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Ilbra Yacoob

Encino, California Travel Agent

Food & Wine Travel Expert

I am not your usual travel agent. With a  background in the food and wine industry, I bring a unique perspective to travel planning and have become an expert in getting to the heart of a culture through food and wine.

My connections to local food producers enable me to offer my clients unusual experiences such as making chocolate and savoring a chocolate tasting in Belgium, picking quince and preparing jams and jellies in Bulgaria, and seeing how ham is aged and turned into prosciutto in Italy.

One of my favorite memories was going out with a shepherd through the mountains of Spain. As we walked past herds of sheep and goats, we heard cowbells in the distance. After nearly an hour’s hike, we reached the cave where he stores his cheeses.

The smell of moisture and earth greeted us as we entered the cave. It was totally silent except for the sound of our steps on the damp floor. As we went deeper into the cave, we turned on our headlamps to see the cheeses aging on racks.

On the way back, he herded his flock of sheep down the mountain. After a time, he asked if we wanted to try herding the sheep. My boyfriend had picked up the calls and, to our delight, the dog actually followed his commands as we herded 70 sheep to the base of the mountain. Then, we sat in his mother’s kitchen and sampled the cheeses they make. It was an unforgettable experience.

In Greece, you might walk through fields of olive trees, and perhaps, press your own olive oil, and then sit down with the family and drink ouzo and learn Greek dance. In Italy, you might go truffle-hunting with a dog or pig, and then return to create favorite local dishes; or pick quince and make jelly or jam.

And in almost every country, I can arrange for a cooking class that begins with a visit to a local market to buy fresh ingredients, just as professional chefs do. I also can set up a personal visit to a family-owned vineyard, where the owner will take you on a tour of the wine-making process that includes a tasting before you join his family for lunch or dinner. Wine-lovers can also visit the wineries of their favorite producers. Many offer gourmet food and wine pairings served in beautiful venues overlooking the vineyards.

Of course, I also can get reservations for you at the top Michelin-star restaurants in Paris or Barcelona, or direct you to Michelin star restaurants in tiny villages few people have heard of. Many of these are also inns, so you can enjoy a relaxed tasting menu and take an evening stroll around the village before turning in.

To me, the best entrée into a culture is to experience its food at the source. At my previous career as a specialty food distributor, I developed close relationships with local producers around the world and got to know many top chefs. Now, as a travel agent, I tap into that knowledge to curate travel experiences that bring you to the source of a culture’s cuisine. Whether you are a foodie or a cultural explorer, I can help you plan a trip that brings you to the culinary heart of your destination.

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