Best places to eat in Europe: The ultimate foodie hit list

Chill out on chilli ice-cream, take a tour, make a date for a food festival: Europe has it all.

SEAFOOD: MALI STON OYSTERS, CROATIA

They are bivalves with a mighty reputation, beloved by the ancient Romans to Austrian emperor Franz Josef, who ordered a case shipped to Vienna each month. Croats attribute the briny-sweet perfection of oysters farmed at Mali Ston, a small town outside Dubrovnik on the Dalmatian coast, to the clean, mineral-heavy water of the Peljesac peninsula. You can pay to take a boat tour of an oyster farms – or simply take a seat at one of the waterfront restaurants in sight of the oyster beds and get stuck in. See croatia.hr 

MARKET: CATANIA, SICILY

Decked out in rather stern grey Etna stone, Catania isn't overly endowed with the classic notion of Sicilian beauty, but it doesn't take long to get under the ancient port town's skin – and it doesn't get much more traditional than its pescheria (fish market). In the city's heart, a stone's throw from the cathedral between Via Garibaldi and Via Pacini and spilling into the surrounding streets, it's a joyously anarchic jumble, with hawkers competing to sell everything from tiny pippies, baby octopus and the sweet red prawns typical of Sicily, to sardines, snapper and the prized swordfish.  See visitsicily.info

WINE: WACHAU VALLEY, AUSTRIA 

While thousands of Australian wine enthusiasts travel to France annually,  they bypass one of Europe's most spectacular wine regions along the way.  Just an hour from Vienna, the Wachau Valley produces some of the best riesling (and gruner veltliner) in Europe. But it's the landscape and history of the valley that makes it worth visiting. Here the Danube cuts through towering hillsides where ancient Benedictine abbeys and castles still stand. Wine has been produced here since the 13th century and, even today, it's still dominated by families. See austria.info

EXPERT'S CHOICE: ALLA WOLF-TASKER

CIDERS: NORMANDY, FRANCE

When you are in Normandy, you must try the magnificent ciders of Normandy, and, in particular, Eric Bordelet's poire granit, made from the fruit of ancient pear trees grown in impossibly stony soil. See ericbordelet.com

MARKET: MATHALLEN, OSLO, NORWAY

A modern food hall in an old industrial building is helping to revolutionise Oslo's food scene. The repurposed brick and steel structure stands at the edge of the Akerselva River in the up-and-coming suburb of Grunerlokka, housing more than 30 speciality shops, cafes and eateries. Offering produce from Norwegian small-scale producers to fine foreign imports guests can dine on pintxos, take a street food course, attend a cookbook launch or sign up for a tasting tour. Part of the sustainable Vulcan development, which includes Oslo's first food hall, cultural venues, apartments, gastropub, dance house and small hotel. Closed Mondays. See mathallenoslo.no

ICE-CREAM:  HELADERIA LA FIORENTINA, SEVILLE

With Seville's summer temperatures soaring into the 40s, shade, siestas and ice-cream are on the menu. At Heladeria  La Fiorentina, Calle Zaragoza, 16, Joaquin Liria makes the best ice-cream in town, produced fresh every day and flavoured with inventive combinations, such as chocolate, coconut water and chilli, or guava, cream cheese, honey, pinenuts and Pedro Ximenez vinegar. Don't miss his signature orange flower flavour, textured with brioche and crystallised orange, a nod to Seville's Moorish origins. Liria is always experimenting, so each day brings new things to try. Sit at indoor or outdoor tables and indulge in some of the most delicious flavours you'll taste anywhere. See visitasevilla.es/en

EXPERT'S CHOICE: LUKE NGUYEN

MARKET: MALTBY STREET, LONDON, ENGLAND

This market features an incredible array of artisan producers serving up delicious food, wine and cocktails. Food offerings include grilled meat and seafood from Cornish Grill, Greek oils, honeys, preserves and cured meats from Maltby and Greek, reuben sandwiches and Jewish chicken soup from Monty's Deli, oysters and sous vide cooked meats from Market Gourmet and preserves and pickles from Pink's Organics. See maltby.st

MARKET: PALERMO, SICILY

Charming, challenging and chaotic in equal measure, Palermo channels its incredible brio into a food culture that reaches its apotheosis at Ballaro market, centred on Via Ballaro and Piazza Carmine. It's nothing less than a sensory overload sound tracked by the abbanniate (the sellers' intonation of their wares in low, sing-song voices) and the huddle of a close-packed crowd eating local specialties,  including beef spleen sandwiches with caciocavallo cheese, and the pancake-like chickpea fritters with a squeeze of lemon, a culinary throwback to the Moors. See visitsicily.info

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TOUR: SEVILLE WITH TAILORMADE ANDALUCIA, SPAIN

There are about 4000 tapas bars in Seville. If you want to venture beyond the cluster of noisy establishments around Seville's Santa Maria de la Sede cathedral, a magnet for tourists, you'll need a local guide who can direct you to the places where true Sevillanos  gather. Recommended is a private tapas tour with Tailormade Andalucia, a small independent company that specialises in unique experiences in Spain's sensual south, and will fashion a tour just for you or your group, whether you're looking for something hip and happening, or bars that are quiet and authentic. See tailormadeandalucia.com; visitasevilla.es/en

FESTIVAL: I PRIMI D'ITALIA, FOLIGNO, ITALY

I Primi d'Italia is an annual festival held over a long weekend in late September in the city of Foligno dedicated to the first courses of the Italian dinner table. The program lists talks, workshops and demonstrations with celebrated chefs with the whole city becoming a gastronomic wonderland. One piazza is devoted to pasta, another to street food. Inside the huge marquee in Piazza Faloci Pulignani there are breads in every possible colour, sweet treats from Sicily, fruit dipped in chocolate and cheeses from  Emilia Romagna. A whole pig is slowly disintegrating under the carving knife, and pulled pork has nothing on Italian porchetta. See iprimiditalia.it

EXPERT CHOICE: LYNDEY MILAN, COOK

MARKET: VARVAKIOS AGORA, ATHENS

I have great affection for the hectic, colourful Athens agora or market (also known as the Varvakios Aagora) because I filmed there when I was making Lyndey & Blair's Taste of Greece TV series. Blair was blown away by the goat and other carcases in the meat market, the seafood and the endless types of olives. See visitgreece.gr

Lyndey Milan is one of Australia's best loved food and wine personalities, known for her many television shows. 

HOME COOKS: COOKENING IN VENICE, ITALY

Cookening is a website that pairs travellers with keen cooks prepared to take them home and serve them authentic, regional cuisine. One of them, Massimo, lives in a 16th-century palazzo where the meal may begin with sarde in savor, sardines cooked with a sweet and sour onion marinade. This is followed by scallops, sourced from the northern part of the Venetian lagoon, which Massimo says is cleaner because it's closer to the open sea. Then comes a dish of finger pasta cooked in squid ink and tomato sauce, a mackerel baked with leek, cumin and orange and, finally, panna cotta. Massimo is a big-hearted host, a former merchant seaman with an infectious laugh, born of a family that has called these watery streets their home for generations. See cookening.com

EXPERT CHOICE: LUKE NGUYEN

STREET FOOD: BARCELONA, SPAIN

My favourite way to eat is either street food or food from the markets, and La Boqueria markets in Barcelona is one of the best. I hop on a stool and order a platter of grilled razor clams, garlic prawns, chorizo, grilled octopus, mantis prawns and crab, enjoyed with a bottle of local wine and finished with a fantastic sherry. See boqueria.info

FORAGING WITH THE WILD KITCHEN, IRELAND

Horticulturist Oonagh​ O'Dwyer has been growing organic food for 25 years in Lahinch, near the famed Cliffs of  Moher along the Wild Atlantic way in Ireland's County  Clare, one of the world's most spectacular coastal routes. A member of The Burren Food Trail, a community-based ecotourism network that links visitors to farms, restaurants and other food providores, Oonagh's Wild Kitchen holds pop-up events showcasing the best local produce. O'Dwyer is a keen forager and incorporates into her cooking the wild plants and seaweeds that grow abundantly along the windswept shore. Her regular foraging tours are eye-opening excursions, as participants learn about the nutritional values of plants, how to identify edible ones, what not to eat and what's in season. See wildkitchen.ie

TOUR: SAVOUR SICILY CULINARY TOURS, ITALY

Lisa Ferraro, who opened the popular Melbourne restaurant Bar Idda in 2009 and now lives in Rome, hosts 10-day culinary tours of Sicily in June and September, the optimum months for travel to the wildly romantic Italian island. During her years of travelling to Sicily to research food and wine for her Sicilian-influenced restaurant, Ferraro forged relationships with chefs, restaurateurs, hoteliers, winemakers and providores. She now shares her knowledge of the island's culinary richness with guests on guided, small-group tours where participants meet local chefs and cooks, learn how to cook Sicilian specialities such as caponata and cassata, and sample the best restaurant and street food Sicily has to offer. See savoursicily.com.au

EXPERT'S CHOICE: MICHAEL HILL SMITH

DRINK: SHERRY, SPAIN

Forget the contents of your grandmother's sherry decanter: "real" sherry from Spain is one of the most distinctive, authentic and remarkable wines in the world. Thankfully, sherry is on the comeback among  hipsters and those who recognise a great drink. Drinking bone-dry manzanilla or fino sherry in the tapas bars of Jerez de la Frontera is a must for any wine traveller. See spain.info

TOUR: BURGUNDY BY BIKE, FRANCE

Hire a velo (that's French for bike) in Beaune, the picturesque heart of the region, don your best striped shirt and beret, and wobble off through Burgundy's grand cru vineyards. Winding through the perfectly groomed paths you'll pass rolling hills dotted with vineyard workers and ancient shepherd huts, and stop at quaint flower-filled villages whose names you might recognise from the best bottles of wine you have ever laid hands on. In Pommard you can taste some of the chardonnays and pinot noirs that make this area world famous; in Meursault you can stop at the 11th-century Chateau de Citeaux for a decadent lunch in its gilded, frescoed restaurant La Cueillette. See burgundy-by-bike.com

EXPERT'S CHOICE: ALLA WOLF-TASKER

PASTRIES: CANELES, BORDEAUX, FRANCE

You'll find these delicious soft custard-centred pastries with dark thick caramelised crust all over France, but go to the source in the beautiful city of Bordeaux. The queues at Maison Baillardran (to caneles what Ladurée is to macarons) often stretch down the street. See baillardran.com/en

HOTEL: THE YEATMAN, PORTO, PORTUGAL

The impeccable The Yeatman, a Relais & Chateaux hotel property which overlooks Porto in the historic Vila Nova de Gaia district, is owned by descendants of the British merchant families who began the port wine trade. It's fitting that the hotel restaurant serves some of the finest and most inventive food in the Douro Valley, with chef Ricardo Costa creating sublime riffs on traditional Portuguese cooking. The seasonal, seafood-based  menu bursts with bright flavours. What's best: the views from the elegant room, which opens to a terrace in warm weather, are the most spectacular in Porto. See the-yeatman-hotel.com

EXPERT'S CHOICE: LUKE NGUYEN

GELATO: ROME, ITALY

When in Italy, I always have to indulge in pistachio gelato in Rome. My must try places include Ciampini, Gelateria dei Gracchi, I Caruso and Il Gelato. See ciampini.com/en/ciampini-gelato

BARS: ATHENS, GREECE

One small sip of retsina is enough to kill most people's enthusiasm for Greek wine. Visit one of Athens' new breed of bargain-priced wine bars, however, and you will discover that the country's wineries are producing some truly stellar drops. At Oinoscent wine bar, for instance, the menu lists a staggering 500 wines. If you like velvety reds, that may be something made with agiorgitiko or xinomavro grapes. If you prefer whites, try the aromatic malagousia, rescued from extinction by the Gerovassiliou Winery. Other great wine bars to try include By The Glass, housed in a lovely arcade by the Russian church, and the cheery Harvest Wine & Coffee.  See visitgreece.gr

SHOPS: CHOCOLATES, BRUSSELS, BELGIUM 

It's no secret that the Belgians make the world's best chocolates; what is less well known is that they also rejoice in the world's best chocolate shops. As elegantly laid out as a luxury boutique, each Belgian chocolatier's shop reflects its  own style. The Brussels headquarters of the royal family's favourite chocolatier, Mary, has an appropriately rococo interior; across town, Pierre Marcolini's carefully crafted pralines are displayed in a sleek and sexy showroom. In Antwerp, flamboyant chocolatier Dominique Persoone, whose Chocolate Line range includes such seductive combinations as cabernet sauvignon vinegar and caramel, sells his wares from a show-stopping 18th-century Napoleonic palace. See mary.be, eu.marcolini.com, thechocolateline.be

MARKET: SANTA CATERINA MARKET, BARCELONA

Give the touristy Mercado de la Boqueria a miss and instead head to the shabby-chic suburb of El Born to visit Santa Caterina, a market with just as much produce and half the crowds. While it's nice to wander Santa Caterina's interior lusting after the cured meats, fresh seafood and fruits and vegetables, the real highlight is taking a seat in one of the restaurants that surrounds the market and enjoying local produce cooked by the masters. See mercatsantacaterina.com

TOUR: EATING ITALY TOUR OF TESTACCIO, ROME

While Rome's most important tourist attractions are in the Centro Storico, its most important foodie attractions are out in the working-class suburb of Testaccio. It's here that Eating Italy runs its excellent food tours, taking guests from family-run delis and sweet shops to market stalls to pizza-by-the-slice shops and eventually to a restaurant serving some of the city's best pasta. After all that, you would think you would be full. But you'd have forgotten gelato. See eatingitalyfoodtours.com

EXPERT'S CHOICE: ALLA WOLF-TASKER

MARKET: PUGLIA, ITALY

Shopping at the bustling fish market in Gallipoli, Puglia, with friends. Spooning out freshly opened sea urchins and selecting monkfish, mussels and octopus for the evening cook-up in our rented villa – heaven. See viaggiareinpuglia.it/hp/en

BARS: SAN SEBASTIAN PINTXOS CRAWL, SPAIN

Is there a better way to spend an evening than skipping from bar to bar in the old town of San Sebastian, drinking txakoli, the local sparkling wine, chatting to friends and enjoying some of the world's finest gastronomic creations in laid-back surrounds? The answer, simply, is no. In this Basque seaside town, food is life, to be created, refined and enjoyed with the maximum of pleasure and the minimum of fuss. Every bar serves a huge array of hot and cold "pintxos", the local version of tapas, which are consumed standing at the bar, drink in one hand, morsel of food in the other, loving life. See sansebastianturismo.com

NEIGHBOURHOOD: POBLE SEC, BARCELONA 

Just a few stops on the Metro from the ultra-touristy centre of La Rambla lies Poble Sec, an unremarkable suburb that has quietly become Barcelona's foodie heart. That is thanks in large part to the Adria brothers, Ferran and Albert, who once ran the famed El Bulli restaurant, but who are now in charge of a series of eateries – from fine-diners like Pakta and Tickets to laid-back vermouth bars like Bodega 1900 – in Poble Sec. That this is also the home of Quimet y Quimet, one of the city's oldest and finest tapas bars, just adds to the attraction. See elbarriadria.com

MARKET: BOERENMARKT, AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS

Boerenmarkt, or Farmer's Market,  is a fresh food market that pops up every Saturday in a city square in the trendy Jordaan neighbourhood, a place that is walking distance from the Anne Frank House, and yet bypassed by many tourists. At the Boerenmarkt, Amsterdammers shop for fresh, organic local produce ranging from cheeses to cakes, breads, field mushrooms, fish, herbs, spices and nuts. There are also stands selling ready-to-eat produce, including an oyster shucker who does a handy side trade in sparkling wine. And perhaps the best part of a trip to this area on any day of the week is that Winkel – a cafe that happens to be the purveyor of Amsterdam's most delicious apple pie – is right next door. See amsterdam.info

BAR: NESTOR, SAN SEBASTIAN, SPAIN

In a city obsessed with creative cuisine, with pushing the gastronomic envelope to constantly surprise and delight its hungry diners, Bar Nestor does things differently. There are only three dishes available at this little San Sebastian establishment: padron peppers, tomatoes, and steak. The peppers are fried in a little oil, sprinkled with salt, and served. The tomatoes are drizzled with oil, sprinkled with salt, and served. The steak is cooked over hot coals, sprinkled with salt… and served. It's food at its most basic, and it's amazingly good. See barnestor.com

EXPERT'S CHOICE: BILL GRAINGER

MARKET: MERCATO CENTRALE, FLORENCE, ITALY

The problem with farmers' markets overseas is that you usually don't have a kitchen, so you can't use all that great produce. That's why our family loves Florence's fantastic Mercato Centrale. Downstairs is full of great produce, but upstairs is an amazing Italian food court. In that Italian way, each stall specialises in something different. One does pasta, one does  focaccia, one does fritti, or fried things: courgettes, anchovies, artichokes. We had lunch there every single day we were in Florence. See mercatocentrale.it/en/

WINE: LAVAUX REGION, SWITZERLAND

Few people outside Switzerland have ever sampled Swiss wine, despite it being among  Europe's most celebrated produce. That is because the Swiss export almost no wine – 98 per cent of it is consumed in Switzerland. And the best of it comes from the Lavaux Valley, Switzerland's largest wine region, possibly the planet's oldest with about  200 tiny, most family-run wineries. It's actually Europe's most picturesque wine region, and by far its most overlooked – because who goes to Switzerland for wine tasting? Less than an hour by train from Geneva, the Lavaux wine region is spread across steep hillsides that plunge into Lake Geneva and look across to France. There is a network of 1000-year-old terraces designed by Benedictine and Cistercian monks to make farming possible here. See myswitzerland.com

GELATO: GELATERIAS OF NOTO, SICILY, ITALY

Italians take their gelato very seriously, indeed, and the Sicilians perhaps most of all (in fact, some claim they invented ice-cream by cooling an Arab fruit syrup with Mount Etna snow) and there is a seeming consensus that the wildly baroque town of Noto is the home of the best gelato. The two main players are Cafe Sicilia and Costanzo, both of which have been plying their trade for generations. Sure, you can opt for granita, the flavoured ice slurry that on a typically scorching summer's day is like the flutter of angel wings, but the siren song of gelato's creamy beauty – perhaps given a sophisticated nudge with pistachio or hazelnut – is hard to beat when strolling the streets of this World Heritage-listed wonderland. See visitsicily.info

EXPERT CHOICE: MICHAEL HILL SMITH

PRODUCE: ASPARAGUS, GERMANY

Spargelzeit, or asparagus season, is a big deal in Germany between April and June. The highly prized white asparagus is grown in heaped earth mounds which stop  it from tuning green in the light. The Germans serve it with melted butter or hollandaise and sometimes with shaved ham or new potatoes. See germany.travel

CONTRIBUTORS: Larissa Dubecki, Michael Gebicki, Ben Groundwater, Ute Junker, Nina Karnikowski, Kerry van der Jagt, Craig Tansley, Lee Tulloch

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