As the Provencal proverb says “A day without wine is a day without sunshine!”
Provence has been a wine-growing land from time immemorial. It was the Greeks that first planted vines in southern Gaul in the 5th century BC. Today, the generous soil of the South produces red, white and rosé wines.
The region of Avignon in the Luberon is the homeland of the Cotes-du-Rhone wines and their prestigious, vigorous and full-bodied reds such as Gigondas, vacqueyras and rasteau. This is also the growing ground for the Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines, elected best wines of the world, with their powerful and firm reds and supple, ample whites! the sweet Côtes-du-Rhône wines, such as Beaumes-de-Venise and Rasteau, are the perfect accompaniment to foie gras and biscuits.
Take time to explore the exceptional Côtes-du-Rhone wine growing area! From Gigondas, a perched village overlooking the vineyards topped with ancient ruins, you can reach the superb “Dentelles de Montmirail” cliffs with their lacy silhouette. Don’t miss a stop-off in Séguret, one of France’s most beautiful villages perched on a hillside, and Vacqueyras standing on a rocky outcrop.
Next stop is Orange to visit its roman theatre and Arc de Triomphe, Unesco World Heritage Sites. The Roman Theatre in Orange is the best preserved in Europe. It chiefly owes its fame to its magnificent stage wall, in surprisingly good condition and unique in the western world. It was a major centre for shows in Roman times and still attracts huge numbers of music lovers from all over the world with its Chorégies Opera Festival.
You next go to Rasteau and Cairanne. Climb up to the top of the village to contemplate the vines stretching as far as the eye can see… Vaison-la-Romaine with its roman ruins, the largest site in France for Roman archaeological excavations is another must. On your way, you will come across a number of cooperative wine cellars and chateaux offering a warm welcome and of course – wine tasting!
Further south, you will also find AOC Ventoux and Luberon vineyards. More than half the villages here make wine.
But Provence is famed for its Côtes-de-Provence wines and, in particular, its rosé wines, best drunk chilled in summer under a pretty bower… Ideal for sharing with friends, these friendly and fuss-free wines also accompany gastronomic, casual and world cuisine to perfection.
Provence’s rosé wines are synonymous with simplicity and sincere, spontaneous pleasure. They represent a new and more casual approach to appreciating wine. You will get the opportunity to taste a host of different rosés during your travels from Arles to the gates to Nice this itinerary is simply bursting with great surprises.
From the foot of Sainte-Victoire mountain so dear to Cézanne, you can head on to Rousset through the landscapes portrayed by the artist. From the little port of Cassis, surrounded by cliffs, climb up to the vineyards overlooking the coastal fjords known as the “calanques”. Another port awaits you a few kilometres further on: Bandol, with its lively atmosphere and world-acclaimed rosé wines. Set on a rocky spur, the charming village of La Cadiere d’Azur just down the road offers stunning panoramic views over the vines.
Next, you will carry on to the mythical port of Saint-Tropez via the vine-filled area we call Provence verte. If you have time, stop off at the all-organic village of Correns to sample the local organic wines!
Last but not least, if you want to get a different angle of the region, numerous service providers offer fun and novel wine discovery tours, ranging from electric bike itineraries to guided walks. You can also opt for a “pairing food and wine” class, or simply enjoy staying at a chateau – there are plenty of ways to get to know France’s oldest vineyards!
Our favourites in the Rhone Valley
- Opening in June 2015 of Le Carré du Palais in Avignon, Capital of Cotes-du-Rhone wines: a new venue dedicated to wine, gastronomy and fine shops. It features a gastronomic restaurant in summer, a wine bar, a wine school, luxury accommodation… across from the Palace of the Popes.
- A tour of the new Wine Museum of Vin de Chateauneuf-du-Pape: striking scenography, an entertaining informative presentation of Rhone Valley wines, especially those of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. www.brotte.com
- The Mouriesse wine-tasting school in Chateauneuf-du-Pape was established in the heart of the village on the initiative of an oenology laboratory. It organises regularly scheduled workshops (Friday evening and Saturday morning) as well as sessions on request for small groups on different themes and for all levels. www.oenologie-mouriesse.com
- Guided tours of vineyards in and around the Rhône Valley (Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas…) are available as regularly scheduled or custom tours with Provence Panorama www.provence-panorama.com or Wine Uncovered www.wine-uncovered.comUnmissable sites include:
- Chateau La Nerthe, a large property, full of history, was established in the 12th Century at the period when the Popes resided in Avignon and began to grow grapes in this district. Today, it is still a benchmark for the Chateauneuf-du-Pape vineyards. www.chateaulanerthe.fr
- The Chateau Pesquié in Mormoiron, a stunning property home to three successive generations of wine-makers. www.chateaupesquie.com
- Vineyard tours at Terra Ventoux. Terra Ventoux in villes-sur-Auzon has come up with a whole new way of discovering the AOC Ventoux terroir! their new-generation, electrically-assisted bicycles allow you to wing your way uphill and down dale between cherry orchards and vineyards with ease – with a luring glass of wine and snack on the horizon!You can also opt for a horse and carriage ride in the heart of these ochre landscapes, followed by goat’s cheese and wine tasting or an electric moped. Or you may prefer the Aper’Truffes: featuring black winter truffles or white summer truffles, this friendly “truffle Aperitif” is hosted by a local truffle grower keen to share his growing secrets and introduce visitors to the delights of truffle and wine tasting… www.terraventoux.com
- Les vignerons de caractère is an alliance of 80 families of expert and impassioned vallée du Rhône wine growers. Their cooperative at the foot of the “dentelles de Montmirail” welcomes visitors for tasting sessions. www.vigneronsdecaractere.com
- Hostellerie de Crillon le Brave 5*, at the foot of Mont-Ventoux. The old 17th and 18th century village houses, which now form this hotel, grant the establishment its highly original charm, with a truly breathtaking view over the vineyard and the legendary Mont-Ventoux.
- In Pertuis, the “Remarkable Garden” of Château Val Joanis, a famous winegrowing estate in the Luberon, www.val-joanis.com
- Domaine de la Coquillade 5* stands on a delightful hilltop sight with a unique view over the Luberon Massif. The complex, a Relais & Châteaux member, is made up of a hamlet with six new “bastides” converted into sumptuous rooms and suites, where you can appreciate the fine cuisine of the Chef Christophe Renaud (one Michelin star) www.coquillade.fr. The setting is ideal for cycling tours and Cave Aureto offers visitors its vintners’ trails, tasting sessions and workshops to learn all about sensory analysis… www.aureto.fr
Our favourites among the Vineyards of Provence
- The wines of Camargue come from the exceptional territory of the Camargue Regional Nature Park and are available in all three colours: Mas de Valériole, Domaine de Beaujeu, Mas de Bouchaud, Mas de Rey.
- Art, Architecture and Wine at Chateau La Coste near Aix-en-Provence. Chateau La Coste is truly in a class of its own. Flying the flag of the chateau’s new look, the two wine-making buildings – half cylinders built in glass and steel – were designed by the star of French architecture, Jean Nouvel. chateau la coste has also launched a new Wine tourism concept, with the opening of an on-site Art Centre, restaurant, a magnificent exhibition space dedicated to modern art set amid woods, hills, vines and olive trees, with works and installations by artists and architects such as tadao Ando, louise Bourgeois, Alexander calder, Frank o. Gehry, liam Giillick, Andy Goldsworthy, tunga and Franz West. www.chateau-la-coste.com
- The beautiful, new-look Chateau Beaulieu… the Beaulieu vineyards have been thriving for the last 2,000 years, hidden away in the crater of Provence’s only volcano. This is one of the biggest coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence vineyards. All rooms and suites offer exceptional views over the property transformed by the architect lafourcade. Treats include walks in the exceptional 54-acre ancient grounds, discovery tours of the vineyard, surrounding Mediterranean vegetation and, naturally, the volcano. And of course, you can also enjoy classes on chateau wine appreciation. www.chateaubeaulieu.fr
- The Villa Madie restaurant with 2 Michelin stars is tucked away in the little seaside resort of cassis, acclaimed worldwide for its Vin Blanc de Cassis AOC wines. Spanning the Mediterranean, the gastronomic cuisine is shouldered by a vast wine list featuring 650 references! www.lavillamadie.com
- Provencal cookery and wine-tasting classes at the Hostellerie Bérard & Spa in la cadière d’Azur. The Hostellerie Bérard has been a traditional stop-off for visitors to the Bandol area for many years. Today, people come here from all over the world to take part in their wine appreciation classes and the inimitable cookery classes led by starrated chef René Bérard, before enjoying a spot of relaxation at the spa… www.hotel-berard.com
- The Dolce Fregate 4* in Saint-Cyr-sur-Mer is a resort combining all the charms of a Bandol vineyard and one of europe’s finest 18-hole golf courses, offering stunning views over the vines and Mediterranean sea. www.dolce-fregate-hotel.fr
- The Hotel du Castellet 5*, situated near the medieval village of the same name, offers stunning views over the Bandol AOC vineyards. Its “Monte Cristo” restaurant boasts 2 Michelin stars. the mythical Paul Ricard Formula 1 race track is immediately adjacent to the hotel. www.hotelducastellet.com
- L’Ile des Arts on Bendor island, facing the seaside resort of Bandol, belongs to the family of the visionary entrepreneur and art-lover Paul Ricard (famed for his pastis!). The island is home to his “Musée des Vins et des Spiritueux” wine and spirits museum, exhibiting bottles, labels and restaurant menus from throughout the world. You can enjoy staying at the “Hotel Delos”, designed by the master of the island! www.bendor.com
- Chateau Pibarnon and the Domaines Ott wines (the Ott family possess 3 prestigious vineyards: “Chateau de Selle”, “Clos Mireille” and “Chateau Romassan”). These wines are served at world’s finest restaurants.
- Chateau de Berne 5*, set in 200 acres of dry garrigue, vineyards and olive groves, this relais & chateaux establishment in the var inland countryside hosts various wine tourism activities around its excellent Côtes-de-Provence wines. www.chateauberne.com
- Chateau Saint-Martin. Run by the same family since 1740, this authentic vineyard- come-B&B is located in Taradeau, 30 kilometres from the coast. www.chateaudesaintmartin.com
- Chateau Sainte-Roseline. This ancient abbey has now been ranked as an exceptional site in recognition of its remarkable chapel painted by Marc chagall, prestigious wines and delightful “Chateau des Demoiselles” guest house. Spanning 740 acres of green grounds including over 500 acres of forests, the chateau is located a 1⁄2 hour from Saint-Tropez and Cannes. www.sainte-roseline.com/demoiselles
- The Maison des Vins des Côtes-de-Provence in les Arcs-sur-Argens. this wine institute, run by an association of wine growers, hosts wine tasting sessions led by professional sommeliers and also features a wine shop selling 800 Côtes-de-Provence wines at producer prices, an oenology centre www.caveaucp.fr