Whole Foods feeds growing appetite for culinary tourism

Deborah Hopewell
Y! Travel Sr. Editor

Have you ever planned a trip around food? Maybe a weeklong cooking class in the interior hills of Mexico, or a farm-to-table dinner in a Minnesota field?

If so, you’ve been a culinary tourist. And you’ve got a lot of like-minded company. According to the International Culinary Tourism Association (based in the U.K.), culinary tourism is the fastest-growing segment of the travel industry – worth more than $52 billion a year in the U.S. alone.

Enter Whole Foods, the “natural food” supermarket chain that has grown to 343 stores in the U.S., Canada, and U.K. Whole Foods has just recently launched its own travel company – Whole Journeys – that will take culinary exploration one step further, so to speak, by incorporating a healthy dose of physical activity.

Whole Journeys wants to reach “active foodies” with trips that feature walking, hiking, and cycling as a healthy way of exploring culinary-rich regions around the world. Don’t consider yourself an athlete? Not to worry. The itineraries are geared toward clients with average fitness levels, though the 12 trips currently on the list include a range of physical commitment – from leisurely morning strolls in Tuscany to somewhat strenuous hiking along the Ancient Tea and Horse Route in China.

But it’s not just about burning a few extra calories to justify lunch, says executive director Kathy Dragon. Taking the slow road “allows us to get into the land, into the community. We get into the vineyard, instead of just doing the wine tasting. It’s not just about physical activity, but how we’re engaging with the people,” says Dragon. “Most of the people we’ve created these trips around are characters and friends who want to share this with us.

” Boulder, Colo.,-based Dragon, who has more than two decades’ experience leading active travel groups, will lead many of the initial trips. The one she’s most excited about?

“The Basque country (of Spain). It really is it’s own country. They are so passionate, and the food is so incredible and diverse. The itinerary includes two of the cooking programs and a slow-food dinner the first night. “

Other trips include cycling or hiking in Provence, Italy, the Cappadocia region of Turkey, Switzerland and Idaho’s Salmon River.

Prices range from $2,795 to $4,695 per person, and include hotels, guides, activities and most meals (airfare not included). www.wholejourneys.com