By Landa Mauriello-Vernon
It’s an oenophile’s dream to taste favorite vintages on their own terroir. As lovers of food and wine ourselves, we’re experienced when it comes to enjoying the world’s best wine regions. It’s a tough job, but we’ll go to great lengths to ensure time well spent for our travelers. From our journeys, here are a few of our favorite wine tours with Virtuoso-preferred partners.
Step out of your room and into a vineyard at Casa de Uco, a wine resort in the Uco Valley. In the foothills of the Andes, under a brilliant blue sky, you can taste wines in their natural habitat and learn how much difference even subtle changes in the landscape make to grapes growing within a few hundred yards of each other. Make your own blend at The Vines Resort & Spa, where you can also ride with the Gauchos. There’s plenty of great steaks and fresh produce to pair with your Malbec.
Marlborough, New Zealand
Abercrombie & Kent’s Wine in the Wilderness private tour whisks you away to a remote beach in Abel Tasman National Park. A hike in between a gourmet lunch and a dinner loaded with seafood and local wine helps you burn off the calories while taking in some majestic scenery. Visit a handful wineries outside Picton on ShoreTrips’ 6-hour Marlborough Wine Country Immersion tour. After lunch at one of the world’s southernmost wineries, you’ll stop off at a boutique chocolate shop. It makes for a perfect day trip or shore excursion.
Napa & Sonoma, California
With accommodations at Meadowood Resort and Vineyard and Farmhouse Inn over the course of five days, American Excursionist’s Napa & Sonoma for Connoisseurs leaves no leaf unturned as you get tasting tips from a master sommelier and spend a morning among the vines. At meal times, savor the fruit of those vines at Michelin-starred restaurants as they complement farm-to-table delights. Wine is tops on the list of activities, but cheese and seafood are wonderful in supporting roles.
Bordeaux. Burgundy. Champagne. Côtes du Rhone. France has more than its share of excellent wine regions. Chocolatine’s Tour de France of Wine features vintages from six of those regions at a tasting just footsteps from the Louvre in Paris. In 2 hours, your sommelier will teach you everything from how to read a label to which grapes grow in which regions and why they thrive there. Even if it all goes in one ear and out the other, at the very least you’ll get to taste some extraordinary wines.
Cape Winelands, South Africa
An hour outside Cape Town lie some absolutely gorgeous landscapes that producing world-class wines. The 26-room Mont Rochelle hotel and vineyard offers A Romance Getaway in the Cape Winelands that includes a picnic lunch with a tasting of three varietals. To help you relax even further, there’s also a couples’ hammam session featuring Cape Malay spices and essential oils. Combine the three-night stay with a honeymoon safari or just a break from the city during a Cape Town trip.
Though the final isn’t until Sunday, we do know one thing for sure about the team that will host the World Cup: The winning country will hail from Europe. With the last remaining South American teams, Uruguay and Brazil, ousted in the quarterfinals we’re left with an all-Europe final four. While each team has a unique story of making it this far and its own collection of stars who led the way, we’re making our picks based on what the semifinalist countries have to offer for travelers.
France vs. Belgium
It’s matchup of haute cuisine vs. comfort foods. Cassoulet and escargot vs. waffles and chocolate. Those French fries we’re all so fond of? The origin is highly in dispute. Ask a Belgian, and he’ll say that Belgium invented the delicious potato everyone knows and loves and that the term “French fries” comes from a French gastronomic hegemony that subsumed neighboring cuisine under the French umbrella. One thing’s for certain, the Belgians do fries best. Dip in some garlic mayo and enjoy. Both countries know their way around chocolate very well, with pain au chocolat being one of France’s many contributions to breakfast delights and Brussels being home to an excellent chocolate museum. Actually, Belgium is basically one big chocolate museum.
When it comes to washing down all that food, France and Belgium are locked in the eternal struggle of fine wine pitted against craft beer. Is a Trappist Dubbel or a witbier any match for a nice Bordeaux or Champagne? It’s all a matter of taste. Each nation’s drink of choice pairs well with its food.
When it comes to cities, France, of course, has Paris, the City of Light. A mecca of culture, architecture, and history, Paris is one of the grand cities of the world. Lyon is a gastronomic capital. Provence and the Cote d’Azur are renowned the world over for their beauty. As for Belgium, Brussels has the Grand Place, perhaps the most alluring square in Europe. Bruges is locked in time, a fairy tale town that’s all canals and gabled roofs. Belgium is a blend of French-speaking Walloons and Dutch-speaking Flemings, with a few German speakers sprinkled in.
Overall, Belgium punches well above its weight and deserves to be included in your next trip built around Paris or Amsterdam, but our pick is France.
England vs. Croatia
While France and Belgium are next-door neighbors, England and Croatia have vastly different landscapes. Both have been part of unique political-geographical unions, with England joined with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to form the United Kingdom and Croatia being part of Yugoslavia with what are now Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, and Macedonia. But England and Croatia have vastly different histories. While England was the head of the mighty British Empire, Croatia became independent only in the 1990s after centuries of outside rule.
England has London, one of the world’s best — but most expensive — cities. It’s a wealth of culture, literature, and history, with the West End, the Tower of London and countless other sites that attract millions of visitors each year. The countryside is strewn with castles, while world-famous universities dominate the towns of Oxford and Cambridge. Ancient civilizations have left the landmarks of Bath and Stonehenge, while Liverpool gave us the Beatles. The charm of the Cotswolds and the Lake District provide a tranquil respite that’s great to combine with bustling London, while the coastal areas offer a surprising number of good beaches.
Beaches, meanwhile, are a particular strong suit of Croatia, which has more than 1,000 islands to choose from. Hvar is famous for its lavender and red wine in addition to simply being a sun-soaked paradise. Korcula is covered in virgin pine forest. The Pakleni Islands offer secluded harbors where visitors can get away from it all.
On the mainland, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything more beautiful than the stunning Plitvice Lakes National Park, where waterfalls cascade into the emerald water for miles around. Dubrovnik is a spectacular seaside city famed for its red-tiled roofs and medieval walls. It doubles as King’s Landing on “Game of Thrones.” As they did in Bath, the Romans left their mark in Split, where you can find the ruins of the Emperor Diocletian’s palace.
England is a great place to visit, of course, but while we’re sure plenty of Croatians visit there, the English flock in droves to the sunny isles of Croatia. If even the English pick Croatia, we will too.
Final: France over Croatia. It’s a tight contest, but with cuisine, culture, and diversity of cities and countryside, France takes the crown
Depending on where you live, it might not yet be evident, but it is officially Spring in the Northern Hemisphere. Soon enough, birdsongs will fill the air and everything will be in blossom. While there is an abundance of festivals celebrating the renaissance of greenery, these places’ blooms are among the best.
Peaking near the end of March, the famed cherry blossoms turn the Tidal Basin into a dazzling canvas of pink and white. Gifts from Japan more than a century ago, the cherry trees have come to symbolize the start of spring in our nation’s capital. There are nearly 4,000 trees in 11 varieties near the National Mall, and peak bloom is expected this week. The National Cherry Blossom Festival runs until April 15.
The ancestral home of D.C.’s cherry trees, Japan has several areas throughout its islands that are great for viewing sakura. Utilizing the bullet train system, visitors can make their quickly from south to north as the warm weather and blooms spread in late March and early April. Set against the backdrop of a 400-year-old, the blossoms in Hirosaki are particularly worth checking out. Shinjuku Gyoen in Tokyo is a reliable spot thanks to its proliferation of early- and late-blooming trees. Chureito Pagoda in the shadow of Mount Fuji is among the most picturesque spots.
Obsessed with the flower since the Tulip Mania of the 17th century, the Dutch have cultivated the world’s finest tulip garden at Keukenhof in Lisse, South Holland. About 7 million bulbs are planted across 79 acres and pop up in a variety of bright colors. The park opened last week and remains open until May 13. The best time to see the bulbs is usually mid-April, during which time river cruises designed around tulip viewing are in high demand.
High in the Atlas Mountains, a 6-hour drive from Marrakech lies M’Goun Valley, aka the Valley of Roses. Between April and mid-May, the valley yields 3,000-4,000 tons of wild roses. Used in the production of perfumes, oils, soaps and rose water, the plants have also inspired an annual Rose Festival in May. According to legend, the flowers were introduced to the area by a Berber trader from Damascus, and the sweet-smelling Damask roses are now a highly sought-after prize among France’s top perfumers.
The lavender fields of Provence aren’t in full bloom until mid-June, but they are more than worth the wait. The Luberon countryside erupts in purples and blues until harvesting is complete in mid-August, filled with gorgeous sights and smells. Charming hill towns such as Aurel and Sault make for a beautiful staging area for a driving tour, and the fields around the Abbey of Senanque are the perfect setting for a photo, so long as you arrive early in the morning or late in the evening to avoid the throngs.