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A nice dinner is a given for an anniversary, especially one that ends with a zero, which is why Kurt and Anne Kutay are making food and wine a big part of the celebration of the 30th anniversary of the founding of their company Wildland Adventures. This May they’ll be leading a trip to Northern Spain for great hiking and cultural highlights as well as a new focus on culinary adventures.
As more and more tour operators incorporate food into their trips, we asked Kurt Kutay about Wildland’s new “Culinary & Wine” Travel Style itineraries in light of the trend to make food a major component of the definition of adventure travel.
ATTA: Of all the ways to celebrate “30 Wild Years,” why did you choose a food and wine trip? And why in Spain specifically?
Kutay: After 30 years of rustic and remote Wildland Adventures it’s high time we reap the rewards of our highly developed luxe mode of adventure travel. What better way to celebrate a life of adventure than an active pilgrimage hiking, dining and drinking our way through wild lands of the world. It’s why Fodor’s declared us as “an eco-outfit that ventures off the beaten path without sacrificing style.”
Wildland co-founder, Anne Kutay, had a major hand in the decision to go to Spain. “Because it’s part of my mysterious past,” she explained. “I was adopted and raised in Ballard, Washington, but my biological father (whom I never met) was from Basque country so we’re going to his namesake town of Mungia to explore my heritage.” Anne also went on a culinary FAM adventure in Basque country which sparked our desire to celebrate amongst the beautiful landscapes, vibrant culture, important history, amazing cuisine and wine making traditions of Spain. And, after 30 years of Wildland Adventures all around the world, this is our first company trip to Europe!
ATTA: The ATTA firmly believes that culinary tourism meets our requirements for adventure. Can you back us up? What’s adventurous about food tourism?
Kutay: I love how the worldview of adventure has turned from outward physical immersion in the outdoors to an inward exploration. Travel writer Joe Robinson wrote, “It’s about the vast landscape of incognita territory within each of us.” And what better way to absorb the elemental than taking in the culture, the earth, the air and sea through the senses enlivened by food and wine? Fact is, culinary tourism is the best way to experience the full terroir of a culture and the landscape through the heartfelt connection and laughter with those who produce and prepare what nourishes us.
On our trip to Spain we’ll experience new ways of producing pixtos in Spain, a combination of locally produced foods stacked on a toothpick, revealing an endless parade of flavors on the palate. We’ll go pintxo-hopping from bar to bar mixing it up with locals and that’s an adventure sport requiring real endurance in Basque country.
ATTA: Can you talk about how Wildland Adventures creates their Culinary & Wine Adventure itineraries? What elements and activities are required for a trip to make the cut?
Kutay: Our guiding principle in designing wine and culinary adventures is “Back to the Source.” We start by looking at wine-producing regions of the world that have a long tradition of setting the bar for the best styles of wine and creating interesting niches, as well as producers forging new flavor profiles. Most wine-producing regions of the world are also a creative center of fresh ingredients foraged from gardens and hillsides providing ingredients for seasonal menus that are impeccably fresh, delicious, and often remarkably sophisticated. These places also tend to be diverse landscapes in valleys and mountains surrounded by fresh water or salt air conducive to an outdoor lifestyle where locals enjoy sharing their backyard with outsiders. Active adventures including plenty of walking and hiking is essential to keep fit, and not get too fat, in between all the food and wine consumption!
Other elements include:
- Culinary classes with extraordinary Michelin Star chefs balanced with home-cooked traditional recipes prepared together with local families in their homes, or winemaker’s dinners in their bodega
- A range of accommodations from sophisticated luxury in the center of urban areas with restaurants and bars, to rural boutique family-run inns amongst the vines
- Arrange private tastings in the vineyards and bodegas of top winemakers from high tech, cutting-edge big producers, to exclusive encounters with new winemakers who are rediscovering a region’s indigenous strengths and traditional practices
- Lining up wide-ranging dining experiences from award-winning haute restaurants to outdoor picnics and provincial wine bars and pubs with regional tasting menus where locals go for a good time
- Special guides, who not only have the requisite experience and skills in leading a group of fun-loving diners and drinkers, but who come with the oenological knowledge and contacts with winemakers and food producers to open backdoors to food and wine producers
ATTA: Do you have any especially memorable food adventures to share?
Kutay: At the small, family-run garage bodega, La Azul in the Uco Valley of Argentina, we were invited into the old colonial family home to make empanadas, a very hearty finger-food that goes down easy with rich merlot. There was this guy with a long ponytail standing around observing us until he saw we were having so much fun he couldn’t help but join in the laughter. Alejando Fadel, the new generation winemaker of the family, served up his reserve bottles with scars all over his arms and regaled us in his broken English all night (which improved in fluency glass after glass) with stories of hunting wild boars with a hand-held knife. That was true Argentina all wrapped up in one rich night!
And one night on a tented safari under the stars of the Serengeti in Africa the staff kept bringing one tasty dish after another, and finally when he brought a tasty avocado mousse for dessert we had to get up and meet the chef to see his magic. We discovered him with a small metal box for an oven for cooking and a hand beater whipping up his last mousse to serve up.
Interested in food tourism? Check out our research paper “Taste the Adventure” (free for ATTA members) or get your ticket to AdventureELEVATE in Quebec, where a keynote session “The Business of Food Tourism” will go deeper into this trend and offer practical advice for tour operators wanting to incorporate culinary adventures into their repertoire.
Follow us on Instagram (@AdventureTweets) so that you can cast your vote in our #TasteTheAdventure photo contest during the month of March. Unique cuisine from all over the world will be showcased by adventure travel industry professionals. Follow, get inspired, and let us know which dish captures your attention.