Renowned for its rich history and tradition, France is home to some of Europe’s greatest cultural treasures. Yet it arguably attracts more attention for its celebrated cuisine and prosperous vineyards, the latter boasting some of the most famous wines of the world.
A trip to rural France would certainly not be complete without visiting a few of these celebrated wineries, set amid rolling hills and patchwork fields, and dotted with wonderful medieval villages and castles.
So for a special cultural break in France, why not try a unique wine-tasting tour through the beautiful countryside. Here’s our list of the top regions to visit:
Bordering Germany along the River Rhine is the region of Alsace. Due to its long history of alternating French and German control, Alsace is a culturally diverse region, prominent in its German-influenced cuisine, with traditional dishes of sauerkraut and frankfurters. Known for its production of Riesling and Pinot Blanc, Alsace is the ideal location for a special wine-tasting weekend in France. A fantastic way to sample the area’s local wine is to walk from town to town along the fabulous wine road, known locally as the Alsation Vineyard Route. However if beer is more your tipple, then Alsace is also home to some of the world’s best beers, including Kronenbourg.
Although one of the coldest of France’s major wine regions, Champagne is certainly the best known, thanks to its production of delectable sparkling white wines. This incredibly popular area boasts a multitude of tour operators, who specialise in providing groups with customised Champagne tasting tours throughout the region. If you prefer the finer tastes in life, then try one of the producer’s top-of-the range blended wines, commonly referred to as a cuvée de prestige. These are produced to the highest standard, and the greatest original prestige cuvée is by far Moët and Chandon’s Dom Pérignon.
Cultivating some of the world’s best white wines, including Sauvignon Blanc, Sancerre and Muscadet, the Loire Valley is renowned for its popular wineries and exclusive vineyard tours. If you’re looking for a romantic cultural weekend in France, then why not try a unique and personal wine tasting experience, free of charge, in a local producer’s own wine cellar. Along with its traditional cuisine, the undulating landscape of the Loire region is also home to many a great French Chateau, and a visit to the region also demands an outing to these sites, in particular to the famed Chateaux du Pins.
As a largely agricultural and vinicultural region, Bourgogne is renowned for its cultivation of two famous grape varieties, namely Chardonnay and Chablis white wines, and Pinot Noir red wines. A trip to Beaune to visit the Cave de l’Ange Gardien (a local wine-tasting cellar), is a sensory delight, where these wines can be tried together with a selection of traditional local dishes, such a Boeuf Bourguignon. With its picturesque river valleys and impressive chateaux, such as the ancient monastery of Abbaye de Fontenay, Bourgogne is also the ideal location for a special heritage getaway in France.
South west France is an expanse of sea and wine, and Bordeaux is by far one of the most esteemed wine producing regions in Europe. If you’ve a penchant for a fruity red Cabernet Sauvignon or a full bodied Merlot, these celebrated wines are considered among the most prestigious in the world, rivalling those of neighbouring Italy. Touring the region’s major vineyards is certainly the best way to enjoy this area. However, for a leading heritage escape in Bordeaux, this bustling city also offers tourists the chance to visit many historic spots, such as the World Heritage site of Port of the Moon.
The Rhône Valley, home to France’s second largest city, Lyon, and the beautiful lake town of Annecy, produces some of the region’s best known red wines, including Châteauneuf du Pape. Their characteristic flavours are a result of the region’s varying climate and topography, and its resulting mixture of soil varieties. Indeed the region just north of Lyon produces the famous Beaujolais wine, which is released annually to all bars and restaurants during a festival at the start of November. For a leading cultural break in the Rhône Valley, this is the best time to visit, as the streets are lively and buzzing with crowds of people enjoying Beaujolais – the wine does not age very well and so should be drank straight away!
As the warmest region in south-east France, Provence is the second most popular tourist destination after Paris. The region is famed, not only for its traditional Mediterranean cuisine of seafood, olives and lamb, but also for the French Riviera, with cities such as Cannes and Nice. If you can drag yourself away from these chic coastal towns and the sparkling azure sea, the region has many vineyard tours on offer to savour its refreshing Rosé wine. Stay at the Hotel D’Europe in picturesque Avignon, and try these dry and light Provençal wines alongside a local dish of sumptuous Bouillabaisse.
If you’re en route to Switzerland and the Alps, stay in Haute Savoie, at the stunning Abbaye de Talloires, and visit the Savoie wine region for its light and refreshing white wines, the perfect accompaniments to some of the region’s local cuisine. A particular favourite with skiers is a dish known locally as Tartiflette, a hearty mixture of cheese, potatoes and bacon – the perfect way to end a special gourmet weekend in the Alps.