It’s official: Travelers are looking for more unique, interactive experiences when they travel on vacation with their kids.  More and more families are forgoing standard “plop on the beach” vacations for activity-based vacations that include some culture, adventure, or volunteer/philanthropic activity. Instead of using your holiday breaks as a time to just rest and relax, this is a great time to do something memorable with the kids while they are still interested in hanging out with you.

The trend has not gone un-noticed by the travel industry. Almost everyone, from tour operators such as Abercrombie & Kent to cruise lines like Holland America , is developing unique, interactive  programs

Kids cooking class at Mandarin Orienta in Kuala Lumpur

for families.  Among the ones I find most fun and fascinating  are the family culinary programs that are cropping up everywhere. Most of these can be added on to existing itineraries or designed as custom packages around a family’s interest or appetite (bread-making, pasta-making or chocolate tastings, for example).

I spent the past several weeks looking into various programs and have found six culinary experiences” that I thought were among the most interesting…they extend from Tennessee to Paris and Positano to South Africa and even at sea!  There isn’t one that I wouldn’t love to do with my own daughters – the challenge is to pick one over another.

Note: To make it easier for readers to find individual places, I will be providing each place as an individual post in addition to the consolidated list below (in no particular order).

LE QUARTIER FRANCAIS, SOUTH AFRICA: “Culinary Concierge Program”

Le Quartier Francais  is a gem of a private hotel (and a member of Relais & Chateaux) located in Franschoek, one of the oldest towns in South Africa. Located only 45 minutes from Capetown, Le Quartier Francais (considered one of the  ” Top 20 “Food & Wine Resorts” in 2009 by Andrew Harper Travel members) is smack in the middle of the Cape Winelands and a convenient stop before or after a safari or visit to many of the Cape’s beach towns. I visited here for lunch with my husband on our honeymoon and it was one of our most memorable meals during our three-week vacation. The main restaurant, The Tasting Room, is considered one of the best in South Africa.

Le Quartier Francais has a new and extraordinary culinary program, Culinary Concierge Program, offered exclusively to the inn’s guests. While most of these classes (with names such as “Dessert Me” and “Wine, Charcuterie and Chocolate“) cater to adults, the hotel will happily tailor a cooking class for a family around their interests and ages.  Consider a class just on chocolate tarts, bread baking, charcuterie making or even a visit to the nearby Huguenot Fine Chocolate Factory!

One of my favorite programs there, though, is Mrs. Ndaba’s Fridays. Each Friday, guests can bake nutritious muffins for 67 toddlers who attend a local daycare in a nearby underprivileged area run by a 68-year-old woman, Mrs. Ndaba. After baking the muffins, guests deliver them by hand to the children at their school – an extremely rewarding and enriching experience.

BLACKBERRY FARM, TENNESSEE: “Kitchen Full of Kids”  August 2-5, 2009

As you know from my recent post, I’m a big fan of Blackberry FarmBlackberry Farm holds many exciting culinary events throughout the year, but the “Kitchen Full of Kids” program caught my eye.

Cookbook author and kids’ culinary instructor Helen DeFrance teaches this annual hands-on cooking class with the kids to learn basic techniques and have tons of fun. Last year’s event included a cookout under the stars, and classes in both the garden and dairy barn (a similar outline is planned for this summer, but with new themes and activities). Camp Blackberry counselors participate so moms and dads can rest easy.   

The event tuition is $600 per child (ages 4-16).  This is in lieu of the regular $250 per night fee for children at the resort and includes all activities as well as Camp Blackberry during any free time – a great deal! 

For more information, contact Kelley Clark Harris, Food & Wine Coordinator at Blackberry Farm at kelley@blackberryfarm.com. More information about culinary events in 2010 can be found on the website culinary events page.   

PARIS, FRANCE: “The Secrets of French Chocolate Making”   

For those of us (and kids) who are chocoholics, French Links (a paris-based tour company also known for their behind-the-scenes shopping tours – girls take heed) now offers a private behind-the-scenes tour of chocolate makers in Paris.   Wait a minute — chocolates and shopping? The daring can combine the two,  but I advise you to do the shopping component before the chocolate tour as lots of tastings are involved.

The tour includes a visit to one of the top artisans in the Paris region, who lets you inside his “chocolate factory” to see how molded chocolates and ganache are made. Best of all, you can take home freshly molded “Eiffel Towers” and other Parisian monuments in the finest dark and milk chocolate.   

French Links also organizes chocolate tastings at the top chocolatiers in Paris who don’t have stores in the United States (such as Patrick Roger and Jacques Genin, two of the hottest chocolate creators in Paris) as well as bread baking and “pain au chocolat” programs.    

The chocolate tour lasts 4 hours and is 550€ plus VAT  for 1-4 people and 700€ plus tax for 5-8 people (a shorter 2-hour tasting tour for 300€ plus tax for 1-4 people is also available). The tour includes a professional, expert driver-guide (who will take your group from and to your hotel) and an interactive demonstration of the making of french chocolate at a renowned Paris chocolate workshop.  Readers will receive a 5% discount if they mention Inviato Travel upon booking.   

Contact rachel.kaplan@orange.fr  for more information or refer to the French Links website.   

PARIS, FRANCE: Ritz Escoffier and Le Cordon Bleu Cooking Schools   

If you want a more disciplined approach to cooking for your child while in Paris,  here are two excellent options:    

The Ritz Escoffier Cooking School located in the grand Hotel Ritz Paris offers two different workshops for children. “Marmiton”, located in the Ritz Escoffier kitchen, is for children ages 6 to 11. These 2 1/2 hour classes are held most Wednesdays from 2:30 to 5 p.m and cost 95 Euros  for 2010 offerings (up

from 90 Euros in 2009).  The 2010 class selections are now up on their website with a variety of cool classes and seasonable offerings…Easter classes are already COMPLET (which means full for you non-Francophiles).   

Toque Juniors , for teenagers, has limited but seemingly more creative classes with interesting titles such as “Grand Mother Tart” , “Black Forest” and “Crazy Christmas“. The 2010 classes (same times and price) are now available online as well.   

I can not forget to include Le Cordon Bleu (where Julia Child trained. Check out the DVD  “Julie & Julia”) which offers a more traditional culinary program appropriately named “Le Petits Cordons Blues”.  Children  between 8 to 12 years old learn to prepare a recipe step by step. The Chef reviews each dish and children bring home their dish to taste with their parents. The 2-hour class is usually held in the mornings and cost 55 Euros (Parents can take a demonstation cooking class for 45 Euros while waiting for their children). 

In 2010, a special 3-hour “Mothers and Daughters” class (for girls 8 years old and up) will be offered on May 26th from 3:30 – 6:30 at 90 Euros.

Hint: If you want to immerse yourself in the whole Cordon Bleu experience, you can purchase a uniform for your child at the boutique.

See the 2010 calendar for dates and book online. Warning: classes are held in French but some offer translation.   

POSITANO, ITALY: “Secret Garden”    

I think cooking Italian food with the kids is the most fun of any cuisine because it is so simple (most of the time) and.. well, who doesn’t love Italian food?  To find a good cooking program or activity in Italy is not difficult at all- there are tons (and most are very good). However, I found one that I believe stands out above the rest …and it’s located right on the Amalfi Coast. Bingo!

I came across the “Secret Garden” kids cooking package in Positano from a New York Times travel article that I had read in  2007  (and obviously saved…I knew I would find a use for all these saved clippings one day).  What I found captivating about this week-long program was that in addition to hands-on cooking classes, unique itineraries are arranged for the family in between classes. One day you might go to an olive grove to see how oil is made, another day you may go to Ravello to visit a pastry shop and a lemon grove…the next day to the hills of Sorrento to learn about the process of milking cows for butter, cheese and gelato.

But as organized as the program is, it is not too structured…what is  appealing about the Secret Garden program is that you have the freedom to travel in the afternoons as you please.

Children 3 and uplearn how to make Neapolitan pizza, pasta, fresh mozzarella, bread, gelato and pastries (as well as learn some conversational Italian!) during the week-long program, which runs throughout the year. The cost is $2,900 per person, based on double occupancy (NOTE: children 5 and under are free, children 10 and under are half off) and include 7 nights at La Maliosa Bread & Breakfast  in Positano, breakfasts, excursions and transfers.   

Cooking-Vacations,  a U.S. based company (run by Boston-bred Lauren Birmingham) with offices in Positano, runs this wonderful program and also offers family culinary programs in Rome and Tuscany (detailed information about each program can be found here).   The detailed Secret Garden itinerary can be cound on their  website.   

I must admit, I know nothing about cruising. The last time and only time I was on a cruise was in my 20s when I went was on a Club Med sailing ship to the Caribbean (one of the many benefits of handling the Club Med account was I could travel free). I loved the experience but I have this crazy fear about my kids falling overboard. Don’t know why. If I could get over this one BIG phobia, I would appreciate the idea of arriving at a new port every day to explore a new destination as well as the ship itself with kids.  Maybe Alaska or Galapagos …hmm.

If a cruising and cooking with the kids combo appeals to you, you should look into Holland America’s  Culinary Art Center program for kids (there is a program for adults as well). Designed as a first-class show kitchen at sea, the Culinary Arts Centers (aboard all of Holland America’s fourteen ships) resemble the elaborate show kitchens used by celebrity chefs on TV. Each facility features a theater-style venue with two large plasma video screens and a large cooking display counter where guests can learn from the visiting guest chefs.

The kids cooking program, featuring 45-minute classes, was created 2 years ago. Kids under eight years old learn to master such delights as Bear Tracks (Alaska theme cookies), Fruit Leather (fruit roll-ups), Ice Cream Sandwiches, Salad People Art, and Denali Peaks (Alaska Theme Scones).   Kids eight and over learn to make fun treats like Soft Pretzels, Granola Bars, Pita Chips and Hummus, and Saltwater Taffy.

If you are also interested in the program for yourself, check out these two upcoming 7-day cruises to Alaska with great guest chefs: 

ms Oosterdam (7/11/2010 with visiting chef Mark Fiorentino (Chef of Daniel Boulud restaurants)

ms Statendam (7 day 7/25/2010 and 8/1/2010 with Tre Wilcox (from third season at Top Chef)

2 responses to “Unique Family Culinary Vacations

  1. A pleasure to come to your site. Thanks very much!

  2. what a wonderful summary of some exciting family trips. thank you!

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