The 10 best places for a wine vacation

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If you want to combine travel and exploration with sheer pleasure, it’s hard to beat a wine-tasting trip. But what are the best places for a wine vacation?

Happily, there’s no shortage of places where you can combine travel with wine tasting. These days, almost every country grows at least a little wine, and there are major wine-growing regions on five different continents. And luckily, many of them are in southern climes, so you can have a sip or two while getting away from winter. As well, wine makers know that opening their properties to visitors is good for business, so you can find a wine tour to suit your taste in any wine region — or organize your own.

Wine fanciers are a discerning lot, however. So where are the best spots to go if you’re looking to have a wine tasting holiday? Here is my list of the 10 best places for a wine vacation:

Bordeaux, France

If there’s a must-see in the world of wine, it’s Bordeaux. Home to iconic names like Chateau Lafite Rothschild and Chateau Margaux, it’s also a beautiful piece of country. The stately chateaux are great places to visit, and who can resist tastingSt._émilion these legendary crus in the places they’ve been made for hundreds of years?

Bordeaux has lots of wine tours, focusing on different sub-regions such as the Medoc, Pomerol and St. Emilion (pictured here: photo by Colin, courtesy Wikimedia) . You can do day tours or multi-day tours, even see the vineyards by bicycle. But the city of Bordeaux itself is well worth a visit, with historic sights, museums, and of course, lots of good restaurants where you can eat classic French food with the vintage of your choice.

Napa Valley, California

Renowned as the best wine region in the U.S., producing massive cabernets and rich chardonnays, Napa has also become a major vacation spot. Luxury resorts, top-class hotels, gourmet restaurants and spas ­are scattered throughout the wineries, and legendary estates like Robert Mondavi and Domaine Chandon welcome visitors with an easy-living California style.

Napa’s not the only top wine region in California, either. Sonoma, within hailing distance of San Francisco, boasts more than 400 estates, including big names like the Francis Ford Coppola Winery. There’s a wide range of activities, from winery home stays to nature hikes and hot air balloon rides. And of course, you can enjoy the sights of San Francisco, one of North America’s great tourist cities.

Maipo Valley, Chile

Some of the finest wines in the New World are made in this green valley just outside Santiago. Even better, the wine country is Santa Rita garden Chileeasily accessible from the city: you can even get there on Santiago’s brilliant subway system. The wineries are great places for tours and tastings, and some have good restaurants. Visit popular estates such as Santa Carolina and Santa Rita (whose gardens are pictured here), and don’t miss the iconic Concha Y Toro, where you can set foot in the famous Casillero del Diablo — the devil’s wine cellar.

There are other places to take a wine vacation in Chile, too, such as the Colchagua Valley and the Casablanca Valley, near Valparaiso, where many of the country’s best whites are made. Good wine tours are available, or you can do it yourself. And if you have some time, you can make a great wine tour by hopping a plane next door and combining these regions with the one below.

Mendoza, Argentina

High in the Andes, the lovely city of Mendoza is a hot spot for skiers, mountain trekkers – and wine. In fact, wines from Mendoza, featuring the region’s famous malbec grapes, have been fan favourites in recent years. You can sample them at major wineries like Kaiken, owned by the Chilean Montes company, or a number of smaller, boutique wineries, many of which grow olives and other crops among the vines.

When you’re not touring the wineries, there’s time to enjoy the tree-lined streets, spacious parks and relaxed atmosphere of Mendoza itself. Dine on the downtown pedestrian mall and enjoy one of the region’s famous steaks along with a bottle of the malbec you watched them make that day. Fun fact: since Mendoza is so high in the Andes, most of the usual pests can’t survive, so the vines need little spraying: that means they’re pretty much organic.

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The Loire Valley, France

This famous valley is best known for the glittering chateaux of the French nobility, but it’s also home to some of France’s best wines, from the whites of Vouvray, Touraine and Saumur to the reds of Chinon and Bourgueil. This region is ruled by the sauvignon blanc grape, and the Chenonceau-water-viewineries turn out good sparkling wines beside their great whites.

Best of all, the Loire is close enough to visit from Paris on a day trip (though it’s worth staying longer if you can). Either way, you can combine your wine tastings with a visit to one of the spectacular chateaux, like the grand Château de Chenonceau, seen here. The château offers special tastings under the stars amid its beautiful gardens, sometimes with a hot air balloon floating overhead – that’s an experience you won’t soon forget.

Tuscany, Italy

If you’re a fan of chianti, a trip to Tuscany is the holiday for you. Drive through a classic landscape of rolling hills and cypress trees to medieval towns where historic castles have been turned into wineries. And after you’ve tasted their full-bodied wines, it’s time to sample some of the region’s famous food, accompanied by locally made olive oil and pecorino cheese.

There are dozens of tour companies offering tours of the Tuscan wineries, many starting in Florence. Or you can drive yourself and make your own holiday under the Tuscan sun. The hotspot is the town of Chianti itself, but there are many ancient towns and villages to visit, including places like Montalcino, known for its deep, intense Brunello wines.

British Columbia, Canada

California wineries get most of the press on the west coast, but wineries from this rowing region north of the border have been winning top prizes at international competitions for years. British Columbia has more than 200 wineries, mostly in the beautiful Okanagan Valley, including well-known names like Mission Hill and the aboriginal-owned NK’Mip Cellars.

There are wineries on Vancouver Island as well, and a visit to any of the province’s wine regions can make for a great combination of good wine tasting and amazing natural beauty. You can stay at a country inn or B&B, and go whale watching or view bald eagles when you’re not sampling the province’s great cabernets and pinot noirs.

The Hunter Valley, Australia

Australia has more than 2,400 wineries and 65 wine regions, so it’s hard to pick just one. But for easy access and lots of Wine grapesamenities, the Hunter Valley Wine is hard to beat. It’s just two hours’ drive north of Sydney, so you can visit on a day tour or get a hotel right in wine country. Then you have your pick of top wineries such as Tyrrell’s and Wyndham Estates, which hosts opera each October.

The proximity to Sydney gives you access to that city’s great restaurants, beaches and nightlife. But the Hunter Valley itself is worth a couple of days to explore its nature parks, cooking schools, health spas and golf courses, and sample its locally made breads, cheeses and olive oils. If there’s time left over, head for one of Australia’s other great wine regions: the Barossa Valley, Margaret River, the Yarra Valley – the list goes on.

Cape Town, South Africa

Despite its dark history, Cape Town is now a popular tourist spot, partly as a jumping-off spot for safari trips. But it’s also just 10 miles from the Constantia Valley, the oldest wine-producing region in the southern hemisphere. Nestled between two mountain ranges, the region produces some of the country’s world-famous wines, and the valley’s wine route leads you to nine wineries that offer tours and tastings.

In your spare time, you can explore Cape Town itself, which has blossomed into one of Africa’s most exciting cities. Sample the cuisine and the nightlife, relax on one of its khaki-coloured beaches, or ride the cable car to the top of Table Mountain for great views of the surrounding countryside (the city’s crime problem persists, so beware pickpockets). For that matter, why not combine your wine tour with a safari – you’re in Africa, after all.

Oporto, Portugal

If you like a sip of something stronger after dinner, the wine to drink is port – and Portugal is the place to go. Start out in Oporto, the ancient, UNESCO-listed city that is the centre of the port world, for tastings in the “lodges” of companies with Barrelnames like Sandeman, Graham, Taylor’s, and Cockburn.

Then head out to the Douro Valley, where the wines are actually made, and tour the wineries themselves: the region also makes excellent table wines. If you fancy some white wine after all that port, next door is the Vino Verde region, where grapes grown along the edges of the fields produce lively, slightly sparkling wines. Along the way, you can stay in some of Portugal’s famous pousadas — hotels situated in old palaces and castles.

That’s my list of the 10 best places for a wine vacation, but that’s not the last word on the subject. There are other places in the world that combine great wine with beautiful and interesting surroundings, such as Burgundy, Spain’s Rioja district, Germany’s famed Rhineland, New Zealand’s south island and Canada’s Niagara region — on which you’ll be hearing more from me.

You could argue ad infinitum about which is the world’s best wine region, but like anything else, it’s a matter of taste. Whatever your taste, though, the next time you’re planning a trip, think about including a wine tour as a possibility. It’s a great way to see new places, learn about wine, and have some fun — and after a few glasses of wine, having fun is pretty much a sure thing.

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About Author

Paul Marshman is a retired journalist who spent 30 years as a writer and editor on Canadian newspapers, while travelling to the ends of the earth. Now he continues to travel while passing on his travel experiences to you.

21 Comments

  1. I spent a few days in Stellenbosch (near Cape Town) some years back, and the wine tours there were insane! The one I took included five wineries, each of which gave you on average five large samples of different wines. Needless to say, I couldn’t try them all. I love the South African whites, and the fact that “a glass” there means a big full glass, not one of those puny 3 oz servings you may get in other places!
    Marie-France (a.k.a. BigTravelNut) recently posted…10 things you should do before every tripMy Profile

    • Went there too , it’s the best. All countries / cities have a “dark history” of one type or another. The wineroute is outstanding with wines amongst the best in the world.

  2. I agree, Paul. Traveling with a purpose is so much more enjoyable when you can leave a new place feeling connected to a certain aspect, or feeling like you dug deeper and learned about something to it’s fullest extent. I am off to Mendoza this coming spring and can’t wait to tour wine country here in South America! Do you have a favorite vineyard in Argentina?
    Jessica recently posted…Greetings from Sucre + Instagram InspirationMy Profile

    • Thanks for commenting, Jessica: Yes, travelling with an interest gives a trip a whole other dimension, and if you can taste some good wine along the way, what’s not to like? I’ve forgotten the names of some of the wineries we visited in Mendoza, although Familia Cecchin was interesting since we saw them applying the labels to the bottles — by hand! Two women did the whole production of the winery! I don’t think you can go wrong booking a wine tour in Mendoza. The one I took was very generous for the money, and the wineries are interesting, too — some of them also grow olives, and process both in the same place.

  3. Great list! Others were very lucky living in California because their wine is really something you can be proud of , very delicious and quite cheaper compared to British Columbia, very expensive for wine. I wanted to go back to California right now, I really missed the taste of their wine. Well, I am not a drunkard anyway, i just learn to love and appreciate the taste of the wine.

    • Thanks, Maggie: Yes, living in California must be like paradise for wine lovers. But the rest of us can always travel to the great wine destinations — if the wine won’t come to us, we’ll go to the wine …

  4. Well , I must say that this article is really interesting !
    With wow list!

    I am Planning to visit Cape town soon and eager to taste the country’s world-famous wines. hahhhah!
    Travelling and tasting wine Is a Great combo …

    Thanks!
    Regards Vern

  5. Thanks so much for writing this! I have always wanted to go on a wine vacation and just figured California would be the place to go, but now I am starting to venture out of comfort zone and have started thinking Spain vineyards may need a little visit! Thanks so much again for sharing, awesome job!

    • Thanks for commenting, Larissa: There are certainly a lot more places to go than California. I didn’t think of Spain, but I’d love to see the wineries of the Rioja region myself. You could combine Spain with Portugal for a great trip, too.

    • Thanks for commenting, Ryan. Tuscany is on a lot of people’s lists. I’m not partial to Italy, due to a bad experience long ago in Rome, but the photos of that area look beautiful.

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