Smart traveling means smart eating—what better way to understand and explore a destination than eating what’s in season? No matter which continent, or which hemisphere, the time of year dictates what’s most delicious. Here’s a quick global guide to some of what’s best when.
Pimientos de Padron (Spain)
These small, green peppers, prevalent in tapas bars, originated in the town of Padron in Galicia. Simply fried in oil and tossed with sea salt, eating them is often likened to "Russian roulette" as one out of every ten is deadly hot. The best way to sample them is to take a tapas crawl in their homeland, along the Rua do Franco in the old section of the Galician capital, Santiago de Compostela. The street is lined with tapas stops like the well-regarded O Barril, Abellá, Camiño, and Casa Rosalia.
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Where to Stay: The historically rich Parador de Santiago de Compostela
Concord Grapes (USA)
This deep purple grape has a mild, subtle sweetness that makes it the perfect juice fruit. Though named for the town in Massachusetts where it was developed, Washington State’s Yakima Valley is currently the US’s largest producer of Concord grapes. A visit to the area’s dozens of wineries during harvest time in October is a great way to experience them at their peak.
Where to Stay: The stunning and Southwestern-inspired Desert Wind Winery
During partridge hunting season in the UK, a trip to Yorkshire for fresh birds is the English way. Meaty and slightly gamey with plump, white flesh, it’s hard to find a more traditional spot to enjoy it than the Dog & Partridge Inn, which dates to Elizabethan times.
The migratory Spanish mackerel fill the waters of the Gulf of Mexico during the fall. One of the best ways to enjoy the strongly-flavored fish is baked with the tart flavors of Veracruz cooking: olives, tomatoes, garlic, capers, and chile. Las Brisas del Mar’s chef Tomasita Hernandez Melendez is known for her deft hand with coastal fish.
Where to Stay: The barefoot-luxe and design-y Azucar Hotel
Get to know the granddaddy of gourds through a vast patch of great pumpkins at Goebbert’s Farm just a little more than an hour outside Chicago in Hampshire, Illinois. Here, families ride the "Pumpkin Express" train or a wagon right into the field and pick their own. A slice of fresh pumpkin pie, on site at the Farmer’s Wife Café, is a must.
Where to Stay: Get a sweet, Fodors.com-exclusive deal in Chicago at the chic, boutique Hotel Lincoln.
Ginkgo Nuts (Japan)
Pungent and delicious, these tree nuts, called ginnan in Japan, are skewered and roasted or sometimes tucked into chawanmushi to lend texture to the savory custard. Their edamame-like consistency and nutty flavor also make them a perfect izakaya bar snack. Just near the Aoyama metro station in Tokyo lies "Ginnan Avenue," lined with ginkgo trees, which turn a striking yellow in autumn. One of the best spots to try the nuts within an exquisite chawanmushi is nearby Ume No Hama.
Sheep’s Milk Cheese (France)
Two-time champion of the World Cheese Award, the grassy sheep’s milk Ossau-Iraty of French Basque country is said to be at its peak in the fall. A tour of the cheesemakers along the "Ossau-Iraty" route in the Pyrenees drives home why the cheese is a champ.
Where to Stay: The beautiful, old-world Domaine Larrey in Saucede.
New Jersey lives up to its Garden State moniker by providing an abundance of cranberries each fall. Their October harvest ushers in the holiday season, when the berries become a ubiquitous Thanksgiving garnish. Visitors can enjoy cranberries, crafts, and celebration at the annual Chatsworth Cranberry Festival in the Pine Barrens.
Where to Stay: The charming Victorian Isaac Hillard House bed-and-breakfast.
Black Truffles (France)
The black winter truffles of the Perigord region of France’s southwest are the most prized in the world, and the most dazzling spot to revel among the earthy riches is at the Lalbenque truffle market, every Tuesday from December to March, where the area’s chefs vie for the most fragrant. Smell, taste, and stay at La Vayssade, a local inn that organizes market tours and truffle-themed meals.
Wild Boar (Canada)
Winter is the Canadians’ preferred time for wild boar hunting as it is easier to spot the brown beasts on snow-covered ground. Locals love the comfort of its intense, porky flavor in season, and Toronto‘s La Palette serves a terrific wild boar tenderloin with that in mind.
Where to Stay: Book a room at the hip Fodor’s 100 Hotel Awards winner The Drake Hotel.
Queensland is known for producing the best lychees in Australia; the perfumey, fleshy rounds are usually associated with Asian cuisine. The trendy and aptly-named Lychee Lounge in Brisbane, Queensland’s capital, concocts five cocktails with fresh lychee juice, including a popular lychee martini and lychee daiquiri.
Where to Stay: Try the sleek Sofitel Brisbane Central.
Brussels Sprouts (Netherlands)
Forget the Belgian name; the Dutch are the largest producers of Brussels sprouts in Europe. Glass-ceilinged Amsterdam restaurant De Kas grows its own veggies in its own on-site nursery, so you can’t get more locavore than their Brussels sprouts with artichoke puree.
Where to Stay: Rest your head at the effortlessly cool Hotel V.
Trunkfish (Puerto Rico)
Trunkfish, known as chapin in Puerto Rico, is so abundant in the waters off of the island’s east coast that the town of Naguabo holds a chapin festival each February. Locals come out to dance, sing, and compete for the best pastelillo, chapin-stuffed savory pastries. Try them all season at the waterside restaurant El Makito.
Where to Stay: Take in the gorgeous scenery at the Wyndham Garden at Palmas del Mar.
Mandarin Oranges (China)
Traditionally eaten for Chinese New Year, the Mandarin orange symbolizes luck and prosperity for the coming year. Hong Kong’s Mandarin Oriental provides an apt setting to eat them in style. The Michelin-starred Man Wah restaurant on the hotel’s 25th floor offers an 8-course New Year menu, complete with a citrusy finish and stunning views of the city’s fireworks. And if you can swing it, that’s where you should stay.
Mustard Greens (USA)
When the wine tourists move on after harvest, rich green mustard dots the Napa Valley landscape in California. The sharply-flavored green is so plentiful it was the centerpiece of a festival for nearly 20 years, before budget cuts killed the party. There is talk, and hope, of the festival returning for the 2013 season, but until then, visitors can enjoy it best at Mustard’s Grill, a comfort-food eatery that sits among the fields of green.
Where to Stay: Go for the rooms at The Farmhouse Inn, and you’ll stay for the food.
Winter Cod (Norway)
Winter is spawning season for the cold-water codfish known as skrei, which swim along Norway‘s northern coast. The meaty, white, delicate fish is a source of sustainable pride for the Scandinavians. A great way to sample it is to journey through the icy fjords on a 6-12 day cruise, when you may even catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights. The Hurtigruten fleet is known for its skilled chefs and gourmet presentation of the fish.
Traditional spring lamb is de rigueur during Easter time in the UK, and Scotland’s green pastures breed the best. Andrew Fairlie, the Highlands’ only twice-Michelin-starred chef, gets seasonal ewe from his brother’s farm, just 12 miles up the road from his eponymous restaurant at the historic Gleneagles Hotel. Enjoy spring lamb with garlic and rosemary, after a round of golf and a scotch, before a nap upstairs.
Foragers are fanatic about these rich, spongy shrooms, especially around the Great Lakes, where morels are most populous. Each May for 53 years, the small town of Boyne, MI has hosted the ultimate Morel Fest, featuring music, guided hunts, and local chefs creating morel-heavy dishes.
Where to Stay: Book a charming room at The Jordan Inn, a large home in the Jordan Valley.
Mangoes (Costa Rica)
One of the best reasons to visit Costa Rica in the rainy season is its delectable, tropical fruits, and their succulent mangoes in particular. San Jose‘s Mercado Borbon specializes in fresh produce, and it is the place to score a fresh batida, refreshing mango smoothie.
Where to Stay: Try the grand and glitzy Hotel Grano de Oro.
Maine is a leader in growing this stalky vegetable, and James Beard Award-winning chefs Clark Gaier and Mark Frasier showcase the York county crop in their Ogunquit restaurant, Arrows. Though often prepared like a fruit because of its color and flavor kinship with strawberry, rhubarb is actually a vegetable. Gaier and Frasier bring out the best of its tartness by using it as a glaze on salmon.
Where to Stay: Book at Anchorage by the Sea for the pitch perfect combination of nautical and New England.
White Asparagus (Germany)
The area of Baden-Wuerttemberg, within the Black Forest, produces so much white asparagus that one travels through the farm-y region on an "asparagus road." "Spargel," as white asparagus is known in German, is the first sign of spring, so area restaurants will unveil special "spargelkartes" (white asparagus menus) to celebrate the season. If you go, go on May 3, the official "asparagus day" when the hamlet of Schwetzingen holds asparagus peeling contests and crowns an asparagus king.
Where to Stay: Stay the night in the elegantly appointed and antique-filled Der Kleine Prinz.
Soft Shell Crab (USA)
Downtown Baltimore becomes soft-shell crab central in May, when the area’s restaurants showcase the crustaceans. The blue crabs shed their hard shells at this time of year to make way for a more easily edible covering (just munch right through it). 2013 will mark the 5th year of the annual celebration from Dine Downtown Baltimore.
Where to Stay: Choose the classically decorated Admiral Fell Inn, in the cool area of Fells Point.
Kiwifruit (New Zealand)
The country’s patron fruit is profuse in May, and visitors can experience the harvest first-hand by staying on a working kiwi orchard in Gisborne. An added bonus (besides all the sweet/tart fruit you can eat): it’s in wine country.
It may look like a nice, benign scallion but a ramp’s flavor comes on like garlic on steroids. And these pungent onions run rampant in New York’s Hudson Valley in early May…the perfect excuse for an annual festival. At Ramp Fest, $20 buys all the ramps you can stand prepared by the area’s top chefs, along with live music and entertainment.
Where to Stay: The Mount Merino Manor will feel like your own bright and beautiful (and luxe) home in no time.
Oysters (South Africa)
70,000 oyster enthusiasts descend upon the quiet port town of Knysna to shuck, eat, and pair their favorite bivalves with local wines over the 10-day Oyster Festival. Poised for its 30th anniversary in 2013, the event includes an oyster eating contest and local restaurants’ best preparation of the West Cape’s pride.
Where to Stay: A short 30 minutes away from Knysna, you’ll find the magic of Emily Moon River Lodge.
World-renowned for tomato throwing, and not necessarily eating, the otherwise sleepy town of Bunol comes alive the last Wednesday of each August for La Tomatina, a giant tomato-based food fight 50,000 people strong. A week long celebration with music, parades, and fireworks culminate into one hour of tomato tossing. To actually taste the local tomatoes, hit the Mercado Central in nearby Valencia.
Ipswich, MA, has made its name as the most famous spot for softshell clams. If not digging for them on the local sandbars in season, the spot to try them in all of their steamed or deep-fried glory is the Clam Box, an institution for over 60 years.
Where to Stay: Book your room at the sweet and airy Ipswich Inn.
Island-wide apiaries provide the isle of Crete with a dazzling variety of honey. A drive into the mountains reveals the assortment via roadside stands proffering flavors from chestnut to orange to thyme. When in town, stop at a bakery for loukoumades, puffed dough drizzled with the nectar, playing up all its sweet strengths.
Where to Stay: Splurge on the golfer- and foodie-haven of Elounda Mare, a Relais & Chateaux property.
The beauty pageants and parades may entertain the locals of Pageland, South Carolina, but the headliner of the town’s annual watermelon festival is the big draw. Since 1951, the town comes alive for two days in July, with eating and seed-spitting competitions.
Where to Stay: Just thirty minutes from the fest itself, you’ll find the sweetest spot to stay: Kilburnie the Inn at Craig Farm.
On "Eel Day" in Kyoto, designated to the hottest day of the year sometime in late July or in early August, there is a clear favorite spot for locals to eat the snaky fish: 100 year-old Kaneyo restaurant. A favorite summer food, the eel is usually served simply grilled over rice, and sometimes covered with a crepe-thin layer of egg.
Where to Stay: Get some rest at the ultra-modern Fodor’s Choice Hotel Granvia Kyoto.
Over the annual three-week Vietnamese Southern Fruit Festival in Ho Chi Minh City each June, growers compete on the quality of their fruit. And the star of the show is usually the rambutan, a small, bristly ball with a sweet, acid flavor. Heading to its 9th year, the highlight of the festival are the parade floats made of fruit.
Where to Stay: Spring for the big, sleek, and intricately designed Park Hyatt Saigon.
Ice Cream (USA)
Nothing conjures summer like the tinkling bell of an ice cream truck. And what better way to see the season out than with a festival devoted to the sweets in August. Austin, Texas’s annual Ice Cream Festival is heading into its 7th year in 2013. While local vendors compete for the best batch, Austinites battle for best popsicle stick sculpture.
Where to Stay: We like the Fodor’s Choice Mansion at Judge’s Hill for its sense of history mixed with contemporary details.
Photo Credits: September-November: Pimientos de Padron: Patty Orly/Shutterstock; Ginkgo Nuts: Reika/Shutterstock; December-February: Black Truffles: Shutterstock; Mandarin Oranges: Danielleongjinonn/Dreamstime.com; March-May: Morel Mushrooms: Shutterstock; Ramps: David Kay/Shutterstock; June-August: Honey: Fotografiche/Shutterstock; Rambutan: Cbenjasuwan/Dreamstime.com