Ten culinary weekends in Europe
Make tiny tapas in San Sebastián
In the pretty coastal city of San Sebastián, bar snacks are a serious business. Smaller and often more elaborate than their rustic cousins, tapas, Basque “pintxos” are bite-sized portions of food intended to accompany a sociable drink. Each of the city’s many bars has its own speciality, from a sliver of steak speared with a cocktail stick to a mini-marvel worthy of a Michelin star (of which San Sebastián has nine, by the way). Learn the art of pintxomaking with local chefs on a five-hour course that concludes with a boozy gourmet lunch (£120. As the sun sets, take to the streets for a “txikiteo” or pintxo crawl – try Bar Goiz Argi (Calle Fermin Calbeton 4) for classic prawn kebabs, or Aloña Berri for daring combinations such as cream cheese, foie gras and mango.
Pensión Altair is a beautifully restored townhouse with simply furnished, spacious rooms (from £45).
Explore the vineyards of the South Downs
Smattered across the undulating chalk hillsides of the South Downs are some of England’s best wineries, and a weekend walking tour gives you the chance to stroll among them while sampling their wares. Specialist operator Arblaster & Clarke offers access to vineyards ordinarily closed to the public, including Nyetimber, which produces the sparkling white that was served at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee lunch. Walking is kept to an enjoyable minimum (four miles on the first day, six on the second) and each day ends with a three-course wine-tasting dinner at the country pub where you bed down for the night (£550 per person, including accommodation and meals; next tour 5-7 April).
Sup at Belgium’s monastic breweries
In Belgium, beer-making is virtually a religion, so it makes sense that the best brews are made by monks. Three of Belgium’s six Trappist breweries are in the region of Wallonia – an easy drive from capital city Brussels – and although none will let you tour the facilities, it’s worth the journey just to wander their atmospheric grounds and sample the local brews, many of which can’t be bought outside the region. The most accessible is Orval, housed within the Abbaye Notre Dame, where you can walk round the 12th-century ruins and a small museum (£4.50). At Chimay, which gives its name to Belgium’s most famous Trappist beer, visit the church at hilltop Abbaye de Scourmont before trying the monks’ cheeses and beers at l’Auberge de Poteaupré (tasting platter £9).
In Chimay, Le Petit Chapitre is a B&B housed in a turreted, wisteria-draped building full of antiques (from £70).
Get on the real Ale trail in Lake District
Cumbria is the beer garden of England, and the scenic, seven-mile Lakes Line wends its way through the very heart of it. Devised by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), the Real Ale by Rail trail links dramatic lakes-and-fells countryside with country pubs and craft breweries serving proper beer – none more than a 15-minute walk from a station. It takes in Watermill Inn in the bucolic village of Ings, where a pint pulled from one of the 16 hand pumps can be enjoyed fireside or outside on the sunny terrace, and the Hawkshead Brewery, with its extensive selection of beers such as Cumbrian Five Hop and Lakeland Gold.
A stroll away from Lake Windermere, The Elleray is a cosy pub with locally sourced food on the menu and smart rooms upstairs (from £65).