When it comes to fine dining, many people look no further than the refined and sophisticated cities of Western Europe. Combining ancient architecture, world-class museums and some of the most luxurious restaurants in the world, you really can’t go wrong when choosing a city break here. And while Rome and Paris are considered food meccas of the world, other cities are now gaining the reputation they undoubtedly deserve. Sit back and enjoy our whistle-stop tour of some of the highlights of Western Europe’s culinary scene – the first instalment of a series of guides to gastronomic greats around the globe!
Surrounded by some of the major agricultural regions in France, the UNESCO World Heritage city of Lyon makes a perfect luxurious holiday whatever the time of year. The Musee des Beaux-Arts showcases sculptures and paintings from masters like Picasso and Monet, while the grand Basilique Notre Dame de Fourviere crowns the hillside with its intricate mosaics and perfect example of 19th century architecture. The cable car ride up and panoramic views are spectacular. But first and foremost, this south-eastern city is known for its gastronomic delights. Said to have the highest ratio of restaurants to people in the country, this is where super-chef Paul Bocuse plies his trade.
Chef Bocuse has owned three-Michelin starred restaurants for over 40 years. The regal feel of L’Auberge du Pont de Collonges is set in a beautifully decorated red and green mansion. Set menus starting at around £200 include scallop of foie gras with a verjus sauce, followed by bresse chicken cooked in a bladder a la mere fillioux. Other non-Bocuse options are the Auberge de L’lle and La Mere Brazier.
When thinking of Italian culture, the central region of Tuscany best sums it up: beautiful landscapes, a rich artistic legacy, and sumptuous rustic food. The renaissance city of Florence houses some of the best museums in the country - such as the Galleria degli Uffizi with its collection of renaissance art -most picturesque cathedrals, and most scenic streets and landmarks. The famous Piazza della Signoria square has a free open air sculpture exhibit, and the 11th century Baptistery is a stunning green and white marble building with bronze doors. But while the city has cultural attractions which will blow your mind away, it is the food which many people relish. The area around the city is the birthplace of Chianti, which beautifully compliments the varied, rustic, and tasty dishes the city is famous for.
Head to the Taverna del Bronzino with its vaulted ceilings and tree-lined patio, and sample the delights of a creamy asparagus risotto or smoked goose breast. Another good option is the elegant Relais le Jardin or La Giostra which gives a flute glass of spumante upon entering. The latter has an excellent wine list, and serves a mouth-watering array of risottos, seafood, and steaks. For an atmospheric stay, the former monastery-come-romantic Villa San Michele is set atop hillside greenery with tranquil rooms and views. There are two restaurants onsite, and a cooking school for mastering that delicious Tuscan cuisine.
With its splendid northern location and architectural heritage of unrivalled quality, the Portuguese UNESCO listed town is a cultural and culinary delight. The granite houses and streets are perfect for a stroll, while the city’s trams take you back to a more laid-back time. The 12th century Romanesque Cathedral is beautiful, as is the Tower of Clerics – a 75 metre building which symbolises the grand city. Take a boat tour along the Douro River under six bridges, and then cross over to Vila Nova de Gaia where port was first created. More than 50 wineries offer cellar tours and tastings. Sandeman is a good option.
The city’s inhabitants love their food, and a range of eateries and fine restaurants line the historic streets. Tripe is a speciality, seafood is abundant, and the northern bread Boa with its corn and rye mixture goes brilliantly with fried sardines or cod dishes. The Francesinha combines numerous meats into a sandwich which is covered with melted cheese and a secret sauce gravy. But for fine dining, Churrascao do Mar serves seafood dishes in an elegant mansion setting, while the contemporary Les Terrasses offers divine shellfish and swordfish meals. The Pestana Porto is a boutique hotel in the heart of the World Heritage Site, and contained in a collection of buildings dating from the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries.
Western Europe has so many delights it is impossible to sum up the best culinary feats in one go, so check in with us next week as we carry with our guide to fine dining locations of the world.