From French sea almonds to Greek wild fennel, locals recommend Europe’s must-try seasonal food.
Sarah Faith is a senior values writer at activist travel company, Responsible Travel.
We all know the carbon cost of flying, but holidays come with another planetary price tag: your foodprint.
Ten per cent or more of your holiday carbon emissions come from what you eat.
Thankfully there’s an easy way to trim your foodprint, and still enjoy a great trip.
Eating seasonally and locally while travelling reduces food miles, and eliminates the need for refrigerated transport or climate-controlled greenhouses. It also allows you to connect with local people and culture.
So if you want to travel Europe in a more planet-friendly way, choosing seasonal produce in local markets or restaurants is a good place to start.
Here’s the best seasonal food to look out for when you’re on holiday in Europe.
What’s the best seasonal food to eat in Portugal?
“I’m in awe of the medonhro” says Andrew Winter, founder of Vale de Moses, a yoga retreat in central Portugal’s Serra de Estrela mountains.
“It's often the first plant to be seen emerging from the charred slopes after forest fires have left an apocalypse in their wake.”
He’s talking about the vibrant strawberry-like fruits which ripen on the Arbutus tree in the late autumn. Most commonly you’ll find them in jams (compota de medronho), or in the much prized fire water aguardente do medronho. Find it on local restaurant menus under ‘Digestivos’.
On Portugal’s northern coast, where fresh seafood is available year-round, Joao Pedro Serôdio of ecotourism company Quinta Lamosa recommends the sardines. “In the months of June and July they are almost a national dish,” he says.
In fishing towns like Vila Praia de Ancora, on the northern Atlantic coast, he suggests purchasing the fish directly from the fishermen, or dining at one of the countless small beach restaurants specialising in grilled sardines.
What’s the best seasonal food to eat in Austria?
Hike Austria’s East Tyrol Mountains in August to October and your journey will be punctuated by redcurrants, known as ribisel. Find them along the alpine paths or in desserts, cakes and jams.
Xania Wear, who runs MoaAlm Mountain Retreat, also makes use of ribisel leaves, which have anti-inflammatory properties.
“After a day of hiking, a fresh cup of red currant tea is the perfect natural remedy to appease our tired but happy bodies,” she says.
Autumn mushrooms are another Tyrol seasonal favourite. Look out for them in pilzragout, a mushroom ragout often served with spätzle (a type of egg noodle) or knödel (dumplings).
What’s the best seasonal food to eat in Greece?
Spring is the time for agria horta, wild greens, in Greece’s Peloponnese region.
“Kalamata market is teeming with a bewildering array of them,” says Fiona Hall who runs cooking holidays here. “The stall holders bring their produce down before daylight from the Taygettos mountains which tower over Kalamata and where the soil is rich and fertile.”
Her favourite dish is marathopitakia, little filo pies which use wild fennel - marathos - chopped up with wild leeks, spring onions and wild garlic.
What’s the best seasonal food to eat in Italy?
In Italy’s eastern Le Marche region, wild greens are foraged in spring and autumn to make frittata and pasta verde, or mixed with ricotta and parmigiano to fill ravioli or tortelloni di magro.
Giulia Savini, who runs guesthouse Locanda delle Valle Nuova, enjoys the wild fennel - finocchietto selvatico - in spring to mid-summer. Look out for it cooked with white meats, fish, snails, pork (including porchetta) and vegetables.
Head to Umbria, central Italy, in winter, when Marina Caldera at Agriturismo Podere le Olle near Orvieto advises you to try ribollita, a bread soup made with beans and kale.
She also recommends the local thistles. “We first boil them then we fry them with a batter. Then we make a winter parmigiana with mozzarella and tomato sauce.”
In Lombardy, northern Italy, look out for pizzoccheri della Valtellina. This hearty buckwheat flour pasta dish has been a winter staple for over 200 years, says Jane Stuart-Smith from Slow Adventure.
It’s served with boiled potatoes and cabbage, and topped with Casera cheese and garlic-infused brown butter. Jane recommends visiting Fratelli Ciapponi, the exceptionally old grocers in Morbegno, to find seasonal ingredients and explore cellars full of cheeses and charcuterie.
What’s the best seasonal food to eat in Spain?
Summer in northern Spain isn’t complete without gazpacho - a cold soup blended from tomatoes and other summer vegetables. In spring, espárragos de Navarra, white asparagus native to the Navarre region bordering France, are delicious dipped in homemade mayonnaise.
That’s according to Rasmus Pedersen, co-owner of regional travel specialist, Spain is More. His seasonal tips take in the region’s famous seafood, too.
“There is a popular saying in Spain that the months with ‘r’ in them are when the seafood is best. This is when it has the best flavour.”
Ana Rodríguez García agrees. She runs Peak Me Languages at the edge of the Picos de Europa National Park in the northern Asturias region, just 20 minutes from the coast.
“The fish auction houses in Llanes and Bustio have converted the top floor of the building into a restaurant,” she says. “This way they get access to the best catch of the day and you can enjoy it as fresh as it gets.”
“Seafood is best enjoyed with the local drink, apple cider. Accompanying your bogavante (local lobster) with a DOP (Denominación de Origen Protegida) cider - one classified as having been produced locally - will doubly support the local economy.”
What’s the best seasonal food to eat in France?
Seasonal eating is so much part and parcel of the French diet that the Ministry for Agriculture releases a list of seasonal products at the start of each season.
Spring 2023’s panier de saison, or seasonal basket, includes fèves (broad beans) and white asparagus, along with amandes de mer (sea almonds) in Normandy and Brittany, and pomelos in Corsica.
For Sarah Peacocke at Le Moulin du Chemin guesthouse in the Vendée, a region on France’s central coast, the autumn harvest of apples and pears is a highlight. Eat them in sweet, sticky tarte Tatin - a traditional dessert.
She recommends buying in local markets or searching out a farmers’ cooperative shop. Les Vergers de Vendée, for example, has numerous outlets across the region.
What’s the best seasonal food to eat in Croatia?
Matko Vojkovic is a chef and activity holiday provider living and working on Vis island, Croatia.
“My summer is not a summer without homegrown watermelons, figs and zucchini,” he says. He also recommends peka - a traditional way of cooking meat, vegetables and seafood in a closed pot in the fire - and artičoke na Dalmatinski, spring artichokes with green beans and breadcrumbs.