21 years ago Country Holidays was launched by Theng Hwee and Siew Yim as a reaction to the standard, conveyor belt mass tourism trips that were being offered by most travel companies.Since its founding, Country Holidays has specialisedin trips to remote places such as Antarctica, Himalayas, Africa,as well as special interest trips like wildlife safari, trekking,photography or catering for gourmands. With headquartersinSingapore,Country Holidays also has offices in Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai and Dubai. We asked Theng Hwee a few questions to find out what makes Country Holidays gourmettrips different from the rest, and some top insider recommendations on where to go to satisfy our wanderlust.
What in your opinion makes Country Holidays gourmet trips different?
We believe food is a window to a country’s culture. Yes, some Michelin Stars restaurants should not be missed, but the best finds are always local secrets. We are proud to weave these superb dining experiences into our itineraries. For example, in our Provence trip, we hike through lovely countryside landscape to access small villages with wonderful hearty country cooking; in Turkey, apart from enjoying a meal at a modern seafood restaurant, the experience is amplified by an expansivesea view and anauthentic traditional Ottoman ambience to match the Turkish Royal recipe.
What restaurant is currently at the top of your list to dine at?
To name a few, Arzak in San Sebastian, Astrid & Gaston in Lima andAlinea in Chicago are some of my favourites. Then there are the local secrets which let’s have them remain as secrets to surprise our guests on the trips!
Northern Spain | The Basque country has been our most popular. San Sebastian with a population of less than 200,000, has 3 Michelin Star restaurants, the highest per capital concentration in the world. Combined with La Rioja, Spain’s answer to France’s Bordeaux and Bilbao,with Guggenheim Museum, the area is hard to beat for indulging in the finer things of life. We frequently combine the trip with the annual Bull Run in Pamplona in July.
Provence |The area is so lovely that it has a history of inspiringmany great artists, including Van Gogh. Here you can combine a gourmet trip with hiking and adventure. During the day you can hike through lovely Provencal countryside and each eveningsettle down in one of the many charming towns. Many havebeautiful boutique inn’s to stay in, and they usually offergreat Provencal country cooking. End the trip in one of the many luxurious Relais & Chateaux villas featuring their grand Chefs to meet your gourmet appetite.
New Zealand |New Zealandtourist amenitieshavereally evolved. There are now a series of luxury lodges in the remotest corners of the country. Imagine being away from it all, indulging in the best thewilderness has to offer, whilstyou stay in charming luxury lodges,enjoying the best of New Zealands’s cuisine and wine. This is no hard task astheir fresh produce,top classSauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noirare currently getting the world’s attention. A few of our favourites include Cape Kidnappers, Grasmere Lodge, Huka Lodge, Hapuku Lodge & Treehouse and Matakauri. Minaret Station high up on the New Zealand Alps is also truly special, accessible only by helicopter.
Japan |With more Michelin stars than France or any other country, as well as endless local dining gems,Japan is an easy foodiegetaway. It is not uncommon for ourguests torepeat their journey to Japan during the year,just to enjoy the seasonalcuisine. Combine this with the backdrop of cherry blossom or the stunning Autumn colours and this is becomes a dream trip.To top this, we suggeststaying in unique ryokans with beautiful onsens, views, settings and most importantly, some of the best Kaiseki meals available, aJapanese experience par excellence!
Luxury expedition cruises |These days people want to access the remotest corners of the planet, but yet want to remaincomfortable and with a few essential luxury touches. We have selected a few boutique cruises that get to these places for in depth experiences and yet provide the highest quality service, accommodation and food. Imagine walking among penguins, swim with dolphins, hike through dramatic landscape during the day,whilstindulgingin fine dining and wine come evening.
Photography |A fantastic way to travel to some of the most beautiful destinations on the planet, whilstlearning how to shoot and document the trip with an expert to guide you. A truly luxurious way of using your camera to its fullest.
Political minefields |Many want to travel to destinations such asMyanmar, Bhutan, Iran, Cuba and North Korea toexperience their unique culture. These areplaces thattime has forgotten, or for political reason, were completely bypassed by the 21st century. However, many of these places are changing fast, so there is a rush to tick that bucket list.
Peru |Given the diversity of its terrain and geography, its variety of fresh ingredients is amazing. And combined with the recent burst of creativity introduced perhaps through the tourism industry, Lima now offers fantastic dining opportunities. Astrid and Gaston and Central ranks among the tops 10 restaurants by Pellegrino and there are many more. And this is quickly filtering to the highland and elsewhere in the country.
Turkey |With its strong sophisticated Ottoman influence, the dining scene in Istanbul and Turkey in generalis becoming very interesting. It is also in a prime locationsitting at the confluence of east andwest,plus a rapidly growing middle to upper class makes it a new up and coming destination for any savvy gourmand.
Istria, Croatia |More Italian than Balkan, Istria is just 3 hours’ drive from Venice. Here and Piedmont are home to the rare and delicious,white truffle. Great scenery, relaxing ambience and creative locals – Istria could well be on her way to being the next top epicurean destination in the world.