Budget-friendly foodie trips in Europe
Visit Latvijas Balzams to pick up Latvians' favourite herbal liqueur, the gooey bitter Riga Black Balsam, from £3.50 a bottle. It has the viscosity of molasses and a unique and acquired taste that hints of peppercorn and raspberry. Mix with schnapps or coffee, or pour over vanilla ice cream.
Just by Riga's old city walls and looking onto the Dome Cathedral, the comfy, chic B-Bar serves Allazu Kimelis (caraway liqueur), £2.40, karstvins (hot mulled wine), £4.40, and local beers, including the smooth, clean Aldaris Luksus, £3 for half a litre - or the more traditionally brewed Uzavas and Valdemarpils beers. Popular during the day with smart 30-somethings who come for the three-course business lunch, £7.80, and dishes such as pork fillet in cream sauce or baked salmon with rice.
Located adjacent to the enchanting 19th-century shopping area of Bergs Bazaar, Hotel Bergs is a boutique five-star hotel with 38 sleek rooms and suites. Its veranda restaurant offers a Culinary Adventure menu, £30, featuring pike quenelles in tapioca with dill oil and crayfish velouté. Doubles from £114.
The Bulgarian capital's handsome collection of Byzantine churches and Soviet-era monoliths is the perfect backdrop for its varied restaurants, many of which reflect the country's diverse, multi-cultural history. Chefs meld flavours from the country's Ottoman past into folksy, Slavic meat-and-veggie recipes from the countryside. Be sure to try mish -mash, an omelette of eggs, peppers, tomatoes and Bulgarian feta. (bulgariatravel.org)
In a low-roofed whitewashed room adorned with many rural artefacts, Pod Lipite, which means 'under the linden trees', has great traditional Bulgarian meals accompanied by lilting traditional folk music. Try the veal tail soup, £2.10, shopska salad with sirene (a salty sheep's cheese), £2.25, or Govedartsi pork knuckle with potatoes and white wine sauce, £7.31.
Bio Bulgaria is Sofia's first organic food store. Their own line of products includes kiselo mlyako, local organic yoghurt, 75p, that tastes great mixed with their honey, £4.90. They also sell 25g packets of organic Mursalski Mountain Tea, £1.55, a Balkan specialty.
Visit new Viennese-styled resto-enoteca Vinarna Vkusnata Hapka (Bul. Praga 24, +359 02 480 9324) where caterer to the stars Tsveta Arnaudova has selected some 150 wines, many of them top Bulgarian vintages. Try a glass of the awardwinning, herby Sakar Mountain Terra Tangra Cuvee 2006 red, £2.60.
Set on Sofia's central shopping street, Les Fleurs is one of Sofia's most colourful hotels, with 31 Italian-designed bedrooms in understated floral kitsch. Well located, within a range of great local restaurants. Doubles from £122.
Bratislava, Slovakia (bratislava.sk)
Onion-domed towers and rolling vineyards define the landscape of this buzzy, medievalmeets- modern capital. Potatoes, cabbage and sheep's cheese form the basis of traditional Slovak cuisine, and the best-known dish is bryndzové halušky, small potato dumplings filled with cheese and speck. Slovaks also produce great brandies, including the juniper Borovicka and plum Slivovica, matured for 12 or more years.
Hovering 85 metres above the Nový Most bridge, saucer-shaped restaurant UFO Taste mixes a white acrylic discotheque aesthetic with breathtaking city views. Inventive dishes include salad of confit rabbit leg, baby lettuce, bacon chips and pomegranate, £12.77, and roast rack of boar with sauerbraten and bread stuffing, £19.60.
You'll find sweet raisin wine, £9.37, and medium-sweet dessert wine, £22.14, made from locally harvested Pálava grapes at the Elesco vineyards' wine shop. The winery's bright, airy restaurant next door serves potato piroshky, ravioli stuffed with mushrooms and served with sour cream, £5.10.
Expect exposed beams and photos from the original brewery on the walls at the re-opened three-floor Bratislava Burgess Brewery. Drink its own Bratislavský ležiak lager, £1, and black Sessler beer, £1.45, or the popular unsweetened apple brandy, Jablkovica, £2.55. They also have local bar food, such as bryndzové halušky, £5.20, and utopenec, a kind of pickled sausage with garlic, spring onion and chili peppers, £2.81.
Opened in 2010, the Kempinski Hotel River Park has 231 rooms and suites featuring bay-window views of the Danube and high-tech, push button bathrooms. It has a heated indoor pool on the roof, free town transport in a Rolls Royce and two great restaurants, ARTE and River Bank. Bargain doubles from £124.10.