Take a global culinary tour of meals with local families

From chatting over dahl in Delhi to bonding over borsch in Bucharest, you can now take in even more culinary delights with local families across the globe.

Responsible tour company Urban Adventures has expanded its programme of ‘Home Cooked’ tour destinations following the success of their Home Cooked Delhi and Home Cooked Istanbul tours. The tours, which allow travellers to join local families for home-cooked meals, now include Bucharest, Kochi, Samarkand, San Jose and Kastoria.

Learn to cook alongside locals on Home Cooked tours
Learn to cook alongside locals on Home Cooked tours

On each tour (lasting around three or four hours), guests are invited to shop for ingredients in the local markets, join a family in their home, see how traditional and favourite dishes are created, and gain some new cooking tips (and perhaps lend a hand!), before sitting down to share a delicious meal. It’s a great way to connect with a country and its culture, and make new friends over the bonding experience of sharing a home-cooked meal.

The full list of Urban Adventures’ ‘Home Cooked’ tours (please note: prices are approximate according to the exchange rate at time of publication):

Home Cooked Delhi – £29

Home Cooked Istanbul – £20

Home Cooked Bucharest – £25

Home Cooked Kochi – £29

Home Cooked Bucharest – £15

Home Cooked San Jose – £31

Home Cooked Kastoria – £15

For booking, latest prices and more information visit www.urbanadventures.com

Urban Adventures is also looking for more ‘Home Cooked’ hosts from around the world. If you have met someone on your travels who you think would be a perfect host, they can apply by sending a photo of their family enjoying a home-cooked meal to Instagram using the hashtag #UAhomecooked, or by emailing the photo to product@urbanadventures.com.

‘Good’ credentials:

  • Urban Adventures uses local guides to reveal unseen sights and attractions off the beaten track
  • It supports local businesses to ensure the majority of income remains in the local community
  • It uses local public transport on its tours
  • Tour group sizes are kept small to minimise the impact on the local environment and community
  • Urban Adventures works with a network of global partners who run tours in accordance with the Responsible Travel Code of Conduct



Villaggi La Francesca – an Italian eco stay

La Francesca is situated in the La Spezia area of Italy and is the natural doorway to the Cinque Terre National Park. Perched on the Ligurian Eastern Rivervia in Italy, near Bonassola and Levanto, the owners of this 50-year old resort are making the most of the beautiful natural surroundings. Visitors are lured with the promise of wild, rugged coastlines, beaches, woodland, medieval villages, olive groves, farms and an abundance of flowers in the Spring/Summer months. The resort clings to the steep coastline and leads down to a bay – the surrounding marine area is protected (whales and dolphins often pass by).

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Accommodation: La Francesca consists of 55 villas and apartments – which all face the sea – dotted around 15 hectares of protected area rich in pine trees and Mediterranean plants. Choose from one bedroom apartments or family cottages – all have bedrooms, living areas and basic kitchenettes.

Food: The on-site restaurant offers magnificent sea views from the terrace, plus a menu based on Mediterranean and Ligurian traditions and food and wines from the region. There’s also a bar on site.

Activities: The resort itself has all the usual sports facilities (swimming pool, tennis courts, bowling, table tennis etc) but surely most enjoyment comes from exploring the surrounding area with a number of treks (easy and slightly harder) available straight from La Francesca. There are plenty of outdoor activites for nature lovers and adventure seekers available through the nearby National Parks including cave and wreck diving; snorkeling; surfing; horse-riding; cycling; hiking; plus tightropes and zipwires at ‘Tree Adventures’ (Parco Avventura Val di Vara). As a family-friendly resort, a 10,000 sqm play area is a dream for children. There is also a small mini-market on site.

The National Parks: Alongside Cinque Terre you will also find –

  • Regional Natural Park of Portovenere, which besides Portus Veneris, the ancient port of Roman triremes, includes the islands of Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto. The park still keeps traces of the prehistoric people who inhabited the Grotta dei Colombi.
  • Regional Natural Park of Montemarcello-Magra, an area of 4,320 hectares. Not only a set of wonderful landscapes, but also home to organisations such as the Centro Regionale Fauna Minore and the Orto Botanico of Montemarcello.
  • Regional Natural Park of Portofino, situated on Portofino headland, 1,800 hectares and 13 kms of coasts. The headland summit is accessibile only through the paths network.

Recommended for… Those who love nature and outdoor activities. Also very family-friendly.

Be aware that… This is not a self-catering holiday to escape from it all: the basic kitchen facilities mean you will have to eat in the (albeit lovely) resort restaurant or drive further afield.

‘Good’ credentials:

  • La Francesca has installed solar panels and uses solar-generated power whenver possible
  • Management of the site is respectful of the natural surroundings and encourages guests to consume less power
  • Situated in an area of outstanding natural beauty, and next to several protected areas and National Parks
  • The owners promote traditional Ligurian culture, food and history (through cookery courses, wine tasting and more)


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Gecko Villa – a secluded eco stay in Thailand

Gecko Villa, Um Chan, Prachak Sinlapakom, Udon Thani, NE Thailand

T: (from outside Thailand) 6681-9180500; (within Thailand) 081-9180500 / www.geckovilla.com

Guest blogger Charn Cole reviews a secluded eco villa in northeast Thailand

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Gecko Villa is well and truly hidden among the rice paddies, between traditional farming villages approximately 30 minutes out of Udon Thani in northeast Thailand. It is a fully catered holiday villa with a private swimming pool and an emphasis on authentic Thai food. We returned for a second stay here, not only because it is a unique place to relax amongst friends away from the chaos of Bangkok, but also because we appreciate the way the project is of direct benefit to the locals.

Accommodation: Gecko Villa has three air-conditioned bedrooms. The large master bedroom has an adjoining bathroom that leads out into an outdoor shower garden. Each bedroom has a kingsize bed and hardwood floors.

Food: Meals are cooked freshly by the team – they turn up at the villa to cook breakfast, lunch and dinner – all included in the rates. Their Khao Tom is superb for breakfast (together with freshly brewed coffee), and they are happy to adjust spice levels depending on your preferences. Do try their excellent curries and the local northeastern dishes such as spicy beef with fresh herbs, green papaya salad, and marinated BBQ chicken with a dark chili sauce dip. Those interested in cooking can visit local wet markets and be shown how to make any of the dishes served.

Do try: The villa is on a working rice farm and offers a selection of unusual and fun activities. Try your hand at planting rice seedlings or help out with the harvest, learn to control a samlor or a water buffalo and plough, go insect or field mouse hunting and more. The traditional Thai massage offered is excellent. Don’t miss a boat trip on the local pink lotus lake, or a trip to the UNESCO Ban Chiang World Heritage Site.

Recommended for… The large private pool, tranquility and authenticity as well as the great food – but what really makes a stay is the friendly and helpful welcome from the team there.  Perfect for those who like to go local, get off the beaten track and try new things.

Be aware that… English is hardly spoken in the surrounding villages, so take a phrase book and take the useful local map given to you by the villa if you decide to explore by yourselves. If you get lost, the locals generally assume you are staying at Gecko Villa, as you will in all likelihood be the only foreigners in the area.

Good credentials:

  • The property strongly supports the principles of sustainable, responsible tourism in a small-scale, locally owned initiative
  • Creation of local employment: the entire team is comprised of local villagers. Local service providers (such as those performing traditional Thai massage, lotus lake boatsmen etc) are used.
  • Food is either grown directly on the property (rice, organic herbs, vegetables and fruit) or purchased locally
  • Reforestation: the villa actively promotes reforestation and the protection of indigenous eco-systems
  • Giving back: both the villa itself and many of its guests have made direct donations to the local village schools
  • Water saving: rainwater is harvested and water-saving fixtures used
  • Local interaction: guests are encouraged to meet the locals and experience authentic ways of Thai village life
  • Recycling: waste is sorted and recycled by local “saleng” who ensure recycling is supported wherever possible


Date of visit: January 2012

About the Author: Charn Cole has lived in Thailand and SE Asia for over 20 years where he has travelled – and eaten – widely. He enjoys finding unusual places to stay and is a strong supporter of responsible travel. He runs an online guide to holiday rentals in Thailand detailing places he has stayed in both Thailand and Bali.  Visit www.thailandholidayhouse.com

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Hieu Liem Community Travel Tours, Vietnam

Hiếu Liêm Commune, Vĩnh Cửu District, Đồng Nai Province, Vietnam

T: +84 948 409 265 / E: hieuliemtravel@gmail.com

Visit www.gotodongnai.blogspot.com

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The Dong Nai Biosphere Reserve (also known as Cat Tien National Park) is one of the most ecologically beautiful areas of Vietnam – and Nguyen Dinh Hieu, founder of a brand new community tourism company, wants you to come and discover it for yourself.

After graduating from university in Ho Chi Min City, Dinh Hieu returned to his rural homeland with a desire to create something of benefit to the local community and environment. After working as a guide in the incredible Dong Nai nature reserve, Dinh Hieu decided to start Hieu Liem Community Travel & Homestay with responsible tourism at its core. With a chance to get to know the real Vietnam, most tours offer homestays with local people (so you can share cultures, traditions, langugages with your hosts) and activities are led by local people with intimate knowledge of the jungle, lakes and community at large. Still in its early days Dinh Hieu and his team of experienced guides have already hosted a number of adventurous and open-minded tourists and have created a number of tailored tours (and volunteering projects – see Good Work for more soon) for those who want to experience the real Vietnam – its wildlife, landscapes and people.

Tours are flexible and prices are dependent on group sizes and time of year – you can also request a bespoke tour itinerary which may be possible (contact direct for more details). Tours include:

Fisherman Tour on Tri An Lake (1/2 day or 1 day): Experience the life of a local fisherman from managing the boat, learning to spread nets and catching fish, to cooking your catch of the day for a delicious meal! In the growing season, guests can also join in with other farming activities such as planting and harvesting rice. Transport includes a bus from Ho Chi Minh, then cycling to Tri An Lake.

Community Homestay Tour (1 night, 2 days): Experience life for the local inhabitants of this rural part of Vietnam. Tourists will be collected from Ho Chi Minh City and take to Hieu Liem to meet and stay with local people. Activities include learning Vietnamese, helping tend to plants in the gardens while discovering more about their culinary and medicinal uses, shopping in the food market, cooking with your host family and hearing all about their way of life. Bicycles are available for those who want to explore the area and visit local restaurants.

Bird Watching: For those who love wildlife and walking, treks of varying lengths can be arranged, usually with an early start so you can catch sight of the amazing bird life of Dong Nai! Your experienced guide will point out bird species as well as any  interesting plant and insect life you may encounter.

For more tour itineraries, visit the Hieu Liem Community Travel website or email for more details.

‘Good’ credentials:

  • Dedication to low-impact, environmentally-friendly, responsible tourism
  • Supporting local communities and employing local people as guides, tutors, homestay hosts and more
  • Promoting rural Vietnamese life – its people and wildlife
  • Encouraging exchange of knowledge (languages, traditions)
  • Also runs a volunteer programme (teaching school children English, teaching farmers sustainable practices)

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Atlas Kasbah Ecolodge, Morocco

Atlas Kasbah Ecolodge

Tighanimine El Baz, BP 5323 QI, Agadir, Morocco

T: +212661488504


(Review by Amal Benaissa)

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Located a few kilometres outside Agadir, Atlas Kasbah Ecolodge appears from a distance perched high on a hill overlooking a beautiful green landscape. Nestled within the Argan Biosphere, it is the first eco lodge in this area of Morocco. The Argan Biosphere is a UNESCO World Heritage site bordered by the High Atlas and the Anti-Atlas Mountains, and open to the Atlantic in the West. Both the hospitality of owners Helene and Hassan and the commitment to sustainability make this place very special.

Accommodation: There are a total of eight rooms and three suites (55 m² in size) that mix Berber and European décor harmoniously. Spacious and clean, each room has an en-suite bathroom (note: there is no TV).

Restaurant: All delicious meals are served in the restaurant of the Atlas Kasbah Ecolodge; the terrace of the restaurant offers breath-taking views of the mountains and adjacent plains. Pre-selected menus offer a sample of Moroccan cuisine; you can also request a vegetarian option. Foodies can take lessons with the chef in the kitchen of the Kasbah. My favourite bit about the food was the traditional Berber bread, made in front you in the outdoor stone oven by a local Berber woman.

Facilities and activities: Guests can also enjoy the swimming pool, massage room and Hammam (Moroccan steam bath). There are many activities on offer upon request (and dependent on the number of participants) including an astronomy night to watch the stars with professors from Agadir, bird watching, native language classes, Moroccan pottery classes, yoga and meditation, hikes, donkey-rides, surf classes, mountain bike rental, day trips and more!

Recommended for… Those who love outdoor activities! While the ecolodge is great for rest and rejuvenation, the range of activities on offer which make the most of the incredible location, are second to none.

Be aware that… The remote location (it’s a 20 minute drive from the city) means there is little or no wifi and weak phone reception (but then isn’t that for the best…?!)

‘Good’ credentials:

  • Atlas Kasbah Ecolodge was granted the prestigious Responsible Tourism Award from the Ministry of Tourism of Morocco and the International Green Key Eco Label from King Mohamed VI Foundation for the Environment
  • Water conservation: the lodge uses mixer taps, double flush toilets, intelligent irrigation for the garden, and uses biodegradeable cleaning and bathroom products
  • Energy conservation: 80% of the electricity and all water heating comes from photovoltaic panels, they use low consumption light bulbs, and maximise the use of natural lighting and ventilation
  • Waste management: observe the 3Rs (reduce, reuse and recycle), and leftover vegetables are used as animal feed
  • Organic fertiliser is used in the garden where local and endemic plants are grown
  • Emphasis on seasonal produce and local/non-pollutant products
  • The lodge showcases local, traditional architecture with interior and exterior walls made entirely of natural materials (mud brick walls and tradelakt)


About the author:

Amal Benaïssa

Amal Benaissa is a Doctoral Researcher at LSE with an international spirit and a love for discovery

Follow on Amal on Twitter: @EvolvingSun

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The River Garden Restaurant, Siem Reap, Cambodia

The River Garden (Hotel and Bar/Restaurant)

(near) River Road, Siem Reap, Cambodia


Open to the public 7am – late, 7 days a week

You could almost get lost trying to find The River Garden – the website gives a location but no exact address (it’s near the River Road) – but take a tuk-tuk as it only takes 5 minutes from the center of Siem Reap. We went on a Tuesday which was a stroke of luck – turns out that’s ‘Teapot Tuesday’ when the cafe serves a small selection of cocktails in pretty Khmer teapots (and only for around £5)! We daintily drank Long Island Ice Tea and their own special (i.e. strong!) Green Frog (named after a recent species discovery in the mountains) in the lovely private garden and pool setting.

Food: The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks – a mix of Khmer cuisine, Asian dishes and western comfort food. (Their chocolate brownies are named ‘the finest in Siem Reap’!). The bar serves beer, wine, cocktails, juices and smoothies.

The kitchen also runs the popular ‘Cooks in Tuk Tuks’ cooking lessons which involve a trip to the local market to source produce.

The River Garden is also a hotel with a select few chalets available (if you’ve used the accommodation, please tell us what you thought via the comments board below or send in your own blog post. Similarly, they also arrange ‘voluntourism’ packages – tell us your experience if you’ve been on one).

Recommended for… Visiting on a Tuesday if you like civilised (and cheap!) cocktails

Be aware that… If you’re walking there, be prepared to be walking along some very long roads with no signs

‘Teapot Tuesday’s at The RiverGarden

‘Good’ credentials:

  • Staff are well-paid with additional employment benefits to the Cambodian required standard
  • General rubbish is a problem in Siem Reap so The River Garden work with the local community to clean up the surrounding streets – children who bring 5 kilos of rubbish to their English or dance classes at the local pagoda, get in for free (this is popular).
  • They compost waste from the kitchen and the chickens to use in the garden – they also teach the local community how to improve their own soil through composting.
  • The River Garden staff uniforms, and any other sewing needs, are provided by a local sewing lady and her family business ‘The Tin Shed’ (which was soon to be demolished by the local government)
  • English-speaking visitors are invited to volunteer a couple of hours a time to teach English to local monks and school children


Date of visit: January, 2011


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Golden Buddha Beach Resort, Koh Phra Thong, Thailand

Golden Buddha Beach Resort

Koh Phra Thong, A. Kuraburi, Phang-nga 82150 Thailand

T: +44 (0) 208 123 2053


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This place has ‘responsible travel’ weaved into every possible aspect of your stay – a true definition of the term ‘eco resort’. Not only that, but it has a ‘down-to-earth’ luxuriousness about it, and is an incredibly beautiful and peaceful place to stay. The hosts describe it as “luxury created by nature, not man”.

Accommodation: The resort consists of 25 individually-decorated bungalows (Premiere, Luxury or Deluxe; either immediately facing the beach or behind the path) all of which are secluded in their own garden area, and no more than 80m from Golden Buddha beach and the Andaman Sea. We stayed in the lovely Baan Tao Tanu (Green Turtle) which was spacious for two people with its large raised deck and ‘look-out’ perch (we weren’t overlooked by anyone leaving us free to open the bedroom doors each night and keep cool by the sea breezes).

Restaurant: Just a two-minute walk to the ‘clubhouse’, guests can expect a fantastic multi-dish Thai meal every lunch and dinner time from a set menu that changes daily – no choice but you’re always guaranteed expected favourites and new discoveries (a free-to-choose buffet takes place on Wed and Sat nights alternating between meat and vegetarian). A fully-licensed bar, including daily cocktail specials, is open throughout the evening. There were two other small, low-key beach bars on the island (from what we could find) which would probably appreciate some passing custom when you fancy a change.

Activities: Yoga groups visit the island and there is a purpose-built yoga platform overlooking the bay which is perfect for sunset yoga sessions. You can hire kayaks and snorkeling gear (or book scuba-diving trips if experienced) from the Blue Guru dive shack on the beach or from the locals and explore the smaller islands and reefs around the bay (you may get a chance to spot a green turtle or sting ray while swimming). The Naucrates Turtle Conservation Project based on the island is happy to welcome guests who may wish to volunteer a few hours monitoring turtle activity. Surrounding mangroves make for a leisurely kayak trip or walk. Massage and spa treatments are available, and the kitchen staff run cookery lessons.

Recommended for… Peaceful and beautiful location; very friendly and helpful staff; delicious food; ‘affordable’ luxury; nature (bird life and marine life)

Be aware that… This really is the definition of ‘escape’ – if you need lively nightlife, shops, multiple restaurants, in-room TVs etc, this isn’t the place for you!

‘Good’ credentials

  • Energy conservation: power is restricted to 6pm to 11pm; no air-con or fans used; no hot water except two houses heated by solar power; minimum use of fossil fuel-powered vehicles/machines
  • Water conservation: water is taken from showllo wells; rainwater is collectef for drinking and treated with aeration; low water-user toilets installed; biodegradable detergents and soaps used
  • Recycling and waste: food is bought fresh and locally to reduce packaging and food miles; paper, glass and aluminium is recycled; the kitchen is ‘zero waste’
  • Nature conservation: low-impact construction for all buildings; minimal external lighting; plants that prevent erosion; supporters of the Naucrates Turtle Conservation Project, and run programmes with dive group Blue Guru on coral restoration, whale shark and turtle awareness
  • Community: over 90% of staff are local and paid above the local prevailing wage; use local suppliers, income is re-invested locally; supporters of projects in local village and school of Baan Lions


Date of visit: February, 2012

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