I recently had the opportunity to sail across the Mediterranean on Oceania Cruises. Dining my way across the Riviera and onboard the ship has been a bucket list item for many years. The regional delicacies — drizzled with unctuous olive oil, doused in freshly squeezed lemon, and topped with zesty herbs — are a food lover’s dream. Great local cuisine-focused excursions enhance your experience, showcase local foods, and impart a nugget of wisdom and food history along the way.
I wanted to share with you some of the delightful food-driven excursions from Oceania Cruises Mediterranean sailings offerings. Oceania offers guests curated local cuisine experiences that would be difficult to replicate on your own.
Note: Some information in this piece was obtained during a sponsored press trip, but all recommendations are my own.
1. Provence Truffle Hunting And Wine Tasting
One of my favorite types of excursion takes me on a journey I can’t find somewhere else. Learning about truffles, how and where they grow, and how they are harvested is a quintessential Provence experience. While the location of truffles, France’s “black diamond” is a closely guarded secret, we were treated to a demonstration — our four-legged truffle hunting pup can smell a truffle up to 30 meters (98 feet) away.
While aficionados have been working to perfect farming truffles for over 40 years, they haven’t been completely successful in recreating the tree/vine/soil conditions required to grow this amazing fungus. Harvesters still rely on an intimate knowledge of the local area and trained truffle hounds to unearth the popular delicacy.
Our hosts, Hostellerie des Vins de Rognes winery, and our guide Elsa Hallak from The Provence of 5 Senses tours took our small group on a journey through the life of a truffle and the state-of-the-art production facility where they produce beautiful, mostly rose wines.
We were treated to black truffles served simply on a slice of rustic bread covered with brie and a few delectable slices of truffle. The bites pair perfectly with their range of wines including the Chateau Trevaresse, L’Ambassadeur, and 1925 L’Initiale labels. We tasted nine wines during our visit — we were a very happy bunch on the way back to our ship.
2. Olive Oil Production
Luštica, a peninsula between the Bay of Kotor and the Adriatic Sea is home to an eight-generation family-run olive farm, Moric Family Olive Farm. As we meandered through the olive groves, sipping the traditionally distilled libation, rakija, and munching on priganice, a deep-fried donut served with their own honey, you could perceptibly feel your blood pressure go down. The farm is earthy and relaxing.
We were treated to a hands-on class on how to ascertain if your extra virgin olive oil is true olive oil. I repeated the practice when I returned home — my off-the-shelf brand was not pure, and sadly it was an imposter. If you have a chance to go to an olive oil tasting, I suggest you give it a try — it was an eye-opener.
After the tasting, we sat at long tables in the cool cellar next to the ancient olive oil press pushed by donkey power in days gone by. We were treated to salty ham, soft corn bread, mellow cheeses, sharp olives, farm-fresh boiled eggs, and sweet tomatoes — all celebrated with a drizzle of the house extra virgin olive oil.
Our tour was led by guide Ivan Mitrovski, who also leads Baltic-focused small group tours with Overseas Adventure Travel. He offered an overview of the history of Montenegro’s geographic, historic, and cultural background. The peaceful communities along our route showed little sign of the Baltics’ tumultuous history.
3. Fattoria San Donato
San Gimignano, Italy
The small medieval village of Fattoria San Donato typifies the Tuscan countryside: rolling hills, stone-cobbled streets, stout buildings, and beautiful gardens.
A charming farm and winery has been owned and operated by the Fenzi Family since 1932. More than just a winery, you can rent an apartment for a quiet immersion in the Tuscan hills.
Our farm fresh meal included local ham, silky salami, crusty bread with copious amounts of olive oil, farro salad, olives, and of course, gorgeous cheese. All perfectly paired with their wines, it was a sumptuous lunch indeed.
4. Farmhouse Culinary Experience
Our ship docked in Civitavecchia, Italy. Just north of Rome and south of Tarquinia and the west coast agricultural region. We rode through the rolling hills to Agriturismo Il Mandoleto, a restaurant and farmhouse cooking school.
Traditional dishes are prepared with a nod to artisanal cuisine. Our instructor — a nonna with years of cooking chops — guided us step by step in the art of making soft supple pasta. Playing with the raw ingredients and coaxing them into a silky dough is a challenge to perfect. Learning to cut and shape the dough into traditional pasta shapes was a fun exercise in dexterity.
To complement our teacher’s perfectly cooked noodles, we made Amatriciana, a guanciale (pork cheek) based sauce made with tomatoes and pecorino Romano. The simplicity of the dish allows all the flavors to shine through while the rich sauce completely coats the pasta.
5. Positano & Amalfi Coastline By Sea
There are so many picturesque spots along the Amalfi coastline where you can explore and partake in a delectable lunch or aperitivo. Any excursion along the Amalfi coast that includes wine and local cuisine will hit all the right foodie notes. The stunning view certainly adds to the dining ambiance.
Something simple can leave a lasting impression. Our catamaran tour of the Amalfi coastline stopped in Positano for a few hours. We wandered, we shopped, and we ordered a gelato at Covo Dei Saraceni. One of Positano’s luxurious hotel restaurants. the gelato was perfect for a steamy August afternoon and we enjoyed it on the beach for a classic Riviera toes-in-the-sand moment.
6. Ceraudo Winery
Ceraudo Winery, including the restaurant — Dattilo, is located in the Calabria region along Italy’s southern coast. The perfect climate for growing beautiful olive and citrus groves, vineyards, and vegetables. The family-owned organic farm and winery is a leader in the organic agriculture movement in the region.
Organic wines produced from grapes suited to the hot, dry region include their flagship wine, Datillo. A full-bodied red, Datillo is the perfect wine to drink with ‘nduja — a local dish. A buttered sausage served as a past or spread, ‘nduja is made from a blend of pork parts and chili peppers. Served on bread with a drizzle of silky olive oil, it makes a lovely lunch.
7. Walking Tours
Reserving a walking tour that offers a local foodie element is a wonderful cultural experience. Our walking tour of Crotone, a coastal town at the base of Italy’s boot, yielded the classic churches and piazzas. It also allowed us free time to explore the wonderful open-air market. Produce is artfully displayed in a colorful array of shapes, tempting the passerby to stop, sniff, and purchase beautiful fruits and vegetables.
It is not always possible to bring fresh produce back to the ship, but look for dishes highlighting unusual items — like these gorgeous yellow melons — on the ship’s menu. The ship’s chefs are adept at using local delicacies when preparing a daily menu. Oftentimes there one or two restaurants serve a menu based on the port where the ship is anchored.
8. Pizza Of Naples
When you think of classic Italian pizza, you are instantly transported to the Campania region. The birthplace of modern pizza, Naples is the best place to watch and learn the traditional art of making a pizza. Named for Queen Margherita of Savoy, the Margherita pizza is the standard by which all pizzas are measured.
The chefs of Naples take extreme pride in their pizza using only the freshest local ingredients. Vesuvius looms over the city while providing rich volcanic soil to grow herbs, garlic, tomatoes, and grasses for the cows from which comes the beautiful fior di latte (mozzarella).
9. The Culinary Center
You don’t always need to leave the ship to enjoy a food excursion. The Culinary Center aboard Oceania Cruises affords guests a hands-on cooking school led by an executive chef and a team of assistants. The small classes are a popular onboard activity where students can watch, learn, and participate in creating a thematic menu of culinary delights.
My class participated in The Sicilian Kitchen. We made Sicilia arancini — a fried rice ball filled with mozzarella and green peas. Our main course was pasta with shrimp and pistachio pesto topped with perfectly toasted Sicilian bread crumbs. For dessert, we learned how to make our own ricotta for ricotta tiramisu parfaits.
Shore Excursions For Food Lovers
Culinary tours, wine tastings, and cooking classes immerse us in local culture and enhance our adventure. Sharing a kitchen table with a local chef and tasting their creative dishes is the perfect way to explore the Mediterranean foodie scene.
Pro Tip: The most popular tours fill up quickly and food lovers clamor for amazing experiences, book your food and wine tours as soon as possible.