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No vacation is complete without trying some fabulous food, and, for those who have epicurean prowess, many hotels across the United States and Mexico are taking a “foodie” vacation a step further. In addition to tempting restaurants and celebrity chefs, now hotels are offering cooking classes, culinary demonstrations, wine and beer tastings and more. Many of these activities are being offered at luxury hotels with some of the finest chefs – plus top notch hotel amenities to match. Here are the 10 best hotels for cooking schools and culinary programs.
Best Cooking Menus: Zero George Street (South Carolina)
Often considered one of the “best cooking classes in the world,” the culinary experience at Zero George is one for the books. Presented as a multi-course meal with wine pairings in the original kitchen carriage house (built in the early 1800s), classes are offered twice a week with just eight coveted seats. The 16 elegant rooms and suites have lovely handcrafted furnishings, premium bedding and are located in a restored Charleston home, adjacent to the garden courtyard or in the top floors of the hotel. During the evening, the fabulous restaurant and bar serves fresh, local dishes from the award-winning chef, Vinson Petrillo.
Best Location: Epicurean Hotel Tampa
For a culinary experience in the heart of the city, the 137-room, Epicurean Hotel in Tampa has a fantastic location near Hyde Park, directly across from Berns Steak House, and is an easy walk to other shops and restaurants. The centerpiece of the hotel is the epicurean theater, which showcases cooking classes, wine seminars and other culinary-themed events. The hotel features three dining options, including the Edge, a rooftop tapas restaurant and bar with amazing views of the city, and Elevage, an award-wining venue that serves new American fare. Rooms have a minimum of 350 square feet, pillow-topped bedding, marble baths, iPod docks and desks made of butcher blocks. TripAdvisor members loved the extra touches, such as free bike rentals and a welcome glass of wine upon arrival.
Best Farm Experience: Blackberry Farm (Tennessee)
For those who want to go right to the source, Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tennessee offers a luxurious culinary experience with the freshest ingredients right from the property and neighboring farms. Berries, mushrooms, cheeses, meats and fresh vegetables are used in culinary demonstrations, and guests can join artisans as they select produce and maintain the farm. There’s also whiskey and wine tastings, a brewery and a chance to spend a day with a chef. To burn off all the calories, head to the wellness center for yoga, massages and more. Set in the Great Smokey Mountains, guests can hike the trails surrounding the property, or soak in the tranquil views from their rooms. Accommodations on the farm range from luxurious suites, to cottages and historic houses, and all feature rustic, yet elegant décor.
Best Winery: Chateau Elan Winery and Resort (Georgia)
Located about 45 minutes north of Atlanta, Georgia, the 275-room Chateau Elan resort features its own winery, which first debuted in 1984 and highlights Muscadine wines, as well as international vintages. The winery hosts tastings on select days, and on weekends, the 1,600-square-foot cooking studio (inside the winery) showcases classes and demonstrations. Guests can recharge in the spa – housed in a massive mansion overlooking the lake – or practice golf at the nine-hole course. The resort also has six dining options, an outdoor pool and bar and evening entertainment. When it’s time to retire, extremely spacious rooms have lavish baths with separate soaking tubs.
Best Splurge: Las Ventanas al Paraiso (Los Cabos, Mexico)
A cut above other beach resorts, Las Ventanas al Paraiso in Los Cabos treats its guests like royalty and offers a top-of-the-line culinary program. Guests can take part in a traditional Mexican “barbacoa” (barbecue) with other guests followed by a family-style meal, or there’s also a one-on-one blind tasting with a tequila master, as well as a “challenge the chef” competition (guests prepare the dish for the chef to judge). Visitors can also enjoy private, candlelit dinners on the secluded beach, swimming in the infinity pool or lounging in cabanas. Rooms and suites are immaculate, with local artwork, indoor and outdoor living areas, telescopes for stargazing, fireplaces and rooftop terraces.
Best for Families: Essex Resort and Spa (Vermont)
At the Essex Resort and Spa in Vermont, adults aren’t the only ones who can learn to master the kitchen: a culinary kids camp is offered for budding chefs. Kids will pick herbs from the garden, help care for the chickens and learn important food safety skills. Parents can partake in a number of classes ranging from New Orleans Cajun cuisine, a Vermont-style dinner using local cheeses and syrups or chocolate and wine tours. Guestrooms and suites have a minimum of 350 square feet and a blend of modern amenities with vintage décor - some with fireplaces or kitchens. There are two restaurants on the property, an indoor and outdoor pool and adventure activities for the kids. TripAdvisor members mentioned that the hotel has a late check-in time (4 p.m.).
Best Views: Post Ranch Inn (Big Sur, California)
Set along the bluffs of Big Sur, California, the Post Ranch Inn has jaw-dropping vistas and stunning, cliff-side swimming pools that overlook the Pacific Ocean. Dine at the Sierra Mar restaurant and pair your meal with an award-winning wine while gazing out the floor-to-ceiling windows. Guests can participate in the “walk with the chef” program, or join the gardener for edible tours of the garden. The onsite spa is perched among the beautiful forest for a nature-filled experience, while the 39 private guestrooms offer a rustic elegance and are individually designed and placed to maximize the views. Daily breakfast, yoga, star gazing and nature hikes are all included in the nightly rates.
Best Boutique: The Alluvian Hotel (Mississippi)
Tucked away in the heart of the Mississippi Delta is the Alluvian Hotel, a 45-room, boutique gem with a full-service spa, yoga studio, theater, and fabulous cooking school. The Viking cooking school incorporates the latest trends and seasonal cuisine, and is ideal for anyone who enjoys cooking or baking no matter skill level you're at. Southern breakfast is included in the rates, or guests can dine at the historic Giardina’s restaurant, a local favorite since 1936 that serves regional seafood dishes. Local artwork from the Greenwood area adorns the rooms, which also feature spacious marble baths, nightly turndown service and premium linens. TripAdvisor members noted that besides a handful of other restaurants, there’s not much to the town of Greenwood, but the hotel itself is worth a visit.
Best Historic: Cavillo Point (California)
Housed in three historic buildings that were formerly officers’ living quarters at Fort Baker, Cavillo Point is a member of the Historic Hotels of America. Spacious rooms and suites overlook the Golden Gate Bridge and feature artistic, modern décor, gas fireplaces, and hard wood flooring. The cooking school kitchen has 1,200 square feet, four workstations for hands-on classes and two flat-screen televisions for demonstration classes. The classroom showcases cuisine from around the world and utilizes products from local farms, or guests can dine at two onsite restaurants for some of the Bay area’s finest cuisine from top-rated chefs. The hotel and spa is located in Sausalito, eight miles from downtown San Francisco.
Best Spa: The Biltmore Miami
The sprawling, 275-room Biltmore Miami is the perfect choice for spa-going foodies in need of a little luxury. Located in Coral Cables, the hotel is 13 miles from South Beach, offering a more peaceful escape that’s still near the action. The Biltmore also has a dedicated culinary academy for in-depth cooking lessons or private classes. Guests can dine at the five-star Palme d’Or for French cuisine, at the casual bar and grill for American fare or at the fabulous café by the outdoor pool. The elaborate, award-winning spa has a variety of options ranging from a traditional Japanese tea ceremony to a French chardonnay massage – the signature treatment.