Wine tourism is surging around the world so this week we consider some unusual options for a wine holiday. For publication in the week starting 23 October 2017.
Tourism numbers in Portugal have trebled in the past three years, driven by a boom in wine tourism. This form of tourism has always been popular in Europe, and the key to success seems to be the ability to offer something different.
This week we consider some unusual wine holidays. This columnist has not been on any of these trips and therefore cannot recommend any. Details are based on analysis of company web sites.
Sharrow Bay, a hotel in England’s Lake District, has created a tour to celebrate a rare fine wine: Chateau Pétrus. The hotel serves dinner in a private room featuring a bottle of Chateau Pétrus 1979 Pomerol.
Pétrus is one of the world’s most expensive wines. It comes from the smallest appellation in Bordeaux. Note that only one bottle of Pétrus is available. But the wine list includes other fine wines such as Mouton de Mouton Rothschild (the younger sibling of the Bordeaux First Growth), Chateaux Palmer and Mazy-Chambertin Grand Cru. One night’s accommodation, dinner, bed and breakfast costs £4,235 for two people.
The world’s attention is on the Catalan region of Spain, amid calls for independence. One independent way to get to vineyards there involves cycling. The Inntravel company runs the Catalonia Cava Country tour in the rolling hills of the Penedès, an hour south-west of Barcelona.
The tour visits major wineries such as Condoníu and Freixenet, but also goes to tiny family-run wineries. Luggage is taken to hotels by car. The trip ends in Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, where the first bottle of Cava was produced using the “traditional method” in 1872. Inntravel offers six nights’ half board, cycle hire, maps and cycling notes from £795 per person based on twin share. Flights and transfers are extra.
In the Halkidiki area of mainland Greece the Miraggio thermal spa resort offers a tasting experience in a region where wine has been made for 2,500 years. The rich volcanic soil allows for cultivation of grape varieties unknown to many people from Asia. These include the white Roditis, Athiri and Assyrtiko grapes, and the red grapes Limnio and Xinomavro.
One of the best vineyards in the area, which has featured in previous columns and which should be visited, is Ktima Gerovassiliou. The beautiful vineyard is in Epanomi, a few kilometres from the city of Thessaloniki. They have been making wine since 1981.
Cyprus has a long tradition of wine-making, and is home to the world’s oldest named wine still in production. Richard the Lionheart described Commandaria as the “wine of the kings and the king of the wines.” This sweet dessert wine dates back to 1192 when it was being produced and exported by the Knights of St. John.
The Cyprus Tourism Organisation has designed seven wine routes, including Route Commandaria where people can learn how Commandaria (also known as Koumandaria) is made. The indigenous Mavro (red) and Xynisteri (white) grapes are picked late and dried in the sun to boost sugar content. The grapes are pressed and then fermented in tanks or traditional earthenware jars.
Another route known as Krasochoria of Lemesos (Limassol) on the southern slopes of the Troodos mountain range passes the greatest concentration of wineries in Cyprus. Krasochoria translates as “wine villages”. The tour involves 20 picturesque villages and 16 wineries. A highlight is the traditional Cypriot architecture, as you journey along narrow cobblestoned passageways
The route Vouni Panagias to Ambelitis offers panoramic views and magnificent mountain terrain about 800 metres above sea level. This area is said to produce delicate white wines that taste of peaches, green apples and apricots. The 10 wineries on this route grow 27 varieties of grape. The main indigenous ones are the Xynisteri (white) grape and the Maratheftiko and Mavro (red) grapes.
Going back to nature and learning about home-grown regional food and drink has become a popular attraction. Villages Nature Paris is a new eco-friendly holiday village where guests can learn how to grow vegetables and live a sustainable lifestyle.
The village has an outdoor lagoon heated by geothermal energy, a working farm, a forest play area, a beach, restaurants and sport facilities. The Cépages restaurant offers local wine tasting. A two-night self-catered stay in a cottage that sleeps up to four people costs from £493 per cottage.
Elsewhere in France it is possible to visit vineyards along the Loire via Le Boat. This gives wine-lovers the flexibility of a range of tasting experiences and the chance to stop at riverside restaurants. A seven-night self-catered stay on a boat that sleeps up to nine people, costs from £1,977 per boat. No boating licence or experience is necessary.
Also in France, four luxury wine tours in the south of the country are available from the SmoothRed company. One from Carcassonne to Cannes allows guests to drive a Porsche sports car along the rural lanes of Languedoc-Roussillon and the Côte d’Azur.
Prices start at £4,980 per person, based on two sharing for six nights in five-star hotels, wine tastings and tours, some meals, and the services of English-speaking guide. It also includes return flights from the UK, and the loan of a Porsche 911.
Another tour is named the Provence Wine and Boat Experience. It is a four-day chauffeured wine tour of Avignon and its vineyards and features a boat trip to the dramatic calanques, the “fjords” of the Mediterranean coast, near Cassis.
This trip costs from £1,394 per person, based on twin share, including return flights from the UK, private transfers, three nights’ bed and breakfast in a four-star hotel, wine tastings and tours, boat trip, some meals, and the services of English-speaking expert guides.
Final thought: Accommodation and food tend to be the most expensive items of a holiday budget. One cost-saving option for holidays is to join a home-swap club. You pay an annual fee and advertise your home on a web site. Then you exchange your home with someone who has a home in a wine region. A home swap, and the chance to cook in the home kitchen, saves money that can be spent on wine.