LOIRE VALLEY, FRANCE
If immersive isn’t the word, what is? Let’s try ‘holistic’, because if there’s one thing the Loire Valley has in abundance it is a sense of calm and well-being that is as good for the soul as it is for the stomach. Thanks to its outstanding produce, the valley is often described as the ‘garden of France’, and with food markets in many towns, you can be assured of being surrounded by meats, cheeses, breads and wines of many kinds – indeed, there are more than 100 AOCs (appellation d’origine contrôlées) and IGPs (indication géographiques protégées) in the region. Speaking of wine, there are immeasurable opportunities to visit vineyards here – we recommend heading to Nantes, Saumur, Tours and Angers, but there are several others well worth your time.
Yes, San Francisco is distinctive and has a vibe all of its own (a mesmerising blend of designer sleek and acute shabbiness) and some restaurants that define the term ‘cutting-edge’. However, if it’s an abundance of food and wine in the sun that you’re after then you’d best head out to them thar hills which take you first to Santa Rosa (the largest city in California’s Wine Country) and then to wondrous Napa Valley, which is one of the world’s primary wine regions. Here, you can find your version of bliss on Planet Earth – there are more than 400 wineries and an extremely long list of superb accommodation options, restaurants and viticultural experiences. The fact that Napa is about 60 minutes by car from San Francisco makes a visit even more worthwhile – just be careful on the drive back into the city!
If you fancy spoiling yourself something rotten (and after two years of Covid snapping at your heels, why ever not?), then the exceptional neo-Renaissance five-star resort hotel, L’Albereta, could be for you. Nestled into the vineyards of Francaiacorta, by the shores of northern Italy’s Lake Iseo, you can combine wine (the hotel is right next door to Bellavista winery) with Chenot Espace, one of the best wellness spas in Italy. As for food, the hotel has four restaurants, from the formal (Leonefelice Vista Lago) to the casual (La Filiale). You know the saying ‘when in Rome’? Well, it’s exactly the same wording for Lombardy.
A bona fide challenger to the best wines from California and France, Chile has quickly proven itself as a glorious wine/food destination bar none. It helps that vineyards are dramatically positioned in valleys located between the rippling slopes of the Andes and the rugged washes of the Pacific coast, and it helps even more that established wine regions/valleys such as Colchagua and Casablanca (and newcomers such as San Antonio) can be visited on day trips from Chile’s capital, Santiago. Colchagua Valley is 80 miles south of Santiago and has over 30 (red) wineries, about half of which can be easily accessed via the trundling Colchagua Wine Train. Casablanca Valley, meanwhile, is Chile’s premier white wine region, with over eight wineries and more than 10,000 acres of vines put through brisk health checks courtesy of Pacific winds.
BAJA CALIFORNIA, MEXICO
Don’t be confused by the juxtaposing of ‘California’ with ‘Mexico’ – Baja California is the 12th largest state by area in Mexico, and its Valle de Gaudalupe is the country’s principal wine-producing area. Located 12 miles north of the coastal city of Ensenada and 70 miles southeast of the border crossing from San Diego to Tijuana, there are over 100 wineries here. Known worldwide as something of a rural paradise with a serene blend of organic gardens, orchards and wineries, Valle de Gaudalupe is one of the oldest grape growing regions in the Americas (with roots, quite literally, from the 1700s). Astonishingly, the region produces about 90% of all Mexican wine, and some of the names we are most familiar with include Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Malbec, Tempranillo, Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon.
We have decided not to choose any specific location in Spain because the food and wine experiences are nationwide. Besides, the statistics speak for themselves. Every region has their specialities. In Galicia, for example, you could spend about two weeks eating different seafood each day; in Asturias, it would take you over a month to sample all of their artisan cheeses. As for the vino, there are almost 70 formally acknowledged wine production regions – La Rioja is, of course, the country’s most famous area, but ignore Navarre, Castilla León and Aragón at your cost.
It’s either a big country, an even bigger island or the smallest continent on Planet Earth, but whatever way you view Australia, one thing is indisputable: more than 30 million glasses of its wine are swirled, sniffed, sampled, sipped and slugged around the world every single day. Yes, you read correctly: 30. Million. Glasses. Of. Wine. Needless to say, there are regions all across the country/continent/island, from Hunter Valley (New South Wales), Barossa (South Australia) and Margaret River (Western Australia) to Mornington Peninsula (Victoria) and Tamar Valley (Tasmania). Because of its established wine legacy, the food and wine experiences are quality, while the itineraries are mapped out in a way that makes taking a few of them an effortless task. Wineries range from family-owned traditional places to wine estates that host outdoor art galleries. All in all, it’s quite amazing.
About Me – The Author
I am an Irish-based freelance journalist/writer/editor who writes mostly on music, pop culture, film and travel for a variety of print and online outlets.