It's become one of the hottest new things in luxury travel: dining with, taking cooking classes from or otherwise visiting locals in their homes for the ultimate in authentic experiences.
On a recent river cruise, Uniworld took groups of 10 us to homes near the town of Vukovar, which was one of the areas most affected by the brutal Croatian-Serbia war. We had lunch and heard about how the family had to flee their home for seven years and now lives almost completely off the land.
In cities around the globe, companies like Vizeat, Eat With and VoloezVousDiner, to name a few, have launched apps and services connecting travelers with local hosts.
One of the newest entrants is CuisineBlue, a Greece-based operation that connects travelers with hosts not just for in-home meals but also for cooking classes, picnics, bicycle outings, private tours and other activities that include meals.
Founder Violetta Gelestathi says what sets her service apart is her personal involvement in vetting every single host. Not only does she visit their homes and experience their offerings, she ensures they are also educated and well-traveled so that they are able to truly engage -- as the core of the service is not just about food but cultural exchange.
"They are locals, but they are themselves travelers, so they are in contact already with people from other cultures," she said. "They know very well about the local product; they know about the history of where they live."
With some other services, she said, the application process is done online, followed by a Skype call and then an invitation to upload a menu and join the program. She visits and photographs each home, makes sure they are insured and keeps tabs on the service and quality herself.
Started just 10 months ago, CuisineBlue currently has 22 hosts in Greece hosts and a website where guests and agents can book activities. This summer, she said, she will also be launching an app.
Although CuisineBlue doesn't pay commission, Gelestathi says she is happy to work with agents, who can price the excursions with a markup to cover their time. She said she can also help agents find other nearby activities and lodging, as she knows Greece and worked for 20 years for luxury hotels in the country.