Southern France Wine Route, September 1998

In September 1998 Fiona and I spent two weeks driving through France, with a short stop over to visit family in Spain. By fortunate coincidence, some of the most culturally, historically and scenically rich areas of France are also wine country, so this provided me with a wonderful opportunity to explore some fascinating vineyard areas, mainly in the South of France. In the following few pages I'd like to share some of the discoveries we made, in the form of a photo diary of our trip. This is by no means an exhaustive account: we really just dipped our toe into the waters of a hugely diverse and interesting region for the wine enthusiast.

Vineyards of Côtes du Roussillon, with Château Aguilar in the background

Our itinerary

Arriving in Calais at lunchtime, we drove down the A26 and stopped for the night at Langres, a pleasant walled town just north of Dijon. On day 2 we visited Tain L'Hermitage and camped for the night at Avignon, where we stayed two nights. The next day was spent exploring Châteauneuf-du-Pape. We spent two days on the Cote d'Azur before heading for Aiguablava on the Costa Brava (Spain) to meet with Fiona's family. Returning to France, we spent the remainder of our time in the Roussillon and Languedoc areas, with particular highlights being the Corbières hills and Pic-St-Loup. On the way home we squeezed in a quick visit to Epernay, the hub town of the Champagne region.

Arid vineyards backed by Corsican pines: this has to be Provence

Visiting vineyards in France

If you are used to visiting wineries in California or Australia, trips to their counterparts in France can prove quite a shock. You will rarely find visitor-friendly tasting rooms, and it is pretty unlikely that anyone will speak any English. In addition, most domaines or proprieteurs require appointments to be made. However, if you speak at least some French, and choose your visits carefully, it can be a rewarding experience to visit even without appointments, as I hope my accounts here show.

While most people would have no qualms about trying six or seven wines at an Australian or Californian winery without buying any, tasting at a cave in France is very much meant to be a prelude to buying. Personally, I tried no more than two or three wines, and bought at least a couple of bottles on each occasion. Having said this, equivalent quality wine tends to be much cheaper in France than in the USA, for example, so this is not a great expense.

On to the Northern Rhone and Tain L'Hermitage...