It’s an exciting time for wine lovers in London. Drinking culture in the capital has shifted: wine has become cool. 

Gone are the days of directory-sized wine lists, haughty sommeliers and fusty cellars, the new breed of London wine bar is laidback, stripped down and unpretentious. Young Londoners are popping corks with abandon.

“Events such as the Wine Car Boot and Street Vin at Street Feast have broken down the barriers and brought wine to a younger audience”, says director of London Wine Week Emma Murphy, “wine has begun to take centre stage”.

Want to see what all the fuss is about? Here’s our pick of the best wine bars in London.

For a first date: Sager + Wilde

The owners of this hip corner bar are key drivers behind London’s wine scene. Husband and wife duo Charlotte and Michael began by running a pop-up in Shoreditch, offering incredible wines at tiny mark-ups, before moving to their permanent base in Hackney. Exposed walls, re-purposed station lights and a salvaged, glass-brick bar have transformed this former pub. The wine list changes daily, with a tendency towards the Old World. Much fuss is made about their grilled cheese sandwiches – but it’s their friendly attitude that really sets them apart.

Sager + Wilde, 193 Hackney Rd, E2 8JL

Photograph courtesy of Sagar + Wilde

For the fashion conscious: Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels

Run by the same team as Soho’s opinion-dividing Experimental Cocktail Club, who are famous for their arbitrary door policy, this French import has bought a little bit of haughty Parisian attitude to Covent Garden’s Neal’s Yard. Their aesthetic bucks the trend for minimalism: graphic print chaise lounges and velvet pouffes cluster around tiny coffee tables. Prices are high, but if you can identify their mystery £9-a-glass wine, there’s a free bottle for the taking. Snacks include a flowerpot filled with crudités and an edible soil made from ground biscuits, walnuts and coffee beans.

Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels, 8–10 Neal’s Yard, WC2H 9DP

For foodies: 40 Maltby Street

Set in the railway-arch warehouse of importer Gergovie Wines, this innocuous bar has been raved about by the likes of Guardian critic Jay Rayner. Not that you’d guess it from the shabby-chic décor and wooden pallet tables. When it comes to wine, their objective is to let “the land and the grape speak”, and if you’re not au fait with natural wine, you might be in for some surprises. When hipsters descend on Maltby Street Market for their fix of Monmouth coffee and St John doughnuts at the weekend, expect to queue for a table.

40 Maltby Street, SE1 3PA

Photograph courtesy of 10 Cases

For a tasting session: 10 Cases Cave à Vin

The no-reservations Cave à Vin sits cheek-by-jowl with 10 Cases restaurant in Covent Garden. It’s somewhere between a bar and wine shop, offering their most popular wines by the glass and bottle or to take away. The small space is at its best in the evening, when you can settle in at one of their ten or so candlelit tables, order a plate of charcuterie and work your way through the day’s selection.

10 Cases Cave à Vin,16 Endell St, WC2H 9BD

For a pre-theatre drink: Bedford & Strand

At this much-loved subterranean wine bar they tell it like it is. “Reliable” wines include dependable classics like Vin Pay’s d’Oc Sauvignon, while more of a splurge pushes you into “good” – old vine Californian Zinfandel and the like. Spindle-backed chairs, chequerboard tiling and a menu of bistro classics give the place a thoroughly French feel: it’s hard to believe you’re just a stumble from the West End. Head down an inconspicuous staircase on Bedford Street to find the entrance.

Bedford & Strand, 1A Bedford St, WC2E 9HH

Photograph courtesy of Bedford & Strand

For dinner with friends: Toast(ED)

Toast or Toasted, no one can quite agree, but there’s no debate as to whether this wine bar, restaurant and shop is worth the schlep out south to East Dulwich. Their ballsy, distinctive wines will be a revelation for the uninitiated. Sparkling reds, unusual sweets and cloudy-orange natural wines: you’ll find them all here. Exciting small plates such as raw grey mullet or sourdough beignets are dreamt-up daily to accompany the booze.

Toast(ed), 36 Lordship Lane, SE22 8HJ

For adventurous palates: Vivat Bacchus

You can’t fault Vivat Bacchus’s motto. Life is too short to drink bad wine. With bars on either side of the City in Clerkenwell and Southwark, this South African-run mini-chain once made a name for themselves hawking £1000 tasting menus to bankers, but have thankfully since reassessed their strategy. Though the décor’s not much to write home about, the new-world wine list and unusual menu (expect zebra and springbok) make it worth seeking out.

Vivat Bacchus, 47 Farringdon St, EC4A 4LL and 4 Hays Lane,
 SE1 2HB

Photograph courtesy of Vivat Bacchus

For a meeting: 28°–50°

This “wine workshop” mini-chain is expanding apace. Created by Xavier Rousset and Agnar Sverrisson – the duo behind the Michelin-starred Mayfair restaurant, Texture – this place has the smarter end of the market sewn up. Filament light bulbs, wrap-around bars and exposed brickwork typify their sleek, industrial vibe. The wine list is highly curated, with just fifteen reds and fifteen whites available by the glass, carafe or bottle at one time. The selection might range from a heavy, tannic Madiran to Spain’s rising star, the aromatic Albariño.

28o–50o, 15–17 Marylebone Lane, W1U 2NE; 140 Fetter Lane, EC4A 1BT; 17–19 Maddox Street W1S 2QH

For lunch: Vinoteca

Since opening their first branch in 2005, Vinoteca has expanded to four locations across the capital. These airy, accessible bars have a legion of fans and are just as welcoming during the day as after sundown. They’re known for tackling established wine wisdom, offering prosecco on tap and ten-litre “bag in a box” wines that are bottled on site. Above all, they pride themselves on offering “small production wines with huge character [and] real drinkability”.

Vinoteca, 7t John Street, EC1M 4AA; 15 Seymour Place, W1H 5BD; 53–55 Beak St, W1F 9SH; 18 Devonshire Road, W4 2HD

For Francophiles: Terroirs

Terroirs is a little more grown up than some of the bars on this list, popular with a slightly older clientele. Stick to the ground floor, where the focus is on the wine rather than the food. As their moniker suggests, they try to find “wines that encapsulate the notion of terroir”, so expect to find plenty of natural and biodynamic bottles on the list. It’s the kind of place you can wash down a cracking white Burgundy with French bread, tartiflette and crème brûlée.

Terroirs, 5 William IV Street, WC2N 4DW

For a break from the shops: Antidote

Tucked just south of Oxford Street lies this little wine bar and restaurant, where organic wines and interesting small plates make the perfect pit-stop. Come early in the evening to bag one of the downstairs bar tables, or book in advance to splash out on a full meal in the main restaurant upstairs. Not sure what to try? You can’t go wrong with a selection from their cheese and charcuterie menu.

Antidote, 12A Newburgh Street, London, W1F 7RR

Explore more of London with the Rough Guide to London. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. This feature was updated in January 2016. 

A sense of revolution is playing a central part in an unlikely craft beer scene currently thriving in the heart of the Middle East. Fearless beer-loving Yorkshireman Nick Appleyard set off in search of the best pint he could find on either side of Israel’s security barrier.

It’s fair to say the Holy Land hasn’t got a reputation for interesting beer: Palestinian porter and Israeli IPA sound more like modern weaponry than refreshing drinks. This is understandable because for generations the only beer you could drink in downtown Jerusalem or Tel Aviv came in the form of an imported, mass-produced pint of lager. For several decades, Western diplomats and war reporters had to brew beer in their own bathtub if they wanted it to taste of anything. This, however, is now changing.

Upon arrival at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport, I was faced with the prospect of hitching a ride to Jerusalem. It was Shabbat. For those of you unfamiliar with the intricacies of the Jewish faith (like I was), this is the day of rest and the entire country shuts down for 24 hours starting at sunset on a Friday. This means no public transport. I had unwittingly arrived in the country after dark and the train station bore an eerie resemblance to the apocalypse.

Fortunately I managed to find a shared taxi – or sherut – heading to Jerusalem and within 40 minutes was dropped off at the Jaffa Gate entrance to the Old City. Israel is a small country – we had driven right across it in less than an hour.

Despite being just a stone’s throw from the Dome of the Rock, Western Wall and Church of the Holy Sepulchre, I had other things in mind and set out to find some local beer.

There are many non-Kosher bars in Jerusalem where the secular community ignores Shabbat and enjoys a Friday night like any other across the western world. I bar hopped along the lively Ben Sira Street before settling in to the Tel Aviv Kitchen & Bar. It was here I had my first taste of the Middle East’s exciting craft beer revolution. This was a bottle of Shapiro Pale Ale, brewed in nearby Beit Shemesh, which glowed a bright hazy orange and tasted of pine and fruits. It put my experience of drinking Goldstar (Israel’s big-brewery version of nondescript lager) right to the back of my mind. I was very grateful.

The following day I stood at the grave of Oscar Schindler, visited Temple Mount and countless other sacred sites before climbing the Tower of David. After an exhausting eight-hours of sightseeing in the searing heat, I headed to the much-hyped Chakra restaurant for some much-needed nourishment. This was on the recommendation of celebrity chef Yotam Ottolenghi so expectations were high.

The menu offered deconstructed versions of classic Middle Eastern fare and I was not disappointed. The food was delicious and the service exemplary but it was Jerusalem’s very own Herzl microbrewery which stole the show. Chakra uses only the freshest local ingredients and this extends to the beer. At 7% ABV, Herzl’s American-style IPA was full of citrusy hops and packed a great punch.

Returning back to my hotel I passed the King David Hotel, the former military and administrative headquarters during British rule of Palestine some 70 years ago. The building was destroyed by Jewish paramilitaries prior to the declaration of the state of Israel. It has since been restored back to its former glory and is now the darling of wealthy tourists, visiting dignitaries and businessmen alike. There is a real sense of both history and conflict on every street in Jerusalem and there’s no shortage of people willing to tell you about it.

The following morning I took a bus ride through one of Israel’s infamous checkpoints into the West Bank. When I pictured this landlocked territory, the first thing that would spring to mind was militants, soldiers and protests. And it’s true; the occupation is very much in full swing. But there is no sense of immediate danger – either side of the barrier. Despite what the headlines might tell you.

Ramallah is currently booming. Its skyline resembles London’s – littered with cranes as the authorities rebuild the city that still bears the scars of recent wars. Lively impromptu street markets can be found on most corners, with vendors selling a range of fresh breads, oversized bunches of herbs and pots of buttery corn. Car horns and traffic jams provide a constant hectic backdrop.

The previous night somebody had told me about a Palestinian microbrewery in the village of Taybeh. So I took a sherut from the city’s bullet-pocked bus station in the direction of the brewery. Don’t be put off by this unlikely-looking transport hub, which resembles a dingy multi-story car park. The locals are more than happy to direct you towards the correct vehicle and journeys cost less than £3.

I was dropped off right outside the brewery. Founded by a Christian family in 1994 following the signing of the Oslo Accords peace treaty, it reflects an age when people were optimistic about the future of this region.

According to its founder, Nadim Khoury, the brewery was set up with the blessing of the late Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, who agreed that if the people were to have their own country then they must have their own beer. Ironically, Tony Blair now drops in for a pint when he visits the region as part of his role as envoy to the Middle East.

“Brewing in Palestine is unlike brewing anywhere else in the world,” Nadim concedes. “Moving our beer through the checkpoints causes problems, as does importing our ingredients through Israeli ports where we have to pay an agent to act as a go-between. We now have to synchronise our brew days with when water is available.”

Taybeh was the first microbrewery in the Middle East and now produces more than one million pints of beer a year, as well as holding an annual beer festival in October. It brews five beers using traditional German techniques. The dark beer, or porter, was my favourite by a long shot.

The brewery’s backdrop is as phenomenal as its short history. It is surrounded by olive groves and mountains in what is otherwise a sleepy village. This makes it well worth navigating military checkpoints and a bumpy taxi ride to pay a visit.

The next day I found myself in a very different setting at Herzl Brewery back in the industrial suburbs of Jerusalem. Here I met Maor Helfman and Itai Gutman who told me of their own very different struggle.

Israel’s smallest and Jerusalem’s only brewery, Herzl opened in 2012 – the year tax on beer doubled. Maor and Itai’s distaste for the finance minister who introduced the tariff is evident as he stares back at me from a dartboard hanging on the wall.

“How can you take money from the people? They are killing a growing industry,” Maor stresses. “We must unite the breweries to fight them.”

Both keen homebrewers, they took separate internships at the BrewDog brewery in Scotland before ever meeting. This background is evident in their outlandish recipes involving ingredients such as dandelion, grit and honey. Herzl currently produces around 7,000 bottles a month and there are ambitions to export.

Itai urged me to visit the Beer Market in Jaffa before I left the country. This boutique-bottle-shop-cum-bar sits beside the Mediterranean Sea in a regenerated port, which plays host to dozens of food stalls. It was a great shout and I had the fortune to taste several more local beers before heading off to the airport.

All in all, the trip had been a revelation. From a defiant pair of young Israelis operating out of mankind’s most hotly-contested city to a Christian family making beer in a tiny Palestinian village under military occupation, a craft beer revolution is spreading right across the Middle East. To my great surprise both the Palestinian Porter and Israeli IPA actually existed … and they tasted pretty good too.

Explore the world using our travel roulette game. Books hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

Deep pan pizza, Illinois

Banish ideas of the soggy deep-dish pizzas that crop up in the UK. A Chicago original is a different thing entirely. The olive oil and cornmeal crust is part-baked before being filled with cheese, tomato sauce, meats and a variety of other toppings, or rather fillings. Numerous restaurants claim to serve the Windy City’s best.

Cobb salad, California

The cobb salad was reportedly invented by the catchily-named Bob Cobb, proprietor of the Brown Derby in Hollywood, in the late 1930s. This now-classic mix of lettuce, tomato, chicken, avocado, hard-boiled eggs, bacon and cheese was supposedly his late-night leftover snack. Whether or not the story is true, the salad has made its way onto menus the world over with a host of variations and extra ingredients.

Green Chile Stew, New Mexico

This is the best way to make New Mexico’s green chiles shine and you’ll find it served across the state, notably in the chile heartland of the Hatch Valley. The star of the dish, of course, is locally-grown and roasted fresh chile. Other additions might include tomatoes, potatoes, garlic and beef or pork.

Lobster Roll, Maine

Making the perfect lobster roll is a fine art. The hot-dog bun can be plain, steamed or toasted, mayo can be substituted for melted butter and then there’s the choice between tail and claw. Whatever you choose, this sandwich can’t be bettered beside the Atlantic on a summer day.

Maple Syrup, Vermont

Canada might lay claim to the maple leaf emblem, but Vermont produces some fine maple syrup. Produce from the state accounts for over five percent of the global market and Vermont is the largest producer in the USA. Visit in March to catch the sap being collected from hundred-year-old trees.

Shrimp and grits, South Carolina

Festivals don’t get much more niche than the World Grits Festival, held each spring in Saint George, South Carolina. But then this corn-based dish is part of the state’s classic recipe: shrimp and grits, traditionally eaten at breakfast. The grits are usually cooked in stock or milk, flavoured with butter then topped with the seafood.

Bourbon, Kentucky

Although it can be made anywhere in the USA, around 95 per cent of bourbon is produced in the Bluegrass State. Known as "America’s Native Spirit", this barrel-aged booze was named after Kentucky’s Bourbon County and has been made here for over two centuries. Today the Bourbon Trail attracts over half a million visitors each year.

Rocky mountain oysters, Montana

Don’t get tricked into thinking you’re eating seafood. A Rocky Mountain oyster is a floured and deep-fried calf’s testicle. Sometimes going under the pseudonyms "prairie oysters" or "cowboy caviar", they’re mostly served up for tourists these days but originated as a way to use up the side products of castrating calves each spring.

Philadelphia cheesesteak, Pennsylvania

Philly’s Pat Olivieri, founder of Pat’s Steaks, reportedly invented the cheesesteak in 1930. This sandwich is all about pure unadulterated gluttony: sliced browned steak and mounds of oozing provolone (or the disarmingly orange Cheez Whiz sauce) stuffed into a crusty roll, often with some onions to top it off.

Beignets, Louisiana

No trip to New Orleans is complete without a visit to the sticky tables of Café du Monde, the irrefutable home of these doughy, deep-fried and powdered sugar-covered treats. Officially the state doughnut of Louisiana and aped all around the world, classically they’re simple deep fried choux, but can have fillings like fruit or chocolate.

Clam chowder, Massachusetts

Boston is the undisputed destination to try creamy New England clam chowder, classically made with clams, potatoes, celery, onions and cream or milk. Note that the tomatoes you might find in a New York chowder are strictly forbidden. There’s even an annual Chowderfest – now entering its 33rd year – where restaurants vie to be crowned the best.

Iced tea, Georgia

Ordering tea in Georgia won’t get you a cuppa. Tea here comes iced, sweet and with a wedge of lemon, often in jumbo servings. Sugar is added while the tea brews, while flavourings such as peach and lemon are optional extras later on. It might rot your teeth, but it’s definitely addictive.

Key lime pie, Florida

Making use of Florida’s glut of key limes – sometimes known as Mexican limes – key lime pie traditionally mixes lime juice, condensed milk and egg yolks. The recipe has been traced back to the 1850s and has today become an emblem of the Sunshine State. The graham cracker crust is non-negotiable, but debate still rages on toppings of whipped cream or meringue.

Navajo fry bread, South Dakota

Fry bread was named the official state bread of South Dakota in 2005 and this simple dough, fried or deep-fried in oil or lard, is one of the best-known Native American foods. It can be eaten plain, as a breakfast food or turned into a "Navajo taco" with a topping of mince, salad and cheese.

Smoked salmon, Alaska

Alaska is famous for more than just Sarah Palin, bears and snowmobiles. The USA’s most northerly state is also known for its wild Pacific salmon (farming is prohibited). Smoking was introduced as a method of preserving the fish over winter, but today allows Alaskan lox to be shipped around the world.

Hushpuppies, Virginia

No, we’re not talking about shoes. Hushpuppies are deep-fried cornmeal and buttermilk dumplings, often served with fried chicken or catfish. They have humble origins: popular across the South since the time of the Civil War, they were supposedly invented as a cheap treat to quieten the dogs at mealtimes.

Sugar-cream pie, Indiana

It’s hard to go wrong with a dessert based around these two-ingredients. The only addition might be some flour or an egg before the mix is poured into a pre-baked pie case. Also known as Hoosier pie, this specialty of Indiana even has a tourist trail named in its honour.

Barbecue, Texas

In Texas barbecue is all about beef. Forget bibles, the Lone-Star State is home to the brisket belt of America. The cut is usually slathered in a dry rub of cayenne pepper, salt, herbs and other spices before hitting the smoker. This huge chunk of cow, which comes from the underside of the chest, needs slow cooking.

Ahi Poke, Hawaii

If you’re a fan of ceviche and sashimi, try Hawaii’s classic starter of ahi poke (pronounced "poh-keh", meaning to cut). The recipe is simple: raw ahi (yellowfin tuna) marinated in soy sauce, salt and chilli. Variants include swapping the tuna for octopus (tako poke) or adding ingredients like ginger, spring onion and seaweed.

Pastrami, New York

This popular cured beef sandwich filling originated in Romania and was bought to the States in the 1800s. It’s thought that "pastrami" derives from a Yiddish word appropriated with an Italian inflection. One of the best places to try it is in a sandwich from Katz’s Deli, who have a slew of awards to back up the claim that theirs is the "original and the best".

In a four-day endeavour to master Indian cooking with her mother in south India, Lottie Gross learns so much more than just how to serve up the best masala…

“You know why I call this a cooking holiday? Cooking for you, holiday for me!” Jacob laughs as he watches me squeeze out rice noodles through a brass press. We’re sweating through the last cooking session of our four day residency at Pimenta Spice Farms, and by no means has it been a holiday.

Sprawled on the slopes of the Maniyanthadam hills in Kerala, about 55km inland from Kochi, Pimenta (or Haritha Farms as it’s also known), is a haven away from the touristic hub of Fort Cochin and the chaos of Ernakulam city. The nearest town to the farm, Kadalikad, isn’t exactly on the backpacker trail but is just as – if not more – fascinating than anywhere you might explore in this green and humid region of southern India.

Photography by Lottie Gross © 2014

We arrived on Thursday to a delicious egg masala lunch in the communal living/dining room at Pimenta, and a tour of the local supermarket to familiarize ourselves with the ingredients we’d be sautéing, toasting and boiling over the next few days. We picked up some veg from a roadside stall with a rather impressive array of greens, and headed back to the kitchen to start our first lesson in Indian cooking.

Without his assistant – who had left to get married just days before we arrived – to help with the prep, at first Jacob seemed unorganised; chopping onions wasn’t exactly his forté and he didn’t appear to know where anything was kept. But it later became clear that he is actually an incredibly methodical man, and he enforces some strict rules in his well-equipped kitchen.

Jacob taught us how to treat the different seeds and spices, what each one is used for and what to do when it all goes wrong. Even for a seasoned cook (my mother of course, not me), there were new lessons to be learned and hurdles (much like these pesky rice noodles) to overcome.

Collectively we’ve spent about fifteen hours in the kitchen, chopping, frying and stirring hard to serve ourselves the most flavoursome and rewarding dishes, the leftovers of which were later passed onto Jacob’s mother for further scrutiny – and apparently they weren’t all bad!

Photography by Lottie Gross © 2014

But this homestay hasn’t all been about the food. While Pimenta markets itself as a cooking holiday, there is so much more to it than slaving away over a hot stove. For starters, the farm is actually an eco-haven – from the solar-heated water which comes from Pimenta’s own natural spring, to the home-grown coffee and bananas we had at breakfast. Jacob has a passion for all things sustainable; he buys pineapples directly from the local farmers and even has the bathroom towels for his exquisite guest bungalows made to order by one of the few remaining cotton factories in the area, where men in a small warehouse sweat all day over hand-operated looms.

Having lived in the area for most of his life – the farm was his family home which he inherited from his father at a young age – Jacob is well connected, so he showed us a side of Indian life we’d never even thought to question. We saw rubber being tapped from the trees on plantations, and visited a small production plant where thousands of colourful elastic bands lay drying on the floor, ready for packing and distribution. We met the people that made our favourite Indian snacks, from banana chips to Bombay mix, and spent an entire morning chatting to the men who paint those famously colourful vehicles that honk along all Indian roads: cargo lorries.

Each state has its own truck-painting design, and Kadalikad is the birthplace of Kerala’s intricate, colourful style. Started by accident in the 1960s, when the owner of this paintshop was late to deliver a truck and wanted to impress his client, this garish design can now be seen on most trucks in the region.

“This has to be done every year,” explained Jacob. “As with the law it’s mandatory to paint the truck. But it’s also a pride thing. Like to have an elephant is a pride thing, to have a big, beautiful and bright truck in your household is also a pride thing.” The trucks come into the shop as a blank canvas, and two weeks later will be driven away by proud owners – eager to show off their new colours to other drivers on the highways.

Photography by Lottie Gross © 2014

Back in Jacob’s kitchen, I finally turn out the last of the rice noodles, exhausted and aching, and we steam them for 20 minutes before serving. Jacob kicks us into action, setting the table for our final meal together, before we have to make the drive back to Fort Cochin, which now just seems like a tourist town sporting a false exterior compared to the everyday life we’ve experienced here.

As I tuck into my hard-earned lunch of steamed rice noodles with coconut, dal and sauteéd cabbage I realise how much we’ve learned in the last four days. While it hasn’t exactly been a relaxing break, I’ve come away with what most other people have after a holiday: new friends, fond memories and a couple of extra inches on the waist.

Explore more of India with the Rough Guide to India. Book hostels for your trip and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

Beer-lovers rejoice: the British Government recently announced that a pint of beer in the UK will be a whole one penny cheaper than before. Not exactly saving a fortune, but why would that matter when you have thousands of alternatives from around the world? From the Belgian Chimay to the Turkish Efes, Europe alone has much to offer. But look further afield, at Argentina’s Quilmes, Kenya’s Tusker, or even North Korea’s Taedonggang, and drinking anything in the UK seems distinctly unexciting. Take a look at the map below for a boozy tour of beer around the world.

Got more suggestions? Or think we’ve missed something? Tweet us your favourite world beers with the hashtag #bestworldbeers, or comment below this article, and we’ll add them to the map. 

Want more inspiration? Get planning with this game of travel rouletteBook hostels for your trip and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

English vineyard tours have been making headlines for years, and the internet is awash with excitement about London’s first whisky distillery, yet Welsh wine and whisky have so far remained under-appreciated. Today, the tide is finally turning. We sent Eleanor Aldridge on a road trip around the Welsh countryside to find out more.

Welsh wine and whisky are starting to be taken seriously. It’s been ten years since the first barrel of Welsh whisky was unstoppered and over fifteen years since the inaugural cork was popped on a bottle of Welsh wine. Fast-forward to today, and the country is home to over twenty vineyards and a couple of distilleries.

With the tentativeness of a Londoner venturing outside the M25 for the first time, critics are slowly coming round. English sparkling wines once shocked the wine community by beating champagne in blind tastings, and with a growing collection of international awards, Welsh producers are on track to do the same. The weather here is ideal for barrel ageing – damp days reduce the “angels’ share” (evaporation) – and cool-climate German varieties like Pinot Noir and Müller-Thurgau are thriving alongside the undisputed star, Bacchus.

Yet it’s only in the last few years that small-scale producers have started to offer tours and tastings. It’s an exciting opportunity. The wine and whisky trail is opening up new parts of this beautiful country, and while the drinks may shatter your preconceptions, it’s the warmth of the farmers, winemakers and distillers that’s likely to leave a lasting impression. If you want to find out how wines and spirits go from field to fireside, there’s no better place to do it.

You’ll be in good company, too, following in the improbable footsteps of Prince Charles and the Hairy Bikers. Fortunately you won’t need a royal entourage or TV crew, but there are a few things to help you on your way: a car, a designated driver and a bit of practice pronouncing “iechyd da” – cheers.

WHISKY IN THE BRECON BEACONS AND BEYOND

Successfully navigate the switchbacks leading down from the Brecon Beacons, passing wild ponies and waterfalls along the roadside, and you’ll find yourself at the first Welsh distillery for more than a hundred years, Penderyn.

They’re understandably keen to blow their own trumpet. Video presentations inform you that since 2004 they’ve picked up a host of IWSC awards and that their range is sold in sixteen countries. More interesting is a sample of clear, 92 per cent spirit straight from their still, and a sniff inside the ex-sherry, madeira and port barrels used to age the whiskies. Old bourbon casks are classically used to impart character, depth and colour, but Penderyn are experimenting with these more distinctive finishes.

Photograph by Eleanor Aldridge

When it comes to tasting their single malts, you’ll want to give them a good “cwtch” first. This little “cuddle” warms the whisky, allowing the flavours to evolve. If you dare to add water, you’ll need to know what you’re doing: try filling an empty glass with water then pouring it out, leaving barely a dewy-sheen, then add the whisky – just two drops of water are needed to soften the spirit.

Further west at Dà Mhìle in Ceredigion, a dynamic family team is also making inroads on the spirits scene. They previously shipped their wash up to Springbank in Scotland, but now have a their own still, and will be producing and ageing whisky on site. During the hands-on tour of their secluded farm they take visitors through the workings of a small-scale distillery. Their passion for experimentation is infectious.

Visitors can put their tastebuds to test trying to detect foraged gorse, elderflower and camomile among the botanicals in their gin, or sample their signature seaweed-infused special. “We have tried it with oysters”, admits distiller John-James. “That’s kind of the most decadent way of having this stuff. Have an oyster, pour the gin into the shell and drink it from there.”

Image courtesy of Dá Mhíle

VINEYARDS IN THE WYE VALLEY

Back towards the English border lies the heartland of the Welsh wine industry: the Wye Valley. Sandstone cottages, farmland and narrow lanes – their banks once built up by drovers to herd sheep – distinguish these low hills from the otherworldly Beacons. These landscapes inspired what some claim to be the first British travel guide, Observations on the River Wye, by the Reverend William Gilpin, along with the likes of Turner and Wordsworth, in the 1700s.

White Castle is one of the newer vineyards here. Congenial owners Robb and Nicola are gradually turning the grazing land behind their Grade II listed stone barns over to grape growing. Their personal tours offer an insight into modern viticulture, while a glass of their mulberry-laced Rondo is proof that red grapes can be grown successfully here. A Welsh red will never have the powerful tannins of a Malbec or intensity of a Cabernet Sauvignon (which need warmer weather to ripen), but those who favour lighter, delicate wines are in luck.

A trip to Wernddu Organics is less structured. Phoenix, Schonburger and Seyval Blanc vines share this small farm­ with a herd of friendly alpacas (remember that they like to spit). Their unusual, oaked Pinot Noir rosé is only sold on-site, a contrast to wines made at nearby Ancre Hill, which are already popping up at the likes of Fortnum & Mason.

Photograph by Eleanor Aldridge

The more traditional Parva Farm boasts beautiful views towards the ruins of Tintern Abbey. “When we first came here there was real surprise that there was a vineyard in Wales”, remembers charming owner Judith Dudley. Things are a little different these days. On slopes once planted by the Romans, they now grow the aromatic Bacchus – a grape aptly named after the Roman god of wine. More unusual is their spicy mead. The recipe for this ancient honey wine was honed here by the Abbey’s monks several hundred years ago.

WINEMAKING AROUND THE FOREST OF DEAN

For now, the only thing many Wye Valley vineyards lack is a winery. Most schlep their grapes over the border to use the facilities at Three Choirs. With their smart restaurant and vineyard-view hotel rooms, Three Choirs offers a glimpse into the future of the Welsh wine industry. Their slick tour explains their rise from humble fruit farm to a 250,000-bottle-a-year behemoth.

The highlight of the tasting is the little-known Siegerrebe (a cross between Madeleine Angevine and Gewürztraminer). Its heady elderflower scent is wonderfully evocative of British summer days – a fitting image to end this “grape” escape.

NEED TO KNOW

Accommodation:
There are a variety of self-catering cottages near the border at the enchanting Puzzlewood, a Tolkein-esque forest of moss and ferns amid a weathered iron ore mine. Further west, you can wake up to views of the Brecon Beacons at the Old Rectory Stables near Abergavenny.
Eating:
Jill Berryman’s specialty is setting up surprise woodland proposals, but she’ll also delight wine-wearied palates with gourmet picnics across the Wye Valley. A restorative bowl of cawl, the national lamb, potato, carrot and swede soup, at the idiosyncratic Penn y Cae Inn is is the ideal post-Penderyn treat (look out for the meerkat enclosure in the back garden). Pub-lovers should hole up in a booth at the Ostrich Inn after a visit to Three Choirs.
Travel:
It’s around a two-and-a-half-hour drive to the Welsh border from London. We travelled with Rhino Car Hire.

Explore more of Wales with the Rough Guide to Wales. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Alentejo is huge and Alentejo is gorgeous. The Portuguese food is excellent, the wine arguably even better; it’s cheap, it’s quiet and it’s wild. And for now at least, besides a handful of the rich and famous who own houses here, you can have it largely to yourself… Neil McQuillian takes a rather delicious tour of this underrated region.

Alentejo plays hard to get: the regional airport at Beja serves mostly as a handy parking space for Portuguese national carrier TAP, public transport isn’t up to much and neither is the road signage, the marketing of its sights needs some work and in travelling between them you’ll generally be confined to single carriageways. So it might not be very approachable, and it’s inclined to keep itself to itself, but surmount these obstacles and you’re onto a good thing. Because Alentejo knows how to treat you right, and it’ll reach your heart the tried and tested way – through your stomach.

Together with its infrastructural stumbling blocks (you’ll probably end up flying into Lisbon and making your way from there), Alentejo’s food and wine is liable to make a happy, heavy-lidded sloth of you for the duration of your stay. Of course, the region can do activity, but it’s generally of the gentle variety: rambling along the rugged, aromatic coast, exploring atmospheric walled towns such as Marvão and Monsaraz, or UNESCO World Heritage Sites Elvas and Évora; or even stargazing, since part of the region was designated a dark sky reserve in 2012. Crucially, though, none of these things are incompatible with feeding your face.

For me, what marked Alentejo’s gastronomy out was its seasonality and diversity across relatively short distances. On the coast the chief seafood treat is the hard-to-harvest goose barnacle known as percebe, while near the Lagoa de Santo André you’re more likely to be served eel stew. Nisa, Serpa and Évora all have cheeses that are proudly stamped DOP (denominação de origem protegida), meaning that they’re protected and produced uniquely in those places. In terms of seasons, you might only find the traditional cardo (thistle) soup between winter and spring, depending on the timing of the rains; fresh pork is generally a wintertime treat; while wild asparagus, truffles, silarca (a type of mushroom served simply grilled and salted), black bass and game are only available at particular times of year.

Many people in the UK are trying hard to prioritise these precious factors of seasonality and place-specific produce, yet in Alentejo it’s just the way things work. Of course, there’s a degree of overlap – Nisa cheese isn’t available exclusively in Nisa and a freshly shot hare can be frozen – but the principles are basically respected and the promise of new gastronomic treats is a compelling reason to push on (nice and slowly) from one place to the next.

According to the locals I met, diversity of produce is central to the region’s culture. An example came on my second day in Alentejo: the tour group I was part of were just about to leave Padaria Joana Roque – a venerable old cave of a bakery in Vidigueira – and the owner, Joana herself, who was well into her 70s but still working and rocking forearms like ham hocks, asked where we were off to next. Our excellent guide Olga explained that we were headed for an olive oil tasting in Moura and this was immediately met with Joana’s disdain. “Why?” she asked. “It’s so much better here” – even though the two villages are just thirty minutes apart.

The small scale of much of Alentejo production must partly account for the variety, and this bakery was classic cottage industry: a two-room, two-woman affair, with Joana’s home visible through the open door in one corner. It was film set perfect too (morning light forming floury beams, a 1950s mixer sitting on stone floor beside battered antique scales and long, knobbly wooden oven paddles) but I’ve no doubt it was mostly hard graft. As a parting gift Joana cut up hot bread and doused it in sugar and olive oil (Vidigueira olive oil of course), producing something doughnut-like but far superior to any I’ve tasted.

The Great Convent Bake Off

We’d met another hard worker the previous evening, in Beja, where we were at a pastry shop and café, tasting an array of doces conventuais (cakes made to centuries-old recipes, originally devised by nuns at local convents). “Some days I break three thousand eggs”, owner Francisca Casteleiro told us. And that’s without machines: “Just two pans, and my hands.” Christmas is her busiest time, apparently: “I say no more orders, but there’s always the friend of the friend of the friend,” she explained, raising her eyes heavenwards. The cakes were rich, delicious and showy – my favourite, styled to look like a loaf of the local bread, contained over fifty yolks. The extravagance was partly down to competitiveness on the nuns’ part, many of whom were wealthy and had been apparently forced into the religious life to avoid the shame of a bad marriage.

With both these women, you sensed a compulsion to keep doing things the right way, with no shortcuts or shirking. That was the mood at Casa de Porco Preto in Barrancos, too, which was again a celebration of all things regional. The experience was a guts-and-all lesson in provenance – we saw black pigs snuffling for acorns in the fields and then, half an hour later, we stood beneath rows of oozing hams, maturing to succulence. One pig needs a whole tree’s worth of acorns every day, then thirty to sixty days to fatten, and another three to five years for the presunto (cured ham) to be ready to eat – it ain’t cheap, as you’d imagine, but you can buy it direct from the premises for a whole lot less than you would at home. I thought I could taste those local acorns in the truly outstanding finished product – eaten with a glass of Alentejo wine, this was the most powerful experience of what the French call terroir – the conviction that what you’re eating has deep ties with the place it came from – that I’ve yet known.

For many people, the region’s wine alone is reason enough to visit – Olga told us that wealthy Brazilians fly in on wine jollies. And they’re not the only big shots coming to Alentejo: it’s said that Sarkozy and Mourinho have houses here, while the big Comporta Dunes development in the region’s northwest is an indication that major players are starting to take the region seriously. Come soon while it’s still quiet, move slowly, eat well.

Sunvil Discovery offers tailor-made itineraries across the Alentejo. One possible itinerary costs from £601 pp (two sharing) including return flights (Heathrow) with TAP Portugal, one night at the Pousada S. Francisco in Beja, one night at the Hotel Convento do Espinheiro in Evora and two nights at the Pousada Santa Maria in Marvão, and car hire. For further information about the Alentejo, see www.visitalentejo.pt/en/.

15. Malaysia

You told us which country you think has the best cuisine and now we’ve whittled it down to a top fifteen. Starting the countdown is Malaysia; Sharni Lutalica told us on Facebook that Malaysian cuisine is her favourite for the variety in flavours and spices.

14. Lebanon

Falafel, hummus, fresh fish and juicy fruits; Lebanese has a whole host of great savory flavours, not to mention the delicious baklava that swayed @MarkJamesVang’s vote on Twitter.

13. England

Perhaps a rather surprising entry, England made number thirteen in your choice of top cuisine. As @keuro said on Twitter: “with the advent of the gastropub England has some pretty great food!”

12. Turkey

The kebabs from street vendors in Istanbul got Johan Nilsson’s vote on Facebook, and @felttipfairy said on Twitter: “best of all, [Turkish food is] served up with a big grin and dancing in Fethiye!”

11. Spain

There’s so much to love about Spanish cuisine so it’s no wonder it makes the top fifteen. From tapas to paella, there’s a huge variety of big flavours to get your mouth-watering and it seems Valencia is the place to chow down, according to @Xxemma1xX on Twitter.

10. Singapore

Into the top ten and @blondinwales’s tweet says it all: “Drunken prawns, chili crab, laksa. So amazing…” Twitter fan @jaanhunter describes Singaporean food as a fusion of Malay, Chinese, Indian and Japanese. Who wouldn’t want to tuck in?

9. Mexico

From burritos to old-time favourite chilli con carne, Mexico sits at number nine with its meleé of spices, hot chillies and colourful mix of ingredients. As @TheDreamYear put it on Twitter: "Mexican food is irresistible!"

8. Indonesia

It seems Indonesia has it all: not only did it sit in the top ten for our beautiful countries poll, now it’s proving to be not just a pretty face. On Twitter, @lukmanAul picked out rendang, a spicy meat dish, as his favourite.

7. France

The art of the perfect pastry can be found at its best in France, and it seems you have a sweet tooth as you voted this country’s cuisine – from boeuf bourguignon to multicoloured macaroons – into number seven of our poll.

6. China

Plenty of you agreed with @CultureTrip when they said you can’t beat Chinese for its deliciousness, and @ManRuiTian loves it because of “the sheer variety of flavours of dumplings, teas, & spices you can get across the provinces is matched no where else.”

5. Vietnam

Describing it as the “perfect mix of Asian and French flavours”, @Dudzicsu’s vote helped push to Vietnamese cuisine into fifth place.

4. Japan

Our very own Editorial Assistant Rebecca chose Japanese food as her favourite because the cuisine is “stunning” as well as tasty. She said: “kaiseki ryori must be one of the most beautiful types of food you can set eyes on.”

3. India

The intense flavours and colours of Indian food were bound get this country into the top five. From coconut to chili, this cuisine has something for everyone and @TravelSisi said: “I just loved their fabulous vegetarian options.”

2. Thailand

In second place comes Thailand and on Twitter @PolCandid chose this favoured cuisine because it’s fiery-hot with chilli, fresh with lemongrass and fragrant with coriander.

1. Italy

And the award for best cuisine in the world goes to Italy. “The pasta, the pizza, the fish, the meat…” @Reislykke’s list goes on, and quite rightly: Italy’s fresh produce and flair for flavour got you voting – even our own Senior Web Editor Tim Chester said he’d happily survive on solely Italian food if he had too!

Thought Czech food was only good for soaking up beer? Think again. A recent culinary revival has put the country firmly on the European foodie trail. Andy Turner volunteers his taste buds to investigate what and where to eat in Prague. 

The wind howls down Wenceslas Square as I walk past the giant equestrian statue of Bohemia’s patron saint. I’m on my way to meet food-tourism pioneers Taste of Prague for a crash course in Czech cuisine. My guide, Karolina, soon spots me and the other participants (two Danes and an American) loitering outside a busy McDonald’s. Producing a bottle of home-made slivovice (plum brandy) and half a dozen shot glasses, she quickly breaks the ice and explains that there’s a great deal more to Prague eating than the Golden Arches or mushy dumplings.

Once a favourite with Austro-Hungarian royalty, Prague’s restaurants were considered on a par with Paris and Vienna right up until World War II. Communist rule then heralded a gastronomic deep freeze: official cookbooks stifled creativity, supermarkets shelves grew bare and bizarre television ads encouraged people to eat cabbage and drink milk. Today, almost 25 years since the Velvet Revolution, a new upheaval is taking place: celebrity chefs are promoting Modern Czech cooking, food blogs are multiplying like wild mushrooms and microbreweries, organic restaurants and hip cafés are springing up across the capital.

Carnivore desires

Stomachs rumbling we head to Čestr steak house. This stylish canteen-style restaurant dishes up a carnigasm of marinated ribs, slow-cooked ox cheek, smoked Přeštice ham and truffle-stuffed chicken accompanied by creamy mash and perfectly poured Pilsner Urquell. A trip to the loos takes me past a row of Čestr carcasses (a special Czech breed of cow) being prepared for the kitchen. Back at our table Karolina is mid anecdote, revealing how she used to share a bath with a live carp at Christmas time (all the better to keep it fresh for the big day). The meal is rounded of with (what else in Prague?) beer ice cream.

Snacks and sugar highs

I start to fret that Čestr has butchered my appetite on the way to Prague’s favourite snack stop Světozor deli. But I’m soon tucking into their chlebicke, or “little breads” layered with hard-boiled eggs, mayonaisse and poppy seeds and served in quaint boxes. My new Danish chums look skeptical but eventually agree that the Czechs have mastered the art of the open sandwich. Between mouthfuls Karolina raises the divisive national issue of potato salad recipes: “If my boyfriend made it the wrong way we could never get married”. I’m starting to like Karolina.

Next stop is patisserie St Tropez. Here we’re welcomed with shots of a medicinal-tasting digestif called Becherovka and platefuls of traditional Czech desserts. Each is a creation of glycaemic genius, blending nougat, caramel and vanilla cream in delicate laurel wreaths of pastry. Perhaps it’s all the sugar and alcohol but I begin to hallucinate. An upside-down horse and rider appear strung up from the ceiling outside; fortunately it’s not my mind playing tricks but a creation by David Cerny, enfant terrible of Czech art.

Beers, wines and hangovers


As darkness falls, we jump on a vintage tram and cross the River Vltava to Malá Strana, Prague’s “Little Quarter”. The chill grips my bones as we pass yet more surreal imaginings of Mr Cerny: this time giant babies crawling along the riverbank (they can also be seen scaling the Žižkov Television Tower like humanoid ants). A stiff drink is needed and we head to Vinograph, a candle-lit bar showcasing Czech wine. Neglected for decades under Communist rule, the country’s vineyards are now knocking out some perfectly decent Riesling and sweet Moravian Muscat, here served with a zesty pickled cheese.

One thing that did survive the Iron Curtain unscathed is Czech beer and I am now getting thirsty for a cold one. Karolina recommends a trip to microbrewery/restaurant Nota Bene. With trendy exposed brick and blackboard menus it’s about as far from a dimly lit beer hall as you can get. The tap list includes a fruity American Pale Ale from craft beer darlings Matuška. There’s more traditional hoppy magnificence on offer at monastic brewery U Tří růží, “At three roses”, in the Old Town, though by now my note taking is becoming patchy and I navigate my way back to the hotel in a series of blurry tram rides.

Next morning I’m sipping a latte at Můj šálek kávy, “My cup of tea”, in Karlín, another Taste of Prague favourite. Grinding the best beans in town, its staff have also nailed the “Shoreditch barista” look of black t-shirt and carefully crafted facial hair. I find myself agreeing with Patrick Leigh Fermor who suggested Prague appeared even more lustrous with a slight hangover. The city looks amazing in the glowing wintry sun and I can’t wait to sample more examples of its culinary revolution.

Need to know

EasyJet fly to Prague from five UK cities: Bristol, Edinburgh, London Gatwick, Stansted and Manchester. Andy Turner stayed at andel’s Hotel Prague as a guest of Vienna International Hotels & Resorts who offer six hotels across the city. Taste of Prague tours last around four hours and cost CZK 2550 (£75) per person inclusive of all food and drink (maximum group size 4). To sample some of capital’s finest food visit during the Prague Food Festival held in May.

Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

A visit to Queen Victoria Market, or “Vic Market”, located on the northern fringe of the city centre, is a superb introduction to Melbourne’s vibrant food culture and will have you rubbing shoulders with everyone from government ministers to the city’s best chefs. Running for 128 years, it’s one of the oldest markets in Australia and is liveliest at weekends when buskers compete with spruiking stallholders for your attention.

Follow your nose to the deli section, characterized by its strong smells and shops selling regional specialities such as Jindi Triple Cream Brie and Milawa’s tasty goat’s cheese, as well as lesser-known fusions like kangaroo biltong (South African-style dried meat). Arriving hungry you’ll find the free tastings will put a stop to the pangs as quickly as they tempt you to lighten your wallet. Greek, Italian, French and Polish stalls stock everything from marinated octopus to juniper sausage, while speciality butchers sell emu and crocodile. If you’re looking for more traditional meat offerings, head to the Meat and Fish Hall. Here, competition is fierce, with dozens of butchers supplying prime cuts from legs of lamb to Japanese-style Wagu beef, and fishmongers’ stalls groan under an impressive array of seafood ranging from northern Australian wild barramundi, Victorian crayfish and fresh Tasmanian oysters.

The fruit and vegetable market reflects the seasons, dominated by root vegetables in winter and stone fruits in summer – the proximity of Southeast Asia means exotic fruits like mangosteens, rambutan and the pungent-smelling durian are also available. If you’re after something less epicurean, however, try the German Bratwurst shop for a sauerkraut and mustard covered sausage, or the American Doughnut Van, serving up bags of jam-filled indulgence for a few dollars.

Queen Victoria Market is open Tues & Thurs–Sun, see www.qvm.com.au for further details.

 

For hundreds more ultimate travel experiences, get Rough Guides’ Make The Most Of Your Time On Earth

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month