seemingly just to tell me that I wasn’t making a complete fool of myself. Twice a day, we trained together in an open-air gym that housed two rings and a never-ending army of punching bags, and on weekends, we explored nearby waterfalls and islands. After two weeks, I was a sweaty, sore, smiling mess—and I can’t wait to do it again. —Billie Cohen

Art and Culture

Photo of Orchestra Baobab by Christian Bertrand/Shutterstock

Discover the global source of your pandemic playlist.

Destination: West Africa

West Africa—Senegal, Nigeria, Gambia, and Mali in particular—has long been on my where-I-dream-to-go list. I was born on the continent (in South Africa) and have visited many of its countries, yet I always seem to travel northeast, never west. This year, I’m switching directions. I love music from West Africa, especially Fela Kuti’s jazzy Afrobeat and the soulful swing of legendary Dakar-based Orchestra Baobab. My appreciation grew in 2020: Their voices, their horns, their rhythm sections transported me from my small Brooklyn apartment across the Atlantic to throbbing cities where music is so deeply rooted in the culture. I can’t wait to throw myself into chaotic bars and clubs again like Dakar’s Thiossane (fingers crossed it’s still open!) and perhaps discover a new artist or two. Send me your suggestions. —Mary Holland

Take letter writing to the next level by learning the art of papermaking (Hanji).

Destination: Seoul, Korea 

I’ve always loved letter writing, and during lockdown, burned out by binge-watching my umpteenth baking show, I doubled down on my efforts. But I didn’t just write more letters and cards: I got more interested in the design and quality of those very letters and cards. Returning to a skill I’d learned in elementary school, I once again began carving rubber stamps and printing my own designs. Recalling a summer spent with an artistic aunt who showed me how to make my own crayons and paper, I again tried my hand at the latter. What I found: Cards and letters are even more fun to write and send when you’ve made the actual products yourself. (Those on the receiving end seem to appreciate them more, too.) 

As I practiced the craft, I also learned about some of the history of papermaking along the way; of societies that made paper by hand before mass production. I became particularly interested in the centuries-old practice of Hanji, handmade Korean paper made from the core bark of mulberry trees and sap from the aibika plant. The process of making Hanji is comprehensive—there’s drying, soaking, boiling, rinsing, pounding, stirring, pulling, shaping, and drying again—but the end result is sturdy, gorgeous paper that can be used for everything from origami to lampshades. I can’t wait to revisit Seoul to take a class at the Hanji Workshop (located just west of Changgyeong Palace) and shop for paper in Insa-dong: Doori Hanji and Dong Yang Hanji are two places on my must-visit list. —Katherine LaGrave

Hear, see, feel the music in your soul.

Destination: Nashville, Tennessee

Black music molded me. In early ’90s Brooklyn, I absorbed East Coast hip-hop dialect through my aunt’s boombox while perfecting the alphabet. Sixth-grade life was singing in oversized robes in the Baptist children’s choir on Sundays and improvising jazz on my alto saxophone during my school’s music class. Now in my adulthood, visiting Nashville’s recently opened National Museum of African American Music—a world-class, $60 million attraction with artefacts and interactive exhibits detailing 400 years of unsung history, from slave spirituals to today’s Billboard-topping artists—reminds me how essential Black music was to my upbringing. The museum’s for all to see, learn, and listen, but the lifelong connection I have with the songs of my people is something I cherish more than ever. —Travis Levius

 

Learn to speak Spanish through full immersion.

Destination: Costa Rica

I’ve been obsessed with learning Spanish for the last five years, practicing and blundering on trips to Buenos Aires, Nicaragua, and Los Cabos, Mexico. Lately, I’m really missing conversations with locals in a Spanish-speaking country. That’s why I’m jetting off soon on my first international trip post-vaccination to Costa Rica. The nuances, pace, and poetics of the language spoken here always makes me go gaga. I’m warming up with Babbel’s “A Zero to a Hero” podcast, watching movies en español like El Norté, and plotting stays at luxury boutique hotels in the Cayuga Collection, where free Spanish lessons are available on request and a serious sustainability ethos jive perfectly with my idea of pura vida. I’m also eyeing places off the tourist map, like Cayuga’s adults-only Kura in the coastal southern town of Uvita—said to be the “real” Costa Rica, with mountains coming all the way down to the ocean—and Hotel Aguas Claras in Puerto Viejo on the less frequented Caribbean coast, home to beautiful beaches, Afro Caribbean culture, and patois to keep the Spanish lessons interesting. —Nina K. Hahn

Dance like no one’s watching in a crowded pub.

Destination: Ireland

I love to say that I make new friends by dancing with strangers, and Ireland is the most amazing place to do just that. County Clare, known as the birthplace of traditional Irish music, is home to Gus O’Connor’s Pub, just a 10-minute drive from the stunning Cliffs of Moher. Catch a live Irish trad (traditional) session over a pint of Guinness any day of the week. County Kerry’s Dingle Peninsula has nightly trad sessions in every pub, along with a culinary scene that has always boasted farm-to-table fare. Pub crawls and pop music plus Irish trad mash-up dance parties led by local band SuperCeili in Killarney make for a proper craic on the weekends. I can’t wait to get back. —Mickela Mallozzi of Bare Feet With Mickela Mallozzi