For lovers of British food or those just interested in the gastro-revolution that has taken place around the country in the last decade, the run up to Christmas is one of the best times for a foodie-themed weekend. Independent producers are busy creating new recipes and products for Christmas shoppers, while gastropubs are at their cosiest - with roaring fires and hearty dishes on the menu.
The Welsh town of Abergavenny is the heart of Wales' gastro-revolution, home to the world-renowned food festival in September and the best weekly market in the area. The only issue is that it's on a Tuesday, but the good news is that on the first and third Saturdays of the month, Usk Farmers Market
takes place (20 minutes drive away) which brings together all the best local producers in one place. Aber makes a great base for trying out some of the best eateries nearby, including the Walnut Tree Inn
and the Hardwick
, an elegant restaurant with rooms. The best place to stay in town is the Angel,
a beautifully-restored coaching inn. Even if you don't stay, pop in for afternoon tea - just make sure you don't eat lunch first.
The English equivalent of Abergavenny, in terms of foodiness, is probably Ludlow, a beautiful Shropshire town dominated by the beautiful medieval castle. One of the best ways to spend a weekend in the town is simply strolling the pretty streets and dipping into the delis, cafes and restaurants. Local to Ludlow
is a scheme that focuses on the best local producers; don't miss The Mousetrap Cheese Shop (6 Church Street), D W Wall & Sons - home to the famous Ludlow sausage (14 High Street), and if you're planning a picnic, the Deli on the Square (4 Church Street) can provide everything from locally-smoked meats and cheeses to homemade chocolates and cakes.
Up in Lancashire, the Ribble Valley is so proud of its gastronomy that the area has its own food trail
. Spanning 300 square miles, across the beautiful Forest of Bowland and taking in the market towns of Clitheroe and Longridge, the trail combines independent producers, pubs and restaurants.
In Clitheroe, stock up on cheeses at Cheesie Tchaikovsky (Castle Street) and home-made pies, cakes and quiches at Ferguson's Deli (Station Road), while the Bashall Barn Food Visitor Centre
is part restaurant, part specialist foodie shop. Out in the countryside, the Parkers Arms
at Newton-in-Bowland specialises in seasonal, local produce while the Inn at Whitewell
makes a great place to stay.
The New Forest is another region that has reinvented itself as a foodie destination, with local producers signing up to the New Forest Marque
. There are two taste trails around the forest, linking the best places to eat
; in the pretty village of Fordingbridge you can pick up fabulous sausages at Prices Butchers or local cheeses at Nelson's Deli, while the East End Arms
near Beaulieu is an unspoilt pub that does great food. Stay at the Pig
, a gorgeous restaurant with rooms in Brockenhurst.
The one problem with a foodie-themed break is the calories involved. Which makes the Peak District a great bet, because in between wonderful pub food at places like the George
at Alstonefield and the White Lion
at Great Longstone, there are plenty of opportunities to work it off, with great walking routes, bike trails and activity centres. Bakewell makes an ideal base, the monthly farmers market (last Saturday of the month) is the second-biggest in UK and the town is the birthplace of the Bakewell Tart; buy one made to the original recipe in the Bakewell Pudding Shop.