Explore local cuisines on these epic food trails around the world, from California to Scotland.

By Lilly Graves
October 17, 2020
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Credit: Courtesy of Colombia Gorge Tourism Alliance

Editor's Note: Those who choose to travel are strongly encouraged to check local government restrictions, rules, and safety measures related to COVID-19 and take personal comfort levels and health conditions into consideration before departure.

The flavors, the freedom, the hospitality, the elation of trying something new — many of us crave eating out as much as any activity that came to a jarring halt during the early days of the pandemic. By now, some nations have loosened restrictions, while others have mobilized a seven-point hygiene checklist for all food outlets (we’re looking at you, Singapore). Still, many of us remain prudent about sitting inside a public place with masks removed long enough to enjoy all the aforementioned pleasures. But you can still find ways to get out and experience a local food scene safely — near home or while traveling — by joining a food trail.

So, what exactly is a food trail? The trails featured here — many organized by local tourism boards — showcase high-quality, regionally produced goods and services in one geographic area (in this case beautiful areas known for agriculture, fishing, and farming techniques). These food trails have been around long before the pandemic and offer self-guided options for those who like more freedom to design their own experience based on individual tastes and preferences. (Read: No group tours here.) In other words, you decide how you want to start and finish, and how little or much you want to interact, see, and taste along the way. Additional pluses? You can meander between stops to enjoy scenic views — free of charge — as well as pick up edibles from your journey to share with friends and family. Here are a handful of food trail options to get you inspired, along with some tips on how to create your own trail wherever you call home.

Arbroath Smokie Trail, Scotland

Credit: Courtesy of Visit Scotland

Scotland offers a mélange of food trails all over the country, divvied up by cuisine type and geography, allowing epicureans to sample hand-dived scallops, salty bread rolls, tartan chocolates, and malt whiskey everywhere from Loch Ness to the Outer Hebrides. One of the more distinct and wanderlust-inducing options is the Arbroath Smokie Trail, which spotlights the smokie, a whole wood-smoked haddock with the backbone still intact. Legend has it that the first Arbroath smokies came to fruition after a store caught fire with barrels of salted haddock inside, producing this seafood delicacy. Today, smokies are hung on sticks in pairs above a hardwood fire of beech and oak in the base of a whiskey barrel that gives them their unique flavor. (Thanks to its protected status under European law, these must be prepared using the original process within a five-mile radius of Arbroath.) The east coast fishing village is home to around a dozen small family businesses that continue to cure smokies the proper way, while nearby outlets offer endless variations like smokie pâté, smokie risotto, smokie stew, and even smokie ice cream. Burn off the calories with a walk around the Seaton Cliffs Nature Reserve, which offers a stunning array of dramatic sandstone cliffs, sea caves, and birds, including the elusive puffin.

East Gorge Food Trail, Oregon, United States

Credit: Courtesy of Colombia Gorge Tourism Alliance

Founded in 2018, this trail lets you choose your own food-themed adventure along Oregon’s eastern Columbia River Gorge. One suggestion is the Fruit of the Valley route, which highlights historic farms and orchards, fruit stands, biodynamic vineyards, craft breweries, and cideries. (Make sure to check the seasonality and hours of operation before planning your trip.) Bring buckets for pick-your-own peaches and more than two dozen varieties of cherries, then arrange a private tour at Muirhead Canning and watch the preservation of pears, apricots, plums, and other fruit. Stop by the Sandoz Farm, where the market stand sells fresh produce, as well as jams, pickled veggies, and local meats (ask about the farm’s antique schoolhouse). You’ll get plenty of views along the valley’s orchard-covered hillsides. Or, for more exercise, hike Mosier Plateau’s three-and-a-half-mile path, then finish with a growler of hard cider in Hood River. Fun fact: The trail is currently expanding to the Washington state side of the gorge for even more choices.

Northern Rivers Food Trail, New South Wales, Australia

Credit: Courtesy of The Farm Byron Bay

Most think of Byron Bay as being surrounded by beaches, but it’s also home to rain forests and fertile valleys, making it a mecca for agritourism. It also pulls in stylish permanent residents seeking an organic lifestyle. The area is bursting with sustainable farms, orchards, and weekly markets selling locally foraged foods like fruit, veggies, cheeses, olives, and nuts. Create your own trail by connecting to some of these farmers and food artisans at the source — many offer educational private tours. You could also spend an entire day at The Farm Byron Bay, which houses a collection of small businesses that support the environment and contribute to healthy habits. Abiding by its motto — grow, feed, educate — the sprawling 80-acre farm is home to a range of gardens and free-roaming animals, plus it sells goodies from the artisan bakery, produce market, florist, gelato stand, and even a garden shed where you can pick out seeds to plant at home.

Burren Food Trail, County Clare, Ireland

Credit: Courtesy of Burren Free Range Pork Farm

Like Scotland, Ireland’s lush interiors and pristine waters make it a prime location for strong agricultural and food traditions. With a number of self-guided trails around the destination, it’s hard to top the Burren. This little-known region of western Ireland is famous for its karst limestone geological landscape, dating back 300 million years. Spend a day or two driving around the narrow but awe-inspiring country roads, and visit a number of passionate family-run establishments selling local produce, seafood, chocolate, goat cheeses, and meats, like free-range pork products. Each member of the Burren Food Trail has been vetted for quality standards and is committed to building a sustainable future for the region — and they are ready and willing to talk to visitors. Another benefit of touring the Burren is its proximity to outdoor hikes at the Cliffs of Moher and Burren National Park. You don’t have to look too far for scenery, though: The region is an official UNESCO-listed geopark and is said to be the only place on Earth where alpine, arctic, and Mediterranean plant species grow next to each other.

Cheese Trail, California, U.S.A.

Credit: Courtesy of Straus Home Ranch

If driving around California and eating cheese sounds like an ideal way to spend some time, this trail is for you. This non-profit aims to promote artisan cheesemakers and family farmers — including tours, classes, and events — all over the Golden State. Founder Vivien Straus said, “[COVID] certainly put an initial halt on farm and cheesemaker tours, but they've slowly been opening up.” Check out any of the nine suggested self-guided driving tours, like the Central Valley trail that starts with a Dutch family who specializes in gouda and has an outdoor petting zoo. Meanwhile, the North Coast trail takes you to four cheesemakers near dramatic ocean views and redwood forests. The first recommended stop is Pennyroyal Farm, where you can sample cheese and wine (the co-owner is part of Navarro Winery in the Anderson Valley). Other trails offer specifics for visiting hard-to-find farms with, say, a shop located in a vintage barn where you can taste and purchase cheeses and picnic items. The Cheese Trail website is easy to use, thanks in part to the hard work of Straus, who regularly updates the free downloadable map, as well as her sidekick, Philip Jison.

Tips for Creating Your Own Food Trail

Perhaps you don’t live near an organized food trail and are steering clear of travel until it's safe again. Start by contacting your local tourism office to see if they have any information on nearby farms and producers that accept visitors. If that doesn’t generate results, ask the owner of your favorite gourmet grocery store for some of their local food suppliers that you can contact. Another great option is to speak to vendors at your closest farmers market and ask if they offer private tours and tastings. You might be surprised at how many farms are ready to welcome visitors again. Then, plot your trail. Even a few stops can reinvigorate the taste buds and travel juices and make for an unforgettable day.