Ten gourmet getaways that offer unique food experiences, plus where to eat, sleep, shop and drink.
Home to medieval limestone buildings, fields, canals and some of the country's most beloved pubs, this quintessential university city also has an excellent local food scene with thriving farmers' markets at Gloucester Green, Cowley and Wolvercote, and a number of restaurants, such as The Vaults, that locally source or even grow their own produce. (visitoxfordandoxfordshire.com)
Set in an 1898 Victorian conservatory, Gee's is an Oxford culinary landmark serving locally sourced, seasonal British dishes such as pan-fried river trout in brown shrimp butter with steamed spinach, £15.50, and duck confit, celeriac mash and caramelised shallots, £17.25, plus a great value two-course dinner menu, £23.50, served Monday to Saturday.
The stalls and shops of the 18th-century Covered Market include Pieminister with their award-winning Chicken of Aragon pie with roast garlic, vermouth and tarragon, £3.95 (add mash and gravy for £1.85), and Oxford Cheese Shop for the semi-soft Oxford Blue.
At 769 years old, The Bear Inn is Oxford's oldest pub. Come for pints of Scholar and Prospect ales from the local Shotover Brewery, both £3.40. (01865 728 164; 6 Alfred St)
Bedrooms at Ethos come in neutral tones and floral prints and feature king-sized beds with leather headboards, power showers and kitchenettes. A breakfast basket stocked with muffins, fruit and orange juice is delivered each morning. Doubles from £102.
San Sebastian, Spain
On the Southern coast of the Bay of Biscay with gorgeous beaches and an enchanting promenade, this culinary powerhouse offers scores of pintxos bars and more Michelin stars per capita than anywhere in the world. Its Cantabrian Sea is known for Bonito tuna, baby squid, crab and tender, silky anchovies. Learn to cook local seafood dishes such as txangurro al horno (baked spider crab - see recipe), with San Sebastián Food, classes and tours from £55. (sansebastianturismo.com)
Modern, lively bistro La Fábrica offers local dishes such as txipirones rellenos en su tinta (squid in black ink sauce), koxotxa (hake cheeks in parsley sauce) and marmitako (fisherman's stew) as part of their bargain three-course dinner, £20, including wine.
Pick up some sliced Jamón Ibérica de Bellota, from £57.66/kg, txistorra (Basque chorizo), £1.95, and Masia El Altet extra virgin olive oil, £12.95, from gourmet deli Zapore Jai. Look for Eusko Label products, which ensure Basque authenticity.
Head to traditionally decorated and local-frequented pintxo bar Gandarias for sagardoa, tangy Basque cider, 85p, locally harvested Txakoli white wine, £1.35, and patxaran, a sloe berry and anise liqueur, £2.53.
Effusive innkeepers Leire and her mother Carmen run Bellas Artes, a smashing little guesthouse with comfy, simple doubles featuring exposed brick, tiny balconies and fresh flowers. Doubles from £60.
Dublin's food revolution has brought the Irish capital numerous specialist shops, great restaurants, cute cafés and cookery schools (try dublincookeryschool.ie and cooksacademy.com) - to say nothing of the many pubs that have been there for centuries. Spend a while getting to know the city's culinary secrets on a tour with Fabulous Food Trails. (visitdublin.com)
Following his reign at Mint, Michelin starred chef Dylan McGrath now presides over casual Rustic Stone. Try his lean sweet chilli peppers stuffed with tuna tartare and avocado, £2.75, then a beef fillet topped with mushroom duxelles and hollandaise of chervil and tarragon, £24.70, served sizzling on polished hot stones.
Pick up sausage rolls at Lolly and Cooks, £3, brown soda bread at upmarket Fallon & Byrne, £1.53, and Killeen goat cheese, £22.15/kg at Sheridans. Beshoff serves what many Dubliners consider the world's best fish and chips, £6.40.
Down a Guinness at fabulous conversion The Church, where Handel practised his Messiah. Fitzgerald's is good for cinnamon and whipped cream hot chocolate, £3.83. After eating at Michelin-starred Chapter One, finish a meal with the city's best Irish coffee, £6.
Number 31 is set off a quiet mews and features a sunken lounge and lush gardens. They have won awards for their breakfasts, served on a glassenclosed terrace, of kippers, homemade granola, mushroom frittata and cranberry nut loaf. Doubles from £115.
Built on the banks of the Garonne (and used by Haussmann as a model for Paris), grand 18th-century Bordeaux needs little introduction to wine lovers. You can arrive at many of the region's 8,000 chateaux in under an hour from the city centre; try a day tour with 33Tour Bordeaux Chateaux, from £75.80. (bordeaux-tourisme.com)
High ceilings and exposed stone walls set the tone at atmospheric bistronomie specialist Bouchon Bordelais. Their changing lunch menu has different dishes and prices for women (quiche aux poireaux, £6.80), and men (sausage with lentils, £7.66). In the evenings, try the quintessentially Bordelais escargots in red wine sauce or pickled vegetables sautéed in mild spices, followed by pineapple marinated in a light mousse, two courses, £21.30.
Shopping haven Rue des Remparts is home to M le Macaron, whose many macarons include foie gras, chocolate and lychee ginger, from 93p. For fabulous quality local wines, L'Intendant (2 Allées de Tourny; +33 5 56 48 01 29) stocks 15,000 bottles, from 2007 Château Belle-Garde, £4.25, to 1937 Château d'Yquem Sauternes Grand Cru Classé, £3,830.
Head to the ground floor of the Bordeaux Wine Council's 18th-century building, where contemporary Bar à Vin sells wines by the glass, such as 2005 Château le Bernat Saint-Emilion Puisseguin, £3.
Near the city's handsome public gardens, the chic La Maison Bord'eaux has a wine bar and restaurant, with grands vins and fromages menus. The hotel is run by a family of vintners who can organise private tours of châteaux in and around Médoc, Graves-Sauternes and Saint Emilion Pomerol. Doubles from £125.
This spectacular city of Baroque churches and Arab-Norman palazzos is renowned for its cibo da strada, or street food. Pick up a pane con la milza, a roll filled with chewy strips of fried spleen, or panelle, crispy, savoury fritters made from chickpea flour, at the Vucciria or Ballaro' markets. (palermotourism.com)
Located in a dimly lit basement near the Giardino Inglese, unpretentious and family-run Cin Cin is an award-winning local institution, with a menu that features sweet and sour vegetable potpourri with toasted pine nuts and fresh ginger, £6, and the classic Palermitano dish bucatini con sarde (pasta with sardines), £6.80. Order the homemade Marsala and raisins semifreddo, £4.25, and a Donnafugata Ben Ryé Passito di Pantelleria dessert wine, £3.40. The chef also runs market cooking classes, £127.70 per person.
Scoff scoops of gelato in various flavours, including hazelnut, jasmine and mulberry, £1.19, from Gelateria Da Ciccio (Corso Dei Mille 79; +39 091 616 1537). Order street food, such as pane con la milza, £2.13, and panelle, £1.70, to go from Antica Focacceria S Francesco. Try famous Sicilian cannoli; tubular crusts with sugar and ricotta filling, £1.27, at Il Capo market.
The aperitivo della casa (house drink) at Oliver Wine Bar is a spritz, made with Aperol and spumante or prosecco or even beer. (Via Francesco Paolo Di Blasi; +39 091 625 6617)
The stately Centrale Palace Hotel, has been restored with antique furnishings and Bohemia crystal chandeliers. Book a candlelit table at their terrace restaurant Ai Tetti, which has great views to the old city - and a divine tagliatelle aux cèpes with parmesan, £13.60. Doubles from £130.
Home to one of the largest open-air markets in Europe, Latvia's capital Riga exhibits Slavic and Germanic influences in both architecture and cuisine. Expect plenty of pork, potatoes and cabbage in dishes such as pirags (bacon-stuffed pastries) and asinsdesa (blood sausage with cowberry sauce), and national dish, herring. Learn more on Eat Riga's food tours, from £15. (liveriga.com)
Sourcing ingredients from small farms, day-boat fishermen and a backdoor garden, British-Latvian Martins Ritins is the country's most lauded chef and president of Slow Food Latvia. Enter the minimalist décor and changing mood lighting of his restaurant Vincents to order bone marrow brûlée with local Burgundy escargots and Madeira wine sauce, £8.70, or foie gras ravioli, £15.80.
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.
Boasting some 52 individual chocolate shops, Belgium's unofficial chocolate capital is perfect for travellers looking to sate sweet-tooth cravings. But Bruges's meandering cobblestone streets and canals are also great for sampling two street-food Belgian standbys: Belgian frites (£2.12) and steaming waffles with hot caramel (£2.55). (brugge.be)
De Vlaamsche Pot is run by celebrity chef Mario Cattoor. Try his Zeeland mussels served with celery, onion, parsley and crushed pepper, £14.90, and Stoofvlees op z'n vlaams, Flemish beef stew, £13.20. Many of Mario's dishes have come straight out of his gran's recipe book and into his own best-selling cookbook.
Take a local beer home. At de Bier Tempel, you can choose from 600 different types of bottled beers. Come for dainty boxes of 17 Belgian chocolates, £10.22 at The Chocolate Line and see pralines being made in their workshop.
You don't come to the simple, worn Café 't Brugs Beertje to grab a beer; you come to nurse and treasure one. Among vintage billboards, they sell several hundred of Belgium's finest brews, including the bitter, malty blond Delirium Tremens, £2.75.
Once serving as the city's butter market, the renovated Boterhuis offers 11 rooms with exposed wood flooring, traditional furniture and wide double basins in the bathrooms. Serves a large breakfast buffet, packed with meats, cheeses, and kramiek, the local brioche. Doubles from £82.
In medieval times, Norway's second city was one of Europe's centres for maritime trade; now it's the country's seafood capital, with dishes such as cod, monkfish and lutefisk (traditional Scandinavian dried white fish treated with lye) appearing on local menus. It's also the quintessence of rustic Scandinavian charm, thanks to a colourful quarter of wooden wharfside warehouses and cellars dating from the 1700s. (visitbergen.com)
A short walk from the UNESCO-listed harbour is the newly renovated, rustic chic Hanne på Høyden, where award-winning chef Hanne Frosta comes up with organic, exclusively Norwegian-sourced products. Try her pumpkin soup with birch oil and apple-glazed red onions, £11.90, and seasonal berries and fruit compote with gooseberry sorbet, £12.99.
The orange-tarped stalls at the bustling outdoor harbourside Fish Market sell prawn baguettes, £5.50, and fish cakes, from £9.60. You can also get vacuum-packed bags of salmon to take home, from £21.50/kg for farmed, £43/kg for wild. Visit the city's recently opened organic food shop Reindyrka for goodies such as Isrosa's winter ice-cream, with spices, pineapple and chocolate.
Linje Akvavit (Aquavit) is aged in oak casks on ships that cross the equator; the rough seas and changes in climate add flavour to the concentrated potato-based spirit. To try a glass, £8, visit the Femte I Andre Bar, one of Norway's best stocked and most respected cocktail bars.
Sisters Yvonne and Renate run the refined b&b To Søstre. White wooden walls and bare wooden floors form the backdrop to the two double bedrooms (shared bathroom) and the ensuite attic loft. It is best known for breakfasts of homemade breads and jams, smoked mackerel and salmon, reindeer sausage and muesli. Doubles from £119.
Last year Roger Norum ate his way through 29 cities around the world for publications that included O, Departures, Sunday Express and Rough Guides.
The article 'Budget-friendly foodie trips in Europe' was published in partnership with BBC Olive magazine.