The word terroir is often used in the wine world to describe the natural environment where vines are planted, and the influences that make one grape variety different from another. To understand a wine’s terroir is also a way to get a sense of place, which is why walking or cycling along a wine route can be both insightful and joyful. You get to explore all the senses, finishing the day by smelling and tasting the fruits of the land you have just felt underfoot, or seen from a saddle. It’s also one of the most pleasurable ways to learn about a region’s history, with places like the Chianti producing wines since Etruscan times, or Moselle, where vines were first planted by the Romans. From the fruity wines of the Loire Valley to the citrus flavours of a Wachau wine, here is our bouquet of the most beautiful and best wine routes in Europe.
Wine routes in Italy
Brunello and Montepulciano vineyards
You can sense the nobility of Tuscany as you cycle through two of its most highly regarded wine areas in the south of Chianti. Two hilltop towns of Montalcino and Montepulciano await, overlooking vineyards that produce Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Both are classified as DOCG wines (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita), which means vintners’ top notch for guaranteed quality. On an eight day cycling holiday here, you are based in two different locations, so that you can savour them both. Because like the region’s fine wines, these landscapes are not to be rushed. Stay in one of the most exquisite agriturismos you can imagine, between Buonconvento and Montalcino as well as a small, elegant hotel in the ancient town of Pienza. This is one full-bodied cycling holiday and it is also accessible by rail, so you can bring a few bottles home if you are travelling from the UK or Europe and want to avoid flying.
Chianti Wine Route
A walking holiday that starts in Florence and finishes in Siena must be toasted with a glass of Chianti. Spend eight days strolling along the rolling hills bedecked with vineyards that date back to the 13th century and where, in some places, it feels as if time has stood still. Which is why a slow adventure in these parts really soothes the soul. Every day brings new Tuscan aromas, such as in Greve in Chianti, considered the wine capital of Chianti for many, where you can choose tastings from over fifty wines at their Cantine di Greve. Seek out an aziende agricole, or winery, in many locations around the hilltop town of Montefioralle or the medieval hamlet of Volpaia and you won’t be short of tastings in Raddo in Chianti, considered one of the earliest producers of Chianto Classico, dating back to Etruscan times.
Piedmont Wine Region
We have two walking holidays in the Piedmont Wine region, one that has layers of both inland and coastal flavours, and the other a concentrated kick of Barolos and Barbarescos. On this eight day walking holiday, combine the wines of Langhe with the shores of Liguria and, as the word langhe means low-lying hill, you can just imagine how these landscapes are perfect for walking. Sample a rosso, bianco or rosato before you rest your head in places like Monteforte, just 5km from Barolo, or crack open a local frizzante to celebrate views of the Alps on a walk between Bossolasco and Millesimo. From here, it’s all downhill(ish) to the coast.
The other Piedmont Wine Region walking holiday option is to spend a week walking valleys and vineyards between the iconic wine-producing villages of Barolo and Barbaresco. Starting and finishing in Alba, one of the main towns in the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Vineyard Landscape of Piedmont, Barbaresco lies north-east and Barolo south-east of the town. This is vineyard beauty on steroids, although you won’t want to race around these parts. Just ramble and sample the goodies en route which not only include wine, but also local specialties such as truffles, risotto, cheese and hazelnuts.
Wine routes in Germany
Moselle Wine Trail
Mosey along the Moselle Trail, one of the oldest wine-producing regions in Germany. This is a slow travel idyll along the iconic, vine-bedecked river. One of our top solo travel holidays in Germany, and also one that is dog-friendly, this is a week of wineries and walking, taking in the prettiest of Palatinate villages and ancient trails, all culminating in the country’s Roman and oldest city of Trier. Moselle is probably the most famous classic Riesling in the world, making up for over 60% of the grapes grown in the valley. Other ones to look out for include Elbling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Kerner and Auxerrois. If you’re having a yearning for bubbles, you can also raise a glass of the local Sekt sparkling wine.
Vineyards of the Rhine Valley
Our eight day walking holiday along the Rhine Valley is like a fine wine in itself. Your walks start in Rüdesheim am Rhein, at the heart of the Riesling vineyards, and also home to the Rheingauer Museum located in the town’s Brömserburg Castle. Fantastic for exploring the region’s wine history, with exhibits including iron grape presses and ancient wine carts. You get to walk through a living wine museum, however, for the rest of the trip, with sommelier-style stops in the wine-growing towns of Assmanshausen, famous for its red wine made from Pinot Noir and the medieval viticultural hubs of Braubach and Koblenz. Koblenz makes for a great finale, a 2000-year old city located at the famous Deutsches Eck, or German Corner, where the Rhine and Moselle converge and the wine is always flowing.
Wachau Wine Region, Austria
You can choose to walk or cycle through the Wachau Valley, on the banks of the Danube, a region that is not only famous for its wines but also its medieval castles and monasteries. It’s this combination that has earned its protection as a UNESCO Cultural Landscape. All linked by the iconic river, and of course wine. You can easily spot the winegrowers’ farmsteads which are all typically U-shaped or L-shaped, layouts that date back as far as the Middle Ages. On this five day cycling holiday, for example, swap bikes for a boat journey to the Sandgrube 13 Winery and tour, a brilliant journey through vineyards, grape-growing history, cellars and state-of-the-art museum. On our Linz to Vienna cycling holiday, one of the hotels where you stay offers a wine tasting and a chance to savour the local Grüner Veltliner and Riesling. This is just a starter for the wine villages of Spitz, Weißenkirchen, Dürnstein and Krems that follow. Our Wachau Wine Region walking holiday follows a similar itinerary on foot, and also includes a Danube riverboat tour where the overhanging vineyards are so close, you could almost pick the grapes.
Wine routes in France
For cycling holidays in France that have a focus both on viticulture and vélo culture, the Loire Valley Cycling Trail is a must. This 800km route is both epic and epicurean, given that it covers such different terroirs. From the inland Sancerres to the rolling hills of Saumur further west and, last but not least, the Muscadet wine appellation on the western edges of the Loire Valley, where Atlantic influences creep in as the river approaches its mouth. You can cycle the whole route in 15 days, or choose a week-long section between Nevers and Orleans, Orleans and Saumur or Saumur to the Atlantic.
Alsace Wine Route
This is another wine region cycling holiday that is accessible by train, so you’ll be popping a few bottles in your pannier after this journey between Strasbourg and Colmar. The Alsace Wine Route heads from north to south for 170km, give or take a few detours to wineries in the foothills of the Vosges. There are more than 1,200 winemakers along the way, and most of them are families who have carried on the tradition for generations. For example, you cycle to and spend a night in Riquewihr, which is not only one of France’s official ‘plus beaux villages de France’, it’s also home to some of the most aromatic white wines. These include Riesling, Pinot Gris, Muscat and Gewurztraminer as well as the cheaper Sylvaner, Auxerrois and Pinot Blanc wines.
Provence Wine Route
Although Provence may win our prize for prettiest of wine regions, it is surprisingly one of the most underrated by wine experts. Perhaps because the majority of wines are rosé, with 88% of Provence wine production dedicated to all things pink. Although our Wine trails of Provence walking holiday and similar cycling holiday do also take you to Châteauneuf-du-Pape, famous for its raunchy reds, and just 12km north of Avignon in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region.
On the walking holiday, you stroll from one winery to the next including the celebrated wine estates of Vaudieu, Nalys and Solitude. And on the cycling one, you get to cycle through some of the most prestigious winemaking villages in the southern Rhône Valley – most notably Vacqueyras and Beaumes-de-Venise, with lots of wine-tasting opportunities along the way. You are also hosted on both holidays at the Wine B&B Hotel, in a vine grower’s house with a dedicated sommelier. We’ll drink to that.
Wine routes in Spain and Portugal
Ribeira Wine Route, Galicia, Spain
Our eight day walking holiday in Spain’s Ribeira Sacra region of Galicia is not only dramatic, wild and little known, it’s nurtured by the Miño, Sil, Cabe and Bibei Rivers. The valleys and gorges became home to ancient monasteries that produced wines for the Vatican on steep, terraced slopes. Small family-run wineries are still an important feature of the area, with the main growing areas in Chantada, Ribeira do Miño, Amandi, Ribeira do Sil and Quiroga Bibei. Not so well known internationally, grape names you need to keep an eye out for are Mencía, Brancellao and Merenzao, all used for reds, while Godello, Albariño and Treixadura grapes are used for white wines. The trip comes to a close in the Roman city of Orense which hosts the O Magosto Festival every November, celebrating chestnuts and young wines.
Porto and Douro Wine Region, Portugal
Although this region features on the Camino Portugues, Porto and northern Portugal invite many other worshippers of nature to its shores and vine-covered slopes and, in particular, to imbibe the fruits of the Douro Valley. This walking holiday starts and ends in the famous city of Porto, where you can jump into learning about Portugal’s wine history by visiting one of the port wine cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia. Continue into the heart of the Douro Valley, walking alongside the western slopes around Pinhão, and climb to the hillside villages of São Cristovão do Douro and Provesende on a veritable vineyard voyage. Fine Portuguese food and wines are a feature at all our chosen hotels on this holiday, as they are all set on wine estates, where you get to sample wines not only from Douro, but also Dão, Bairrada, Vinho Verde, Trás-os-Montes and Beira Interior, the six regions of northern Portugal.
If this blog has whetted your appetite for in-depth tours of Europe, you may enjoy a few other tasting menus of natural adventures, such as our Island walking holidays, Best markets in France and our blog on Best time to go to the Amalfi Coast. Don’t hesitate to contact us for more information on a good wine route in Europe, treks, terroirs and trails.