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A Foodie Philosopher Shares One Dish at a Time

Imagine having the opportunity to taste bread that was baked in a traditional tachelhit clay oven after a day of shopping in Morocco. Or perhaps breakfast at a 100-acre family farm in India is more your speed. There’s always the almond-olive oil cake nibbled while touring the Casa Ana mountains of Spain; and don’t forget the fresh ricotta paired with just-picked fruit from an orchard in Amalfi, Italy.

The exploration of senses unearthed during one of Peggy Markel’s Culinary Adventures reveals the rich (and palatable) landscape of the world’s most storied culinary destinations.

For the past 17 years, Markel has played host to many adventures that introduce participants to the richness hidden beyond city borders-and the ubiquitous restaurants mentioned in every travel guide. She connects cuisine, culture and lifestyle through small group tours in Tuscany, Sicily, Amalfi, Morocco, India and Spain.

“Peggy’s particular attention and talent to hosting dramatically affects the experience of her guests,” says Merete Mueller, a booking coordinator employed by Markel. “Imagine finding yourself at the most satisfying dinner party-exquisite food, a luxurious but relaxed atmosphere, interesting people and meaningful and light- hearted conversation. Peggy’s trips are like this, but for an entire week, punctuated by cooking classes and new experiences, plus some personal time relaxing by the pool, walking in the mountains, or laying on the deck of a boat.”

Markel’s culinary adventure began in Tuscany, which she first visited in 1987.

“I was drawn to Tuscany and felt a deep connection to the landscape-especially Florence,” says Markel. “Refined and rustic, just like the people, food is practically the religion, as is superb wine making. There is a certain character to the Florentine and his or her way of expressing themselves through food, as an artisan, farmer or chef that inspires us to appreciate food in a more refined way. Not in front of a computer, not in a car, nor on a couch, but at a well-set table that welcomes the muse.”

In the late ’90s, Elba was the next locale Markel explored; rustic Tuscan cooking sessions came next, followed by “Sicily: A Different Italy” in 1998.

“Sicily has been somewhat of an unexplored black sheep of Italy, and I was curious about what it was hiding,” says Markel.

“Thanks to ancient Arab influence, it is teeming with olive and almond groves, citrus groves, biblical fruit trees like pomegranate, carob and fig. And the interior is full of succulent lamb while the coasts boast formidable deep-sea fish, like tuna and swordfish. The island has influence from the Phoenicians, Greeks and nearby North Africa, giving a sneak preview of spice, couscous and the addition of pine nuts and raisins in their tomato sauces.”

Markel’s attraction to Morocco’s color and texture of its culture and flavor resulted in her “Feast for the Senses” tour that launched in 2001. And in 2007, “Amalfi: Slow Sailing” and “Savoring the Amalfi Coast” were added as a seafaring culinary experience.

“For several years I had visited the Amalfi coast, never quite finding the recipe for a program until I experienced it by sailboat,” she adds. “Then, it was the outlying islands that stole my heart. Spending time with local captains, visiting small markets and visiting fisherman right on the boat was an unadulterated experience. The natural elements of sun, sea and wind play an exciting role in the Mediterranean not to be missed.”

An invitation by Asia Transpacific Journeys to lead a passage to India led to Markel’s latest culinary adventure, “India: Tasting Royal Rajasthan.”

She found kinship with the Slow Food movement in 1993, recognizing in it values that echoed her own, such as reorienting our relationship to food and its production.

“A relationship to food is knowing where it comes from and what to do with it,” she says. “The result feeds people and brings them together to tell stories and talk to each other. As I traveled around the world, I saw how every country eats what grows around them. It becomes a national identity, forming their cultural diversity.”

Markel’s next adventures are Oct. 12-20 to Tuscany, Oct. 21-28 to Spain, Nov. 6-15 to Morocco, Feb. 5-17 to India and March 18-27 to Morocco.

Operating with the philosophy that “A connection to real food is a connection to life,” Markel has truly seen the impact one of her tours can have on participants.

“I love doing these tours because I think they are of some benefit. I’ve watched these programs change people’s lives. They see how other cultures live and get clues on how to shape their own lives a bit closer to the bone-that is, with balance, beauty and taste. Not to mention a bit more understanding for cultures and others they knew nothing about.”

For more info, visit www.peggymarkel.com.