Wine tourism is much more than just wine tasting, it encompasses the trades and techniques of the vineyard, heritage, gastronomy and well-being, among other aspects. One third of tourists in France cite wine and gastronomy as the main reasons for their stay in the country. From new accommodation offers to cruises, urban vineyard tours by bike and an ever-widening range of outdoor activities, wine tourism in France is diversifying and renewing itself. Let's take a tour of some of France's must-visit wine regions.
Gironde and the Southwest
The vineyards of the Southwest are considered by some to be the jewel in the crown of French wine. In June 2022, it was included in the European Cultural Route of Vine and Wine. The programme is intended to promote national heritage at European level, just like the Camino de Santiago or the European Route of Cistercian Abbeys. "This institutional recognition will make it possible to raise awareness among winegrowers, inhabitants, elected representatives and visitors of the heritage dimension - cultural, civilisational, ecological - of the Southwest’s vineyards beyond their sole productive dimension," said the Soutwest Wine Trade Association (IVSO) in a statement.
Wine tourism is in full swing in Gironde. In Bordeaux, the Cité du Vin passed the 2 million visitor mark last May. It opened its doors in 2016 and even after the last two years, which were heavily impacted by the health crisis, the Cité has already become a symbol of the capital of Gironde thanks to its striking architecture and its cultural and leisure offer centred around wine growing. It is now the 4th most visited museum in France, outside the Paris region. In addition to its permanent exhibition, it also offers temporary exhibitions inspired by wine. From 15 April to 28 August 2022, the Cité du Vin hosted a major exhibition exploring the place of wine in the work of Pablo Picasso, thus appealing to wine tourists and lovers of fine art alike.
The city of Bordeaux is undertaking other programmes to promote wine tourism, particularly by bicycle. It now offers three routes designed to help visitors discover ‘urban vineyards’. Starting from Blanquefort station, the three routes of 9, 23 and 29 kilometres allow participants to visit châteaux such as Château Dillon, Malleret, Paloumey, D'Agassac, Ségur, Saint Ahon and the Tonnellerie Nadalié. Cyclists can enjoy wine tasting stops and have the opportunity to buy products to fill their bike baskets.
Further away from the city, a few kilometres south of Bordeaux, is the Château de Léognan. Known for its red Pessac-Léognan as well as for its tasting tours, the estate will be expanded to 70 hectares in order to confirm its position as a major player in Bordeaux wine tourism. In partnership with the hotel operator Millésime, the Château intends to expand its tourist offer with the creation of accommodation within the estate. The Château, Les Ecuries and Le Grand Parc will all be equipped with accommodation and other facilities by spring 2023. At the Château, rooms and a restaurant called Le Manège, offering bistronomic cuisine, will be created to accommodate and cater for visitors. In Les Ecuries, there will be a "relaxation" area with a lounge, cocoon rooms, a snack bar, a terrace and work and exhibition areas. Finally, Le Grand Parc will house the "nature" part, including a spa, cabins, sports activities and an innovative F&B offer.
But Gironde does not only consist of Bordeaux. In Sauternes, 50 winegrowers have come together to form a collective initiative to promote the revival of wine tourism in the region. The 18th June 2022 saw the inauguration of the new Maison du Sauternes in the village of the same name. Launched in 1979, the initiative aims to promote and sell Sauternes wines directly in a place that also serves as a space for learning about wine. The new Maison encourages the development of wine tourism in the vineyards of southern Gironde by promoting the latest developments in its partner châteaux, estates and restaurants. It is equipped with new tasting and sales areas for sixty references of the designation. These areas highlight the territory's signature wine and also serve to help coax visitors to take a trip to the various producers of Sauternes.
In the east of France, Burgundy winegrowers are taking action to promote local products. Around Beaune, the capital of Burgundy, wine tourism is in the spotlight thanks to the iconic Côte de Beaune wine route. Internationally renowned estates such as Saint-Aubin, Puligny Montrachet, Meursalt, Santenay, Pommard and Chassagne-Montrachet welcome visitors for tastings and other activities to suit all wine-lovers' desires. For example, in Pommard, the master of the Art of the Barrel of the estate gives lessons in cooperage to visitors and breaks down the stages of manufacture.
The Côte de Beaune is not alone in the Burgundy wine tourism landscape. Other areas of the Côte-d'Or are relying on the Cités du vin to promote tourism. The Cité internationale de la gastronomie et du vin opened its doors on 6 May in Dijon. It is part of the wider network of Cités de la Gastronomie aimed at celebrating the entry of the "French gastronomic meal" on UNESCO's List of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Dijon's Cité de la gastronomie does not only celebrate cuisine but is also championing Burgundy wine. Under the same roof, it combines a cultural and tourist centre, the Ferrandi cookery school, a BIVB wine school, event catering as well as a menu and wine list from Chef Eric Pras.
In the spring of 2023, the three sites of the Cité des climats et vins de Bourgogne will open in Chablis, Mâcon and Beaune. It will promote the richness of Burgundy wines as well as other aspects of viticulture such as grape varieties, the art of winemaking and working the vine. Each of the three sites making up the Cité will be dedicated to the very specific characteristics of the local soil and vineyards that surround it and to the historical heritage of its surrounding area.
In the Southeast of France, some winegrowers wish to differentiate themselves from the typical vineyard offer by putting new activities for wine tourists on their menus. At the Château de Sannes in the Luberon, visitors are invited to take part in various activities aimed at promoting well-being and awareness. Yoga classes in the middle of the vineyards, walks on educational trails, beekeeping and singing classes. The estate does not content itself to simply offer classic wine-making courses, but seeks to give its clients the means to be at one with the nature and history of the Vaucluse region.
Other estates focus on heritage and history to offer an unforgettable experience. The Maison Pierre Amadieu in Gigondas offers a guided tour of the village. After this cultural outing, wine and history enthusiasts enjoy a tasting of the Maison’s wines. Visitors to Château de Mille don't even have to leave the estate to quench their thirst for history. Housed in the former summer residence of the popes of Avignon, the oldest estate in the Luberon offers visits to the Wine and History Museum on its site. In addition, two gites can accommodate wine tourists wishing to stay on site. French wine has been around for centuries, however for an experience seeped in modernity, visitors need only visit the Dentelles de Montmirail estate. For those who want to immerse themselves in the atmosphere of the 1970s, after visiting the vineyard, they are invited to dine in a vintage Volkswagen van accompanied by the dulcet tones of Jim Morrison or the psychedelic compositions of Jimi Hendrix.
Also in the Southeast, a French hotel group called "MDCV Châteaux et Vignobles en Provence" is developing a wine tourism concept. Comprising four Provençal châteaux, the concept is centred on 350 hectares of certified organic vineyards. Château Saint-Roux has accommodation and reception rooms, restaurants, a cheese producer, a 3,800 m² organic vegetable garden, a shop and a tasting cellar. The Château des Bertrands has seven rooms, a swimming pool, terraces and an equestrian club allowing visitors to explore its 80 hectares of organic vineyards on horseback. Château de Berne has rooms and suites with terraces or balconies, a spa, a Michelin-star gourmet restaurant and, of course, wine activities. Finally, UP | Ultimate Provence is a 4* vineyard hotel located 30 minutes from Saint-Tropez. With 34 rooms, a restaurant, a wine and cocktail bar and a swimming pool, it welcomes wine tourists and allows them to discover its own vineyard as well as other wine estates in Var.
All in the label
The Vignobles & Découvertes label from Atout France is awarded to tourist and wine destinations that offer varied and complementary products, such as restaurants, accommodation, events, etc. Last August, two Vacancéole residences were awarded this label. The Village des Oiseaux in Savoie and the Domaine d'Ensérune in Hérault offer wine tourists a wide range of activities suitable for both children and adults. Both 3* establishments are surrounded by nature, one being located between lake and mountain and the other in "the cradle of wine in France", the hill of the Oppidum d’Ensérune. Visitors are invited to discover regional grape varieties as well as the history, heritage and natural beauty of these diverse territories of France.
Wine tourism gets on board
AmaWaterways has announced the launch of European Wine Hosts as part of its Celebration of Wine River Cruises. Over 60 cruises are planned for 2022, four of which have been designated as European Wine Immersion Sailings. These experiences will see wine experts such as Hélène Teboul, Fintan Kerr, Réka Piros and Marcia Moricz guide guests through selected wine regions. During the seven-day journeys, guests will discover the various wine and culinary delights of Europe and have the opportunity to taste varietals at renowned wineries. Already on the menu, the Colors of Provence and Taste of Bordeaux itineraries will appeal to French wine lovers.
The actions mentioned above give an overview of the diversity of wine tourism in France today. Other wine regions have started initiatives and schemes of their own to promote local wine tourism.
Players in all sectors of tourism are doing everything to reinvent and diversify their offers. And wine tourism players are not to be outdone in this respect... Following a particularly scorching summer in which several destinations in France, notably Gironde, were badly affected by fires and other events linked to climate change, operators in this rather rural sector will need to protect their interests. Fortunately, French wine tourism has already shown itself capable of being flexible, adaptable and innovative in its offer. It now remains to be seen whether it will be able to continue to translate these assets into financial and qualitative gains.
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