This is the time of year when the insistent warmth and stark light of summer have retreated and Provence is definitely bathed in a warm, golden shine that is like a lingering caress prior to the harsher days of winter. The calm autumn season is the perfect time to explore this little piece of heaven on earth, which is also the oldest wine-growing region of France.
Vineyards have been part of Provence’s sunlit landscapes ever since Greek sailors first landed on its shores in the 6th centuries BC. The rows upon rows of grapevines that stretch their particular dark, gnarled branches up to the sunlight are as much a part of the region’s scenery and history as the tortured shapes of the olive trees, which they resemble.
Now that the main stream of visitors has departed, making it possible to ramble at leisure, stopping when and where the spirit moves you, for a food or an overnight stay, let us take you on a tour associated with five of the region’s quality wine-growing areas.
In each one, we provide you with a simple recipe for earthly bliss: take a couple of outstanding vineyards, put in a choice of nearby gourmet restaurants and charming hotels — some of which are available under one roof — plus savour the combination in an establishing that is one of Nature’s masterpieces.
The first vines were indeed planted for the coast by the Greeks, when they started Marseille, but it was the Romans who also deserve the credit for spreading vineyards throughout Provence. Now, they will carpet the region, from its Mediterranean seaboard to its verdant inland valleys and forested hills, right up to its sculptured mountain ranges.
Within Roman times, all the wine created was rosé, and that is still the colour of wine most often associated with Provence. But in addition to light, fruity rosés, perfect for summer drinking, the region furthermore produces a wide range of hearty reds plus some surprisingly crisp whites. The fruit traditionally used for its reds are local varieties such as Mourvèdre (known as the dog-strangler! ), Tibouren and Cinsault, now being blended with international names such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Grenache. The white wines are a marriage of Provencal old-timers like Clairette, Ugni Blanc plus Marsanne, and relative newcomers towards the region like Sauvignon Blanc plus Semillon.
Since 1935, when France developed a strict system of wine laws, the highest quality wines from a specified area are granted A. Um. C status — Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée. It is a tightly defined accreditation of origin, ensuring that wines with all the A. O. C. label have met a long list of requirements, including allowed grape varieties, maximum yields, minimal alcohol levels and vinification methods.
The wine-growing areas of Provence in this article have all earned the appellation category: one as long ago as 1936, one as recently as 1995. With that kind of quality assured, you will find the wines sliding down therefore easily that we thought it better to provide a choice of nearby hotel/restaurants where one can rest from your tastings and collect strength for the next lap of your tour.
All the vineyards we explain are happy to have you come plus taste their wines, and the majority have English-speaking staff. The starting hours we list at the end of the article were correct at time of going to press, but it never hurts to give them a call before you go, only to check that there have been no changes.
Finally, before we start, let us end up being quite clear that we will be using just a few small sips from the huge and varied wine cellar that is Provence. We are merely uncorking a few sample bottles for you at a handful of remarkable vineyards. The region has numerous other liquid assets for you to discover plus add to your own personal address book. The votre santé!
Cassis: The oldest AOC in Provence (1936)
Let us begin at the very beginning, down on the particular Mediterranean Coast. Not far from where Greek sailors founded Marseille twenty six centuries ago, the pastel-colored little port of Cassis nestles on the foot of Cap Canaille, France’s highest sea-cliff. From its picturesque harbour you can take a boat tour from the calanques, inlets of crystalline, deep-blue water carved into the white limestone coastline, or take the more full of energy option of admiring their transparent depths from above, by hiking along the well-marked, spectacular GR98-51 trail that borders the coast.
Once the view of these sparkling depths has worked up a thirst, internal refreshment is at hands, in the form of the excellent wines of Cassis, an unique phenomenon in Provence.
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As opposed to all the other wine-growing areas, which create mainly reds and rosés, a great 75% of the wines of Cassis are crisp, clean whites, which are the ideal table companion to the well-known local fish stew, bouillabaisse.
On the hillside above Cassis stands Château de Fontcreuse, a stately house once belonging to Colonel Teed, the British Army officer who dropped in love with the area and launched themselves into winemaking in 1922. These days the estate is run on exemplary lines by Jean-François Brando, the head of the Cassis vintners’ syndicate.
In the village of Cassis itself, plus blissfully free of any bus trips, since they cannot park nearby, will be the elegant Clos Sainte-Magdeleine, which has most of its grapes, all organically developed, planted in terraces on the slopes of Cap Canaille, around the impressive Art Deco mansion. Its floral whites, with a definite tang from the sea to them, simply cry out for some fresh seafood to accompany them.
You will find a wide choice of restaurants serving just that on the seafront. Among the best is Nino +33 (0)4 42 01 74 32 (Menu: 32EUR).. Their bouillabaisse is the genuine content and the service is relaxed plus friendly. Just a little way out of Cassis, in an idyllic setting at the tip of the diminutive presqu’ile (promontory) of Port Miou, La Presqu’Ile (+33 (0)4 42 01 03 77 Menus: 29 — 46EUR) will be worth seeking out for its combination of wonderful meals with a wonderfully romantic sea watch. To either work up an hunger or work off your meal, there are five seaside tennis courts that may be rented by the hour.
If you would like to watch the sun set over the sea, you have until November 1 to book directly into Les Roches Blanches (+33 (0)4 42 01 09 30; areas 90 – 260EUR) a 24-room, 4-star hotel in a superb establishing, which closes for the winter. The nearby 27-room Hôtel de la Rade (+33 (0)4 42 01 02 97; Rooms 90 : 140EUR) stays open year-round and will give you the impression of going on a vacation cruise, without ever leaving shore. Ready over the sea, its teak patio with canvas-covered railings sets the nautical theme, which carries on inside, with seashell décor and metal portholes.
Bandol: The best-known AOC of Provence (1941)
A short, panoramic drive east of Cassis, the particular Bandol region spreads around the holiday resort of Bandol, with terraced vineyards climbing from the sea up to the Sainte Baume mountain range.
“Quality, not really quantity, ” is the motto from the area’s winegrowers, and they adhere to the punishing set of regulations to live as much as that credo. Fresh rosés account for 55% of Bandol wines, however it is the gutsy, long-lived reds manufactured from the distinctive Mourvèdre grape and aged in oak casks with regard to at least 18 months, that have made the area’s reputation.
On Sunday, December 4, Bandol will hold its yearly Fête du Millésime, a great chance to taste the new wines of this year’s harvest. There is always a theme – it really is “Games” this year — and the wine producers have great fun getting decked out. Join the crowd, which is abundant but happy, wandering along the slot from tent to tent, sampling and spitting, either into the spittoons provided, or directly into the sea. Right at the end of the day, the fish in the harbour must have a hard time swimming a directly line!
Like most beach towns, Bandol has a string of seafood dining places along the seafront. One of the best is the hectic Auberge du Port (+33 (0)4 94 29 42 63; Menus: 32 — 42EUR). If you choose the Wine Fair, make very be certain to reserve! The more casual Wine Bar of the Auberge, the oldest one particular in Bandol, serves an eminently reasonable 18EUR menu of grilled meats and fish, with wine beverages by the glass.
Some of the greatest Bandol whites, with a life expectancy of 20 years or even more in good years, come from Château Pradeaux, which has been in the Portalis household since 1752. Just outside the seaside town of Saint-Cyr-sur-Mer, with a never ending sea breeze protecting the vines from diseases, the château was designed in the style of a Roman villa. It is covered in rambling flowers, and has an assortment of friendly dogs snoozing in various corners.
Right in Saint-Cyr, is the four-star, 133-room Dolce Frégate (+33 (0)4 94 29 39; Rooms: 147 — 560EUR), a hotel with every contemporary comfort and convenience, as well as one of the top ranked golf courses within France. Its facilities also include an indoor heated pool, 3 tennis legal courts and a spa.
Just 15 minutes aside, at the foot of the medieval hilltop hamlet of la Cadière d’Azur, Alain Pascal, the new star amongst Bandol vintners, named his area, Le Gros’Noré, in memory of his father, a corpulent man called Honoré, or ‘Noré, intended for short. Alain, a former boxer, is really a man who does not mince his words or compromise — especially on the quality of his wines. Since 1997 he has been producing an outstanding red and a superb Mourvèdre-dominated rosé.
At the top of the village, L’Hostellerie Bérard (+33 (0)4 94 ninety 11 43; Rooms: 80 — 259EUR; Menus from 44EUR) is an inviting stop for a meal or even for the night. Both a welcoming 40-room inn housed in an 11th C convent and a fine local restaurant, it has a superb view from the luminous dining room. Chef René Bérard shares his palpable love and knowledge of Provençal food in the 4-day cooking courses he runs every month except January and August.
Côtes de Provence: The Biggest AOC associated with Provence (1977)
With a sprawling forty five, 000 acres of vines dispersed from Aix-en-Provence to Nice, this particular appellation offers wines of every color and style. Rosés make up 75% of the production, reds account for 20% and whites for just 5%.
The quickest way to get an overview of the immense quantity of vineyards would be to visit the area’s Maison des Vins – the Vinotheque — within the medieval town of Les Arcs, on the river Argens. You are near to some spectacular scenery here, like the Pennafort gorges, where water cascades down deep-red rocks crowned simply by umbrella pines. At the Vinotheque you are able to sample a free selection of Côtes de Provence that changes every week and buy, at producers’ prices, any of the six hundred wines that are kept in stock.
In the idyllic countryside just outdoors Les Arcs, is Château Sainte-Roseline, a state-of-the-art vineyard located in a 12th century abbey. It is visited both for its consistently good yellows, whites and rosés, and for its Romanesque chapel, containing an tremendous mosaic by Chagall and, inside a crystal reliquary, the remarkably well-preserved 14th corpse of Sainte-Roseline herself.
Also in Les Arcs will be the recently built, magnificent Château Typeface du Broc, which combines two noble pursuits: winemaking and equine breeding. The château, with its stupendous Gothic-vaulted cellar, took four years of work and would be worth visiting even if you did not want to taste the wines. You would be wrong to pass all of them up, however. Everything on this great estate, where peacocks strut about self-importantly, is opulent and well-built, and the luscious, prize-winning reds, and also the full-bodied rosés, are no exception.
For lunch and the night, visit another wonder in the area: Chez Bruno (+33 (0) 4 94 85 93; Menu 56 – 110 EUR; Rooms: 84 — 130EUR), the truffle king of Lorgues. The genial, generous giant, Bruno will greet you in person, with the warmth of a long-time friend. He furthermore beams down as Jesus, from a humoristic mural of the Last Dinner painted on the walls of their restaurant! Do not take offence, yet do take second helpings! The particular truffle menus are a gastronomic experience not to be missed, and 4 rooms await those who wish to process them in peace.
Opposite the particular deep-red cliffs of the Pennafort gorges, floodlit at night, the idyllic, Michelin-starred Hostellerie Les Gorges de Pennafort +33 (0)4 94 76 sixty six 51; Menus: 49 — 110EUR; Rooms: 185 — 220EUR) is really a destination no self-respecting gourmet ought to pass by. Its ebullient owner plus chef, Philippe Da Silva, dishes up such delicacies as a work foie gras ravioli with Parmesan, and he always adds little extras, leaving you groaning with pleasure at the end of the meal. His wife Martine watches over the elegant, 16-room hotel, making sure that everything is of the same high standard as her husband’s cooking.