Travellers seem to have a growing taste for culinary travel. No longer just for gourmands and chefs, cooking schools and food-oriented destinations have become increasingly popular among foodies with a wanderlust.

"It's definitely a growing market. I think it's becoming a very important market as a subset of cultural tourism," Dr. Rich Harrill, director of the International Tourism Research Institute at the University of South Carolina told CNN.

Culinary destinations attract tourists of a range of ages, but people in their 40s and 50s are the most common.

"I think that the foodie market is related more or less to the baby boomer demographic," said Dr. Harrill. "You have people who are retiring, people with lots of discretionary time and income, some level of sophistication. They're educated, they're interested in wine, they're interested in food."

In regions known for good food, you'll often find an entire industry centered on eating and drinking: tour operators, cooking schools, hotels, and even individual chefs offering tours and classes for visitors who want to learn about local foods and traditional cooking metods. Options can range from tours of farmers’ markets and specialty food shops to multi-day packages with intensive hands-on cooking classes with top chefs and visits with food artisans.

While France, Italy and Spain are hot spots for culinary tourism, other top destinations include Mexico, Vietnam, Thailand and other exotic locales.

And as a result of the boom in culinary tourism, more Canadian businesses are offering “culinary immersion” vacations that include meeting with chefs from the best restaurants to cooking schools and agricultural tours. Nova Scotia’s Trout Point, for example, offers a culinary get-away that includes luxury accommodations, gourmet meals, cooking instruction and field trips to unique food destinations.

Feast your way around the globe

For those interested in planning a gourmet getaway, SmarterTravel.com has put together this list of fabulous foodie destinations.

Provence, France

Known by the locals as cuisine du soleil et du coeur -- cuisine of sun and heart -- gastronomy in this sunny corner of France uses age-old recipes and methods while cooking mainly with fresh meats and locally-grown produce. And, unlike much of the country, the natural flavors of food are not drenched with heavy sauces but are instead complimented with plenty of fresh herbs and olive oil.

Seafood is the base for Provencal classics such as soupe de poisson (fish soup) and bouillabaisse (a fish dish served with a side of broth), and ingredients like lavender and black truffles give an exotic flavor to many local dishes. And almost every meal involves the use of olive oil and fresh vegetables -- primarily tomatoes, eggplant, and zucchini.

While quality multi-day culinary classes aren't cheap in the major cities (you can easily pay upwards of $5,000 US for a week), more affordable options are available in various home-based cooking classes in the countryside villages.

For more on culinary getaways in the French countryside:
Les Liaisons Délicieuses

For regional travel information, visit the official France tourism website.

New York City

Authentic ethnic cuisine from North and South America, Europe, and Asia can all be found in New York City. Several tour companies host in-depth food tours of individual neighborhoods and top fresh-food markets, specialty shops and eateries. Some tours also offer cooking demonstrations and lessons. For information on food events in the city, go to FoodsofNY.com or SavorySojourns.com.

The Institute of Culinary Education, New York's largest cooking school, runs in-depth, half-day tours that focus on a particular neighborhood or type of cuisine. Amateur chefs can sign up for ICE's "Cooking in New York: A Five-Day Global Culinary Adventure" that combines neighborhood tours and restaurant visits with cooking lessons at the Institute.

Oaxaca, Mexico

The state of Oaxaca (wuh-HAH-kah) is the culinary heart of Mexico, where thousands of years of indigenous cooking traditions have blended with hundreds of years of Spanish influence. The result? A cuisine with a surprising mix of flavors from ingredients such as chili peppers and chocolate combined in one dish. Locally-grown produce and meats are painstakingly prepared using traditional tools like volcanic stone mortars and clay pots.

Referred to as the "land of seven moles," Oaxaca is best known for its seven major varieties of mole, a chili-based sauce often served over chicken. Made properly, the dish can require 30 or more different ingredients. Mole negro (black), a sweet variety flavored with cocoa, is the most popular, but mole amarillo (yellow), verde (green), and rojo (red) are also common. Many dishes also involve corn, quesillo (string cheese), and chilies. Chapulines (fried grasshoppers) are served as an appetizer or snack, and Mezcal, a smoky tequila-like liquor is often the drink of choice.

Oaxaca City, the capital, and its surrounding villages host a number of cooking schools, most of which are more affordable than similar programs in Europe. To learn more about Oaxaca travel, check out MexOnline or Go-Oaxaca.

Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Thailand

Thailand has some of the most diverse and flavorful cuisine in Asia.

While dishes such as tom yum goong (spicy prawn soup) and gaeng kheaw waan (green curry) are eaten all over the country, Thailand also has four distinct culinary regions, each with its own local specialties. The central region is known for dishes featuring jasmine rice, while in the north, sticky rice and noodles are popular. Meals in the northeast tend to be savory, while southerners tend to go for fiery hot.

Visitors can experience cuisine from all over the country in Bangkok, the nation's capital, and several of the city's ritziest hotels offer Thai cooking schools. There are also options for more hands-on courses taught in home-style facilities in Bangkok and the northern city of Chiang Mai. To learn more, go to Thai Food & Travel.

For travel information, visit the Tourism Authority of Thailand website.

Tuscany, Italy

Tuscany is home to cuisine so fresh, simple and delicious that its dishes -- once considered peasant food -- now draw visitors from around the world. Meals are typically prepared from whatever is in season and picked up fresh at the market that day.

Tuscan bread, tomatoes, beans and extra virgin olive oil are basic to most meals, as well as a liberal use of fresh herbs including rosemary, sage and thyme. At a full Tuscan meal, antipasta and primo courses of gnocchi or pasta precede secondo courses of local meats like prized Chianina beef or wild game such as rabbit or boar.

Demand for culinary travel in Tuscany is high and even though there are dozens of cooking schools and tour options in the region, spots in popular schools can sell out early and prices are often steep. Booking a week-long package with a lesser known school or taking a shorter one- to three-day class with a top chef can help ease pricing and availability woes.

For more information on culinary destinations, go to:
La Villa Cucina and Cook Italy.

To learn more about Tuscany travel, visit the official Italian Government Tourist Board.

(Source: SmarterTravel.com)

More ideas on the Web:
Culinary Vacations, Inc.
Discover Vietnam
FoodVacation.com
Culinary Institute Of America

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/ Hongqi Zhang

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