Within the northern region of Italy where she borders France and Switzerland at the foot of the Alps, is the Italian territory of the Piedmont. From the mountainous alp region offering some of the highest peaks in Europe, to the flat valley along the Po river, the area draws visitors for its historical features, palaces and royal residences, the beautiful churches that make the Piedmont a popular religious destination and for sport like alpine skiing and mountainous winter and summer activities.
The second largest administrative region of Italy in terms of area, the Piedmont is most notable as the second largest wine region in Italy after the Veneto region and is known for its famed wines based on the Nebbiolo and Barbara or Glera and Moscato, red and white grapes respectively. The majority of the highest classified vineyards can be found in the Barolo, Barbaresco, Alba and Asti Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) appellations. Respectfully known as the home of some of the greatest red dry and white sweet sparkling wines within Italy.
A visit to this region of Italy comes not without its rewards as one travels throughout, visiting the area and tasting some of it’s best vine productions.
Turin, the capital of Piedmont and largest section of the administrative area is the best place to base your visit with its close proximity to the top appellations of the region. Turin is well known for its baroque architecture, grand boulevards, squares and as a gastronomic center for the Northern region. The city is filled with numerous art galleries, opera houses, gardens and elegant palaces that were once the home to the Residences of the Royal House of Savoy who unified and ruled Italy from the late 18th Century through World War II. The original capital of Italy, before moving to Rome, the residences are UNESCO World Heritage sites built between the 16th and 18th centuries and also the location for the Tombs of members of the Savoy family during their reign. Turin is well known for its chocolate production of gianduiotto, individually wrapped hazelnut chocolates and bicerin, a native tradition of layered espresso, chocolate and milk.
Alba is about an hours drive southeast from Turin, and home to the most famous of the wine productions in the Piedmont. Barolo and Barbaresco make Alba a very important site for the local wine industry. With almost 300 wineries here, Alba is among the most renowned wine areas in Italy. Highlighting the line up of the Piedmont is it’s most famous grape, Nebbiolo, a full bodied, low acid light red to dark garnet colored wine. Kept for three years in the barrel, once well aged, Nebbiolo will offer an aromatic and well balanced wine with flavors of berries, herbs and tobacco. Another popular grape, in fact the most planted in terms of acreage in the Piedmont is the Barbera grape. Within the Alba region, the lesser known grapes of Barbara and Dolcetto produce single vintage wines that are notable and worthy of enjoying. Barbara is acidic and lighter bodied, low tannic and easily grown wine offering ripe flavors of cherry, while Dolcetto creates a dark red, fruity and softer palette wine. When visiting Alba, walking the medieval city and a visit to the Duomo with its popular wood-carved chorus stalls is a must do.
The province of Asti, 45 minutes east of and bordering the province of Turin is well known for its sparkling wines. Asti Spumante, the formal name for the fruity wines produced from the Moscato Bianco (Muscat) grape is the largest production of wine in Italy. Based on Asti DOCG wine laws, the low alcohol wine that is considered a dessert wine must be produced with 100% Moscato using a method that ferments the wine in large pressurized tanks called the Charmat method. Unlike the other popular red wines of the Piedmont, Asti wines are consumed young for best flavors. Also within the Asti region, the half sparkling (frizzante) red Barbara d’ Asti wines can be found. As the name infers, the wine is vinified using the 90 – 100% of the red grape Barbara which is grown in the hilly regions of Asti. Despite it’s dark red appearance, the light bodied wine is rich with notes of berries and a full bouquet. To experience some of the many wineries, set out on the wine trail Walk, bike or trek hills covered by vineyards, stopping by wineries and farms to sample different wines and local produce. Filled with many medieval palaces and beautiful churches, Asti is well known as the religious center of the Piedmont and the “City with Hundred Towers” and features a tower and ancient walls that date back to the reign of the Emperor Augustus.
For the wine connoisseur, Piedmont is a must visit region of Italy’s famed wine appellations. Touring and tasting are key attractions of this northern administration however this land of mountains will also offer travelers the opportunity for active outdoor experiences within the diverse countryside or 56 national parks and historical visits within the capital city of Turin.
The Douro River flows west from central Spain through Northern Portugal to the mouth at the Atlantic Ocean in Porto, Portugal. The region is agricultural, known for prehistoric archeology and the entire region is a UNESCO World Heritage site as one of the most scenically impressive locales in the world but Douro is most notable for its fortified wine production of port.
Even if you are not a wine drinker, the beautiful landscapes of the region and the active experiences of exploring the terraced vineyards, olive groves, meeting the friendly people from the small villages and stopping along the way for some authentic local gastronomy makes this a special place to visit and must add to the bucket list.
I have already mentioned that Douro is a UNESCO World Heritage site. What does this mean? In general, as one of the oldest regions in the world, the landscape is almost unchanged from hundreds, maybe even thousands of years ago. As you travel the roads along the river you will experience the terraced vineyards high above the river. Along the lower banks you will find a landscape of trees meeting with vineyards and villages filled with churches and rows of houses along narrow roads along with the Douro quintas that sit as major landmarks.
The valley offers absolutely amazing landscapes and the best way to experience them is hiking through the valleys where for generations terraced staircases were built on a terroir of steep hillsides along the river transforming unusable lands into award winning vineyards.
You can start your experience in the town of Pinhão known as the “Valley of Enchantment” for its beautiful hillsides and never ending valleys. Not what you would expect for being the heart of the wine country, Pinhão is a small town in the Northern Douro region. It is here where some of the best wines in Portugal are grown, vinified and fortified into the popular Port and table wines.
From arrival at the beautiful train station as you embark on the preserved historic trails you will find a different view of the Douro river from every bend. As you walk the beautiful Vineyard trail exploring the area from Quinta to Quinta (wine estates) sampling both the local Ports and the stunning views of the river and river valley from their terraced vineyards.Some of the Quintas will offer their own hiking maps of trails located within their properties for you to explore.
As you travel the area you can visit a Quinta of choice (Portuguese for the country estates that act as a base for the wineries throughout the region) and there are many of them throughout the area. These are also where you will find some of the best restaurants in the region. If you are looking for a unique experience, some of the Quintas offer overnight accommodations to relax and immerse deeper into a Quinta bed and breakfast experience.
Tip: If you are interested in wine, when visiting the town of Pinhão schedule time to visit the Quinta Nova. One of the larger Quinta’s features a wine tour and tasting plus the Museu do Vinho (Wine Museum) takes you on a tour of the history of the region, the ancient practices and how winemaking has developed over the past few hundred years. They also offer one of the top restaurants in the region and a winery home that can be rented out for extended visits.
The weather in the Douro Valley is always temperate with annual highs around 85°F and the lows averaging about 60°F so you can truly visit anytime of year. However, for the best scenery while hiking, visit in the spring, April to June when the tree’s and vine’s begin to bloom or in the fall September to November, although a little more chance of rain, the colors will provide the best scenery with the best temperatures for hiking. Note that September, depending on that years weather is typically harvest season and may be more active with visitors and annual activities.
Pinhão is but one example of a hiking experience that is available in the Douro Valley. There are multiple other options for hiking tours from the popular trails to off the beaten path scenic hikes that also vary from 3 – 6 hour tours to multi-day excursions hiking throughout the entire region. The perfect opportunity to immerse in the landscape, culture, vinology and people of the Douro River Valley.
Note that when looking for a more extensive hiking experience, there are public hiking trails marked with red and yellow stripes on signs, posts, stones and trees leading you from point to point. Note that these may not be maintained to levels that you will find in the United States. For extensive longer hiking experiences, hiring a local guide is highly recommended and will enhance your experience on hikes from a few hours long to a few days, also providing information and historic details you will not get exploring on your own.
Hiking is one of the included activities on a 7 night river cruise from the city of Porto, known for the production and distribution for Port Wine. Travel along the scenic Douro River stopping along the way to hike, bike or explore the villages, Quintas and amazing sites that this beautiful region has to offer. For more information on river cruising check out our River cruise page.
Do you enjoy drinking wine? Perhaps may be you are a wine enthusiast? When wine is your passion, or you would like it to be, the best place to start a wine experience is at the beginning…. The Old World of Viticulture (winegrowing).
The art of winemaking dates back thousands of years in Europe related to , geography, geography and even history. Some of the best and oldest vines can be experienced traveling some of todays most popular cities in Europe.
While there may be many wine regions accessible to these five cities, I chose to focus primarily on the key wine regions.
When you think of wine the first country that comes to mind is France. When you think of France, the first city that comes to mind is Paris. The “City of Lights” is a cosmopolitan city situated along the Seine river and is a global center for fashion, art, gastronomy, and culture. The city draws the attraction of visitors for its distinctive architecture, streets lined with patisserie shops, art movements, revolutions and culture.
But venture away from Paris and you can discover some equally amazing towns and villages that all have something in common, wine.
Burgundy & Rhone
Burgundy is a historical department in the eastern central part of France. The wine region of Burgundy is located within the department along the Saone river, a tributary of the Rhone, the largest river in France and one of the major rivers of Europe.
Just an hour and half from Paris by high speed train, Dijon is the capital of the department, a cultural center that today is represented by the historical past and the modern present. The old city of Dijon is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the beginning of the Burgundy wine trail that extends south from Dijon.
Burgundy wines are separated into four classifications with the wines being named after the district, village or vineyard that the grapes are grown in instead of classified by the grapes themselves.
The majority of wines in the Burgundy region will originate from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes.
Cote d’or is the heart of the Burgundy wine region with red wines specializing in Chablis in the northern Cote de nuit region and roses blending Pinot Noir with Chardonnay grapes in the southern Cote de Beaune.
Further south of the Burgundy regions you will find the Beaujolais region and the Rhone regions.
Beaujolais produces the most famous French wine appropriately named Beaujolais which is a lighter red wine made from the Gamay grape.
The Rhone Valley region is also worth a visit starting in the city of Lyon today still represented by its medieval and renaissance architecture with additional influences dating back to ancient Roman influence. Moving south from Lyon along the Rhone river is where you will find vineyards producing red wines from Syrah and Grenache grapes.
Champagne is not just the name of sparkling wine, it is also the region in France that is known for the creation and production of champagne.
Located about 2 hours northeast of Paris, in the cooler region of France half way to the Luxembourg border.
Although not exactly wine, Champagne is a blend of grapes primarily from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier grapes and sometimes blended with additional other grapes from other vineyards. The blends are double fermented and sugar is added to create the bubbly creation.
If you are looking for a day trip outside of Paris, Champagne is the perfect location to explore. Don’t miss the popular champagne house of Maison de Champagne Taittinger or Maison Mumm, stop by Tau Palace and of course your visit would not be complete without a visit to the Moet & Chandon Champagne cellars.
Bordeaux & Loire Valley
While not an easy day trip from Paris, the Bordeaux region is the top wine region in France and still easily accessible from the “City of Lights” deserves mention.
An 8 hour high speed train from Paris takes you to Bordeaux which is the most prominent center of the wine region in France with currently over 13,000 growers, the history of wine here dates back to the ancient Romans.
Located in Southwestern France, Bordeaux is both the name of the city and the region. The city of Bordeaux sits on the Garonne river and is a UNESCO world heritage site for her historical buildings and 18th century architecture.
The Bordeaux wine region is separated into 3 sub-regions;
The left bank where they primarily grow Cabernet Sauvignon but you can also find sweet whites blended from Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes called White Bordeaux.
The Right Bank offers smoother Merlot grapes and the Entre Deux Mers (between two seas) is where they grow many options of everyday table wines. Each location offers its own beautiful communes and vineyards to explore and appreciate the region in addition to the vintages they offer.
Good to know, the bulk of harvest takes place in mid-September, although picking can continue through October.
Before heading back to Paris spend a few days visiting Chateaus in the Loire Valley, another popular wine region in France.
The Loire Central valley is known for its white wines, the Sauvignon Blanc grapes which produce the lighter bodied Sancerre and fruitier, fuller bodied Pouilly Fume.
The home to the renaissance period in Italy, Florence in central Italy along with Rome and Venice are the most popular Italian destinations to visit. Spending time in Florence offers so much to do and see but escaping the city and crowds of Florence can offer an amazing journey into local food and wine. Top this all with a few days in the area that creates some of Italy’s most notable wines for the perfect Tuscan wine experience.
Italy has grown into one of the top wine regions and at the center of it all is the Tuscan region. Tuscano as it is known in Italian, is located in the central to western area of Italy. The capital is the historic city of Florence and the well known growing region, just outside the city, of Chianti is at the historic center of wine in Italy.
Pass beautiful rolling hills, cypress trees, forests and olive groves as you drive the windy roads with sites of historic hilltop castles that set the stage for the miles and miles of vineyards that surround them and attract travelers to explore the region and sample her wines.
The Tuscan sun makes it the perfect location for Sangiovese, the primary grape of Tuscany. Chianti is where you can find the well known varietal of Chanti Classico and Chianti Rufina. Further south visit the Montalcino growing region to indulge in Brunello di Montalcino also from the Sangiovese grape. Or head west to the warmer region of Bolgheri located between Chianti and the Tyrrhenian sea for the newer arrival to the Italian wine world, “Super Tuscan” wine.
Frankfurt, in central Germany, is one of her largest cities and is also a major financial center. With both historical and modern architecture there are many sites to visit including museums, cultural centers, gardens and nightlife. centered around an international airport that connects most of Europe and the United States. Frankfurt’s central location also makes it a key starting point for connecting by air or rail to most any city in Central Europe.
Germany is best known for its white wines that are grown in 13 regions throughout the country. However less than a 2 hour drive from Frankfurt is the key winemaking area, the Mosel wine region.
The Mosel river is a tributary of the Rhine river and is considered by many to be the most beautiful river in Germany. The Mosel wine route that runs along the river is 311km (194 miles) starting in France and goes down into Germany leading you to and past some 26,000 acres of key French and German vineyards and wineries.
The largest growth area along the Mosel and the most beautiful to see from the water is the middle Mosel where the best of the best for the region are grown along the sloped terraced vineyards.
Starting in the city of Bernkastel, a key wine center you will find timber-homes and a medieval village as you follow the river as it curves stopping along the way at some of the small romantic towns and villages each with its own personality and story as you head north to Koblenz.
A bicycle path runs along the middle region of the Mosel all the way to Koblenz. But unless you have a full day (10+ hours) with stops, ending in Cochem, will give you a full day’s experience.
There are so many reasons for visiting Barcelona. The regional capital of Catalonia offers beautiful beaches, historic sites, art, music, culture and is well known for it’s fine dining. With gastronomy being a central part of Spanish culture it is no surprise that wine would be part of the equation.
Easily reached within an hour’s drive from Barcelona, the Penedès wine growing region offers quaint villages, scenic mountain views and of course, wineries.
Penedès is considered the best wine in the Catalonia region and is also one of the best wine regions in Spain after the Rioja region in the Northeastern part of Spain. One of the oldest wine regions in Europe, Penedès has vines that date back to Phoenician occupation of the area in the 6th Century BC.
With its location near the Mediterranean and other micro-climates, the area is best recognized for it’s white and rose Cava (greek style) sparkling wine made from local Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel·lo grapes and red wines from the Spanish black grapes, Tempranillo and Grenache.
The Penedès region is the location of the most modern wines that are produced in Spain today with hundreds of vineyards that include both large growers and also family owned vineyards. The most well known in the region is family owned, Bodegas Torres for their still wines and large grower Freixenet, for Cava, as the largest producer in the world.
The capital of Portugal is a beautiful coastal city on the North Atlantic. Also popular for its beaches, the city’s pastel buildings, old historic regions, rich architecture (representing many periods), prominent museums, galleries and artistic influences offers many options for the traveler.
But, less than a 3 hours drive from Lisbon is the Upper (Alto) Douro wine region, a UNESCO World Heritage site for the wine complexes, villages, chapels and roads that were all constructed around the winemaking process that occurs here.
Portuguese wine of the Douro like many of the towns and cities of Portugal dates back to Roman occupation in the 3rd – 4th centuries AD. But the region itself really took form as a key wine region during the medieval period around the 12th century when Catholic Monks embraced the practice of winemaking creating table wines.
The 17th century brought an expansion of the wine industry along the Douro and the development of Port wine. Today Port is the most popular wines of the Douro region using a large number of grape varieties that are grown on terraced vineyards along the river. Each vineyards Port are unique blends of wines that are only found from the specific vineyard who produces it creating originality of the wines only to Portugal and the Douro region.
Port was named after the city of Porto since this was the area that packaged and exported the popular wines created along the Upper Douro river. Porto is the second largest city in Portugal next to Lisbon, is also on the Iberian Peninsula and is where the Douro river meets the N. Atlantic Ocean. The region is a UNESCO World Heritage site as one of the oldest European cities dating back to the Roman Empire.
You can travel the Douro river from Porto by car, train or along the river itself for scenic day trips or for the best views of the region spend at least 2 – 3 days exploring the villages and wineries.
Where to next?
Old World wine holds a very special place in many key cities in Europe, making it an additional reason to visit and explore the cities and their surrounding regions.
Because the majority of the old world vineyards can be found along the river banks, one of the best ways to explore and experience these regions is by river cruise.
A seven day river cruise will not only immerse you in the areas, familiarizing you with the local towns, cultures and vineyards but also provide you a relaxing boutique experience while unpacking just once.
Are you curious about exploring some of these cities and would like to know if river cruising is for you and next steps? Take our quiz to receive an immediate match of your personality to river cruising as well as free information.
Stay tuned for our New World wine options coming soon!