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BlogGlobal cuisineA traveler’s guide to the Mediterranean diet
Global cuisine

A traveler’s guide to the Mediterranean diet

Mar 05, 2024 by The Go Ahead Tours Team

When we picture the Mediterranean lifestyle, food’s one of the first things that comes to mind. Whether it’s fresh fish splashed with lemon juice and herbs, a meze spread served in the shade of an olive grove, or open-air market stalls piled high with ripe fruit and fragrant spices, food is an essential and inseparable part of Mediterranean culture. It’s no secret that it’s one of the best reasons to travel to the region, and when you join us on one of our tours there, you’ll quickly discover why. The abundance of fresh ingredients, tantalizing flavors, and energizing meals is truly spectacular—and the fact that the Mediterranean diet is considered one of the healthiest in the world is just the icing on the (olive oil) cake.

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Learn about the Mediterranean diet

See where to find the best bites

Discover how the food differs by region

Find out which dishes to try first

Hear about its health benefits

Compare the Mediterranean diet to the Blue Zone diet

What is the Mediterranean diet?

The Mediterranean diet is a flexible, balanced way of eating inspired by the traditional habits of people living in the region. It emphasizes seasonal, whole foods, with plenty of fresh vegetables, whole grains, fruits, and legumes. Mediterraneans tend to stick to leaner meats, like fish and poultry, and consume red meat sparingly. Additionally, olive oil is a staple of the Mediterranean diet—its primary source of fat—and many people drink moderate amounts of wine with their meals. The diet is linked with many health benefits and is considered one of the healthiest eating patterns globally. (We think that means indulging in the local cuisine on our trips to the Mediterranean is just another way to eat healthy on tour!)

Another essential facet of the Mediterranean diet: its focus on the social aspect of meals. Most Mediterraneans treat mealtime as a moment to slow down and socialize with friends and family. Not only does this bring awareness to their eating habits (and aid in digestion), but it also helps them develop deep connections with their loved ones—a side effect that’s also been linked with living a longer, more meaningful life.

Where can you get the best Mediterranean food?

If you’re looking for the best Mediterranean food, we recommend going straight to the source. Join us on one of our Mediterranean tours to visit one or more of these sun-drenched countries and savor their sights, culture, and—of course—cuisine.


Greek food is often considered one of the best examples of the Mediterranean diet: The country’s traditional cuisine is full of fresh produce, whole grains, seafood, and olive oil. “Greek food has so much to offer in terms of flavor,” said traveler Jay in our Athens Travel Guide. “From salads dressed in fine olive oil and served with chunks of feta to savory lamb and pork souvlaki, each meal tasted fresh.” Dishes made with just-caught seafood are among the best things to eat in the Greek Islands, according to our Santorini Travel Guide, and Almira in Kamari Beach—a top place to stay in Greece—is one of our favorite restaurants for dining on Mediterranean food alfresco.

Join us on the Greek Cooking Class & Dinner excursion offered on our Greece, the Balkans & Croatia tour to learn how to make traditional Greek food under the guidance of local chefs. It’s a delicious and educational way to cap off a day of exploring sites like the Parthenon and the Temple of Athena Nike on the Acropolis of Athens. “Cuisine offered in different cultures is also a way to learn more about the people,” said traveler Myronia after joining the tour. “I believe I learned a great deal. I enjoyed the meals, and the hospitality of the people was top-notch. The fish, in particular, was delightful.”

Savor souvlaki in Greece


Juicy tomatoes, fragrant basil, robust garlic, and delicate olive oil are among the first ingredients that come to mind when we fantasize about savoring Italian cuisine at a charming trattoria. From olive groves in Tuscany to lemon orchards in Sicily, the Mediterranean food you’ll discover on a trip to Italy is as diverse and abundant as the country’s famous sites. Get to know these ingredients up close when you join the Rustic Italy: Farmhouse Dinner & Wine Tasting excursion on our Amalfi Coast Walking Tour. You’ll explore the gardens of an agriturismo—or farm stay—then sit down with your fellow travelers for a meal made up of local specialties. Or, join the Pasta-Making Class & Dinner excursion on our A Week in Italy: Venice, Florence & Rome tour for a hands-on course in Mediterranean cooking. Italy is a food-lover’s paradise, and we’ll make sure you don’t miss a single bite. “[I] loved the Sorrento walking tour with our fun-loving local guide who had us sampling delicious anchovies and calamari!” said traveler Maureen after taking our Amalfi Coast Walking Tour. “I appreciated the chance to have an inside look at some small family-owned businesses with our stops in Termini at an olive farm, the lemon farm tour and lunch, and our delicious rustic farmhouse dinner.”

Of course, the Mediterranean diet is all about flexibility, and while we wouldn’t go so far as to argue that gelato is healthy—at least not in large quantities—the gelato you’ll taste on a tour of Italy will most likely be free of additives and made with fresh, local ingredients. “I had the best food and wine that you could never get back home,” said traveler Renae after joining our A Week in Italy: Venice, Florence & Rome tour. “No Olive Gardens, but you will see olive groves and vineyards as you travel between the major cities on this tour. We tasted the best gelato in the world while we were there—they actually raise the cows and feed them the perfect diet for the perfect cream. I was sorry we couldn’t bring any of it back home.”


The cuisine in Spain aligns with the Mediterranean diet, not just in terms of ingredients but in philosophy as well. “I think that we can’t divide the ideal food in Spain from the tapas concept,” said Tour Director Emilio during a Q&A about savoring Spanish flavors. “It’s very interesting. The idea of tapas started many, many years ago. It’s a wonderful way of eating in general because it can be paired with the new concept of healthy food that suggests eating several times during the day, but just in small portions. You can definitely do this in Spain with tapas or pintxos—it depends on where you are. Just stop and have a small bite of something amazing paired, obviously, with good wine.” In Spain, meals are often seen as social events and many Spaniards take long lunches with their friends and family—rounded out, of course, with a siesta.

Join us on a trip to Spain to linger over tapas and the country’s best pintxos, all made with local, seasonal produce and fresh seafood. Traveler Gregory loved that our Barcelona, Southern France & the Italian Riviera tour provided the opportunity to sample flavors from three Mediterranean countries. “You get to see some amazing places, have some once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and sample great food from Spain, France, and Italy—all on one tour,” he said. Traveler Elva also joined the tour and loved that she could taste her way through iconic sites like La Boqueria in Barcelona, one of Europe’s best Mediterranean markets. “From the moment we arrived in Barcelona, we were on a roll,” she said. “Visiting La Boqueria in Las Ramblas and sampling different foods and delectable sweets was a treat.”

One travel tip: For a better understanding of the ingredients that go into the Spanish Mediterranean diet, visit an olive farm on our Portugal, Spain & Morocco tour to learn all about olive oil production and enjoy a taste of chocolate gelato served with a drizzle of orange-infused oil. (After all, the Mediterranean diet is about balance!)


A traditional Turkish meal typically begins with a selection of small, shareable plates known as mezedes. They might include dishes like stuffed grape leaves and grilled vegetables, as well as dips like hummus and cacik—a yogurt and cucumber spread. After the mezedes, the main course will often feature grilled meats, kebabs, or stews served with rice, bulgur, or bread. Turkish sweets are heavenly and are made with locally sourced ingredients like ground nuts, honey, and rose water. Join us on our Grand Tour of Turkey to share mezedes with your fellow travelers after exploring Istanbul’s wonders—places like the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. Later, you’ll sample locally grown olives along the Aegean Coast and visit Nar Kadin, a collective that employs marginalized women in the culinary field. Don’t leave without a taste of their handmade pastries, cookies, and baklava.

Another Mediterranean travel tip: When you join us on our Grand Tour of Turkey, visit the markets—but forego traditional sweets in favor of dried fruit. It’s more aligned with the Mediterranean diet and one of the more delicious bucket list things to do in Turkey. “Someone suggested I skip the usual stuff and try the dried fruit,” said staffer Gen. “I’m so glad they did! The pineapple was just as tart as if it weren’t dried at all. I’ve never found anything close to this amazing at any grocery store.”


Spend even a few moments wandering the souks of Morocco, and you’ll see why the country’s cuisine is such a feast for the senses. These bustling open-air markets are packed with stalls selling mountains of colorful, fragrant spices. If you want to learn how to use them all in traditional dishes, join the Moroccan Cooking Class & Dinner excursion on our Portugal, Spain & Morocco tour. “The Moroccan cooking class was a treasured experience,” said traveler Lori after joining the tour. “I quickly incorporated the Mediterranean salad into my diet at home!” If you’re looking for fresh, simple dishes, it doesn’t get much better than a Moroccan goat cheese and fig salad.

In addition, you’ll also learn to make tagine: a hearty and healthy stew cooked in a conical clay pot known by the same name. “The food is healthy and delicious,” said traveler Sylvia after joining our Highlights of Morocco: Marrakech, the Sahara & Fes tour. “I purchased a tagine and plan to use it. The cooking class was also a great part of the tour as we learned to use a tagine.” Feasting on local favorites is a must, even if you only spend 48 hours in Morocco. “We had tagine often on our tour,” said staffer Ellie in our Solo Travel Guide to Morocco. “It’s delicious with chicken, green olives, and preserved lemon. I also love couscous, and getting to try it in Morocco was awesome.”

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Does Mediterranean food differ by region?

Although many Mediterranean countries share similar climates, factors like the altitude, weather, and agricultural practices mean that the cuisine can vary across—and even within—countries’ borders. For example, when you join us on a tour of Italy, you may notice a difference between the hearty, rustic cuisine of Tuscany and the lighter fare found on the Amalfi Coast. “Depending on the region, the crops and local, fresh food will be different,” said staffer Marina when discussing Italian agriturismos you can visit on tour. Below are a few regions where you might find some culinary variation.

Southern Europe

Places like Spain, Italy, Portugal, and Southern France rely heavily on olive oil, whole grains, seasonal vegetables, and fresh seafood. While you’ll find dairy (we’re looking at you, mozzarella), it’s often used sparingly. Join us on our Barcelona, Southern France & the Italian Riviera tour to sample the best of this cuisine.

Eastern Mediterranean

In places like Turkey and Greece, you’ll find grilled vegetables and meats, meze platters, and an abundance of vegetarian options. You’ll also come across refreshing yogurt-based dips and sweet and savory pastries made with phyllo dough—like spanakopita in Greece and börek in Turkey. If this sounds like your ideal version of Mediterranean food, you’ll enjoy our Greece, the Balkans & Croatia tour or our Grand Tour of Turkey.

North Africa

North African countries like Morocco and Tunisia rely heavily on spices for flavor, rather than excess fat and salt. You’ll find hearty, vegetable-heavy stews; colorful salads; couscous; legumes; and plenty of citrus in the region’s cuisine. Morocco has a small, but growing wine industry—however, unlike the places we named above, wine consumption is less common due in part to the country’s large Muslim population. When you join us on a trip to Morocco, you’ll notice that many locals prefer to wash their meals down with a glass of mint tea instead.

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What are the best Mediterranean dishes to try?

Given their variety and flavors, it can be quite a challenge to pick favorites. That being said, below are some of the dishes we recommend trying on one of our Mediterranean tours.

Horiatiki. The traditional Greek salad, or horiatiki, is made with fresh veggies and plenty of olive oil. It’s one of our favorite Mediterranean side dishes, and also makes a fantastic light lunch. “My husband and I both ate the Greek salad—made with tomatoes, cucumbers, feta cheese, and peppers slathered in olive oil and vinegar—every single day,” said traveler Donna Marie when listing the best reasons to travel to the Mediterranean. It’s no wonder this refreshing salad is number one on our list of dishes to eat in the Greek Islands.

Italian soups. Rustic Italian cooking is all about using the country’s abundance of seasonal produce, which means you’ll often find vegetable-laden soups on the menu. Classics like minestrone (a hearty soup made with beans and other ingredients) and ribollita (a Tuscan stew thickened with stale bread) are excellent ways to incorporate a variety of veggies into a meal. “Sitting down to a bowl of ribollita is the perfect way to warm up on a fall day in Florence,” says staffer Jamie in our Florence Travel Guide. Trattoria Anita and Ristorante Da Mimmo are among the best restaurants in Florence to try it.

Gambas al ajillo. Take a tip from our Food and Wine Guide to Spain and try the garlic shrimp, or gambas al ajillo, on your next tour of the country. To prepare this dish, lean, yet succulent shrimp are cooked in olive oil and white wine with plenty of heart-healthy garlic and a dash of chili flakes. Trust us: It tastes as good as it sounds.

Ratatouille. We may tend to think of buttery croissants, soft cheeses, and wine-braised meats when we picture French cooking—but the food in the south of France, in particular, is often aligned with the Mediterranean diet. Case in point: ratatouille, a rustic dish typical of the cuisine of Provence. It’s simple and wholesome, made up of vegetables like eggplant, zucchini, onions, peppers, and tomatoes flavored with fresh herbs, garlic, and a drizzle of olive oil.

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Why’s the Mediterranean diet considered healthy?

Experts say it’s a flexible, balanced diet that focuses on nutrient-dense whole foods. It’s low in saturated fat, limiting dairy and red meat in favor of olive oil and lean proteins. Fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes are all staples, and provide essential fiber, minerals, and vitamins. The Mediterranean diet has also been associated with heart and brain health, weight management, reduced inflammation, and even longevity.

When you join us on one of our Mediterranean tours, you’ll notice that produce is usually consumed when it’s in season—at the height of its flavor and nutrition. “We don’t use frozen food; rather, we choose seasonal products,” said Contessa Giovanna Modica Notarbartolo of the home-cooked meal she hosts at her villa in the Sicilian countryside. “According to this, during the winter months, we offer more caloric and spicy food; in summer, we eat light food. Typical ingredients are those cultivated on the farmland. We use olive oil—rarely butter and never margarine—with vegetables such as eggplant, asparagus, and pepper, plus tomatoes and zucchini in summer and yellow pumpkin in winter.”

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Are the Mediterranean and Blue Zone diets similar?

Yes, but they’re not the same. The term “Blue Zones” refers to regions of the world where people tend to live longer, healthier lives, experiencing lower rates of chronic diseases and health issues. Like its Mediterranean counterpart, the Blue Zone diet is heavily plant-based, focusing on whole foods and promoting a healthy, connected, and purposeful lifestyle.

However, it doesn’t have the same clear-cut ingredients and dishes that come to mind when we think of Mediterranean food. For example: Olive oil is a staple of the Mediterranean diet, and may be popular in Mediterranean Blue Zones—but in the Blue Zone of Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula, people tend to use sunflower or palm oil instead. Below are the original Blue Zones, along with some information on how their food varies from Mediterranean cuisine.

  • Okinawa, Japan. The local diet on this island is rich in sweet potatoes, seaweed, tofu, and fish. It’s still heavily plant-based, but is higher in carbohydrates and lower in protein and fat than a traditional Mediterranean diet. Join the Okinawa Blue Zone: Culinary Traditions & Dinner excursion on the extension of our Japan: Kyoto, the Japanese Alps & Tokyo tour to taste traditional Okinawan cuisine and learn more about how the island became a Blue Zone.
  • Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica. The Nicoya Peninsula lies on Costa Rica’s Guanacaste Coast. Locals are active, hiking, gardening, and surfing well into their 90s; they also enjoy a diet heavy in tropical fruit, squash, corn, rice, and beans. Visit the area on our A Week in Costa Rica: San José, Arenal & Guanacaste tour to join the locals in adopting a pura vida, or pure life, lifestyle.
  • Loma Linda, California. This city in San Bernardino County, California, is a Blue Zone predominantly because of its large community of Seventh-day Adventists. The members of this close-knit religious group live an active, mostly vegetarian lifestyle and refrain from smoking and drinking—all factors that contribute to their longevity. The people of Loma Linda eat a lot of Mediterranean food but tend to consume less (or no) meat, eggs, and dairy compared to the traditional Mediterranean diet.
  • Sardinia, Italy, and Ikaria, Greece. These two Blue Zones are in the Mediterranean and eat plenty of the region’s traditional foods. If you want to experience the ultimate Mediterranean-Blue Zone crossover, join us on our Italy and Greece tour and dine like a local. “The Italy and Greece Tour was just amazing!” said traveler Pam after returning from the trip. “Gorgeous views, great food, and some great new friends were all to be had. It was the trip of a lifetime. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience!”

Ready to savor the flavors of the Mediterranean? Taste it all on one of our Mediterranean tours!

About the author | The Go Ahead Tours Team
We’re a team of passionate travel experts, dedicated to helping people explore the world. From inspiring stories to tips for an amazing trip, the topics we cover are all about getting you out there and making discoveries.

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