France is a country known for many things but one of their most famous exports is wine. From Champagne to many reds and whites, the country has a lot to offer for the wine tourist. Here we look at the best areas to travel to enjoy both the country and its wine.
Did you know that only sparkling wine produced in the Champagne region of France is allowed to bear the name ‘champagne’? The area is to the north-east of Paris and is one of the two most northerly wine producing regions in the country. If you are travelling from the UK, it is also the quickest to reach, less than three hour’s drive from Calais.
The region is called the Champagne-Ardennes region and the capital is Chalons while the largest city is Reims, a university town that is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, containing a 13th-century cathedral and 11th-century abbey. Some of the biggest names in champagne production are based in the area including Taittinger and Ruinart, the oldest which was founded in 1729.
The classic red Bordeaux, also known as claret, is famous around the world and was first exported back in the 12th century when the British King Henry II developed a taste for it. The wine region is within the Gironde department and is the largest in France, covering some 120,000 hectares. Around 90% of the grapes are for Bordeaux but there are some sweet whites called Sauternes, dry whites, roses and sparkling wine created in the region.
The city of Bordeaux is home to the bi-annual Wine Festival that is due to be hosted again in 2018 and there are also a lot of tours around the vineyards in the area. You can visit the medieval town of St Emilion while the Vezere valley in nearby Dordogne is the location of one of the oldest known sites of human habitation – the Lascaux caves.
Burgundy sits on a major road from Paris to Lyon and has been a wine making area since the time of Charlemagne. Today’s wine making uses many of the same techniques, producing limited numbers from small vineyards with reds using Pinot Noir grapes and whites using Chardonnay grapes in the majority of cases.
Dijon is the centre of the region and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with the Ducal Palace, cathedral, city hall and the Guillaume Gate being notable attractions. There is a big food festival every autumn where other local specialities such as Dijon mustard and beef bourguignon are celebrated.
The Loire Valley is the central wine making region and crosses several departments, mostly along the River Loire, the longest river in France. Nantes is the largest town in the region, near the Muscadet region with its white wines while Samur is the centre of the sparkling wine production, made with Chenin Blanc grapes. Angers is the centre of the white wine production in the region. There are also any number of medical towns, abbeys and monasteries spread across the area.