I recently had the opportunity to sail the Mediterranean on Oceania Cruises. Dining on the Riviera and aboard the ship has been a bucket list item for many years. The regional delicacies – drizzled with unctuous olive oil, dipped in freshly squeezed lemon and topped with tangy herbs – are a food lover’s dream. Excellent local cuisine-focused tours enhance your experience, showcase local foods, and impart a nugget of wisdom and food history along the way.
I would like to share with you some of the delicious food tours offered by Oceania Cruises on Mediterranean cruises. Oceania offers guests local culinary experiences that would be difficult to replicate on their own.
Note: Some information in this article was obtained during a sponsored press trip, but all recommendations are mine.
1. Provence truffle hunting and wine tasting
One of my favorite types of tour takes me on a journey I can’t find anywhere else. Learning about truffles, how and where they grow and how they are harvested is a quintessential Provence experience. While the location of the truffles, France’s “black diamond”, is a closely guarded secret, we were treated to a demonstration – our four-legged truffle hunting pup can smell a truffle up to 30 meters away.
While aficionados have been working to perfect agricultural truffles for over 40 years, they have not been completely successful in recreating the tree/vine/soil conditions necessary to grow this amazing fungus. Harvesters still rely on intimate knowledge of the local area and truffle hounds trained to dig up the popular delicacy.
Our hosts, Hostellerie des Vins de Rognes winery, and our guide Elsa Hallak, from The Provence of 5 Senses tours, took our small group on a journey through the life of a truffle and through the state-of-the-art production facilities, where they produce beautiful, mainly rosé wines.
We were treated to black truffles served simply on a slice of rustic bread topped with brie and some delicious truffle slices. The bites match their range of wines perfectly, including the 1925 Chateau Trevaresse, L’Ambassadeur and L’Initiale labels. We sampled nine wines during our visit – we were overjoyed on the way back to our ship.
2. Production of Olive Oil
Luštica, a peninsula between the Bay of Kotor and the Adriatic Sea, is home to an eight-generation family olive farm, Moric Family Olive Farm. As we walked through the olive groves, savoring the traditionally distilled libation, rakijaand chewing prankster, a fried donut served with your own honey, you can perceptibly feel your blood pressure drop. The farm is earthy and relaxing.
We were treated to a practical class on how to check if your extra virgin olive oil is real olive oil. I repeated the practice when I got back home – my shelf brand wasn’t pure, and unfortunately it was an imposter. If you get the chance to go to an olive oil tasting, I suggest you give it a try – it was a surprise.
After the tasting, we sat at long tables in the cool cellar next to the old oil press pushed by the power of the donkey in times gone by. We were treated to salty ham, soft cornbread, mild cheeses, sharp olives, farm-fresh boiled eggs and sweet tomatoes – all celebrated with a drizzle of house extra virgin olive oil.
Our tour was led by guide Ivan Mitrovski, who also leads Baltic-focused small-group tours with Overseas Adventure Travel. It offered an overview of the history of Montenegro’s geographical, historical and cultural formation. The peaceful communities along our route showed little sign of the Baltic’s tumultuous history.
3. Fattoria San Donato
San Gimignano, Italy
The small medieval village of Fattoria San Donato typifies the Tuscan countryside: rolling hills, cobbled streets, sturdy buildings and beautiful gardens.
A charming farm and winery has been owned and operated by the Fenzi Family since 1932. More than just a winery, you can rent an apartment for a peaceful soak in the Tuscan hills.
Our farm fresh meal included local ham, silky salami, crispy bread with copious amounts of olive oil, farro salad, olives and of course gorgeous cheese. All perfectly paired with their wines, it was a sumptuous lunch.
4. Culinary Experience on the Farm
Our ship docked in Civitavecchia, Italy. North of Rome and south of Tarquinia and the agricultural region of the west coast. We drive through the hills to Agriturismo Il Mandoleto, a farmhouse restaurant and cooking school.
Traditional dishes are prepared with a nod to artisan cuisine. Our instructor – a nonna with years of experience in the kitchen – guided us step by step through the art of making soft, fluffy pasta. Playing with raw ingredients and turning them into a silky dough is a challenge to perfect. Learning to cut and shape dough into traditional noodle shapes was a fun exercise in dexterity.
To complement our professor’s perfectly cooked pasta, we made Amatriciana, a guanciale (pork cheek) based sauce made with tomato and pecorino Romano. The simplicity of the dish allows all the flavors to shine through while the rich sauce completely coats the pasta.
5. Positano and Amalfi Coast By Sea
There are so many picturesque places along the Amalfi coast where you can explore and partake in a delicious lunch or aperitif. Any excursion along the Amalfi coast that includes wine and local cuisine will hit all the right gastronomic notes. The stunning view certainly adds to the dining ambiance.
Something simple can leave a lasting impression. Our Amalfi Coast catamaran tour stopped in Positano for a few hours. We wandered around, shopped, and ordered a gelato at Covo Dei Saraceni. One of Positano’s luxurious hotel restaurants. the gelato was perfect for a steamy August afternoon and we enjoyed it on the beach for a classic foot-in-the-Riviera moment.
6. Ceraudo Winery
Ceraudo Winery, including the restaurant — Dattilo, is located in the Calabria region along the southern coast of Italy. The perfect climate for the cultivation of beautiful olive and citrus groves, vineyards and vegetables. The family-owned organic farm and winery is a leader in the organic farming movement in the region.
Organic wines produced from grapes suited to the hot, dry region include their flagship wine, Datillo. A full-bodied red, Datillo is the perfect wine to drink with ‘nduja — a local dish. A buttery sausage served as a spread or spread, ‘nduja is made from a mixture of pork parts and chili peppers. Served on bread with a drizzle of silky olive oil, it’s a beautiful lunch.
7. Walking tours
Booking a walking tour that offers a local gastronomic element is a wonderful cultural experience. Our walking tour of Crotone, a coastal town at the base of Italy’s boot, yielded the classic churches and squares. It also allowed us free time to explore the wonderful open-air market. The products are artfully displayed in a variety of colorful ways, tempting the passerby to stop, smell and buy beautiful fruits and vegetables.
It’s not always possible to bring fresh produce back to the ship, but look for dishes that feature unusual items – like these beautiful yellow melons – on the ship’s menu. The ship’s chefs are adept at using local delicacies when preparing a daily menu. Often one or two restaurants will serve a menu based on the port where the ship is docked.
8. Pizza from Naples
When you think of classic Italian pizza, you are instantly transported to the Campania region. The birthplace of modern pizza, Naples is the best place to watch and learn the traditional art of pizza making. Named after Queen Margherita of Savoy, Margherita pizza is the standard by which all pizzas are measured.
Naples chefs pride themselves on their pizza using only the freshest local ingredients. Vesuvius hovers over the city as it provides rich volcanic soil to grow herbs, garlic, tomatoes and grasses for the cows where the beauty comes from. fior di latte (mozzarella).
9. The Culinary Center
You don’t always have to leave the ship to enjoy a food tour. The Culinary Center onboard Oceania Cruises offers guests a hands-on cooking school led by an executive chef and a team of assistants. Small classes are a popular onboard activity where students can watch, learn and participate in creating a themed menu of culinary delights.
My class participated in Sicilian cuisine. We did sicily arancini — a fried rice ball stuffed with mozzarella and green peas. Our main course was pasta with prawns and pistachio pesto topped with perfectly toasted Sicilian bread crumbs. For dessert, we learned how to make our own ricotta for tiramisu ricotta parfaits.
Shore excursions for foodies
Culinary tours, wine tastings and cooking classes immerse us in the local culture and enhance our adventure. Sharing a kitchen table with a local chef and enjoying their creative dishes is the perfect way to explore the Mediterranean food scene.
pro tip: The most popular tours sell out quickly and food lovers clamor for incredible experiences, book your food and wine tours as soon as possible.