5 Unexpected Wine Destinations Worth Traveling to
Even if you know absolutely nothing about wine, you’re still probably familiar with some of the most famous wine regions in the world like Napa Valley, Bordeaux, Burgundy, or Champagne. If you’re anything like me, you love your full-bodied Cabs, buttery Chardonnays, and the approach-ably light Pinots produced by these world-famous areas … but one thing you probably don’t think about when you think about your favorite wines is that most of the well known/liked grape varietals where you live are determined by what is exported (aka what we have access to, or what we are able to drink on an everyday basis). But there is SO much more out there, from the thousands of different grape varietals, to the hundreds of wine countries to travel to to taste them around the globe! You may very well prefer a Swiss Gamay over an Oaky Cab and you would never know! Which is what makes traveling to wine destinations around the world and getting to taste every region’s unique varietals SO much fun.
If a wine-infused getaway is what you’re after, these are the hidden gems of the wine world that NEED to be on your travel bucket list. All of these destinations are also incredible places to visit even without the wine, as most wine countries are (I mean, is there anything more beautiful than waking up on a vineyard??). But especially if you love wine, you are going to have the best time tasting your way through these beautiful wine regions of the world!
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Central Otago, New Zealand
When it comes to wine, New Zealand is still “the new kid” on the block. But this kid is maturing quite fast and is beginning to make a splash on the international wine scene. Marlborough may be the most famous wine region in New Zealand, with its crowd-pleasing fruit forward and floral Sauvignon Blancs. However, the Central Otago Valley has recently been gaining popularity for its incredible Pinot Noirs. With its proximity to Queenstown, the Otago wine region is a well worth a day trip from the adventure capital.
Book a luxe day tasting tour with Alpine Luxury Tours, where you will visits both large and well respected houses like Cloudy Bay, as well as some smaller family run estates. There is a long stretch of Vineyards connected via bike trail for anyone that wants to earn those wine and cheese pairings the hard way. You’ll be blown away by the quality of the wines as well as the scenery you’re surrounded by, it just doesn’t get much better than this! The best time to visit is in their summer (our winter) December-March. While you’re in the adventure capital of the world, make sure to try the Bridge or Nevis bungee jump, and then reward yourself with a dinner at the Sherwood Hotel, where you can taste unique NZ natural wines.
Staying in or around Queenstown is the best way to access the Central Otago region, which is even better for you because of the abundant adventure activities, shopping and restaurants! As for accommodation, if you’re looking for the ultimate luxury hotel experience, go with the Matakauri Lodge or Eichardts right in town.
For my airbnb lovers, go with this modern cottage for luxury lake views or this award-winning architectural lakehouse.
Uruguay recently hosted an international blind tasting to compare wines made from the Tennant grape varietal, which originated in France, and to everyone’s great surprise the winner was: a Bolivian wine!!! Bolivia is a bit of an anomaly when it comes to wine making, most of its wine regions sit at a stunning 5,000ft above sea level, whereas other famous regions like Napa for comparison, sit at only 1000ft. The high altitude and thinner atmosphere leads to a more robust and balanced grape-as well as a gorgeous setting worth traveling for! The Cinti region is like having a vineyard in the Grand Canyon, with estates dotting the river that weaves through it. In Tarija, the country’s main wine-producing region in the south, there is a drier climate resulting in Mediterranean style of wine. The favorite varietals of grape here include: Tannant (the blind taste winner), Cab Franc, Muscat, Sangiovese and Syrah. This country has so much to offer and you can feel good about the companies and people you are supporting by choosing it as a travel destination: if one in 4 adult Americans consumed just one glass of Bolivian wine per year, thousands of Bolivians would be lifted out of poverty. While you’re there, make sure to go on an excursion to the epic salt flats and then relax in La Paz at the Five-Star Alliance Hotel, the Atix.
I should have realized that Switzerland was a hidden wine gem given its shared border with France, a wine making powerhouse, but I had no idea all of the beautiful wine regions that Switzerland offers!. The Lavaux valley, which stretches along the shores of Lake Geneva, has now been dubbed a UNESCO world Heritage site. The vines in this region can be traced back to the 11th century! The reason Swiss wines remain largely unknown and un-celebrated by the rest of the world is because they keep most of their production for themselves (and for good reason). They only export 2% of their wines, a minuscule amount compared to other countries. Just a few hours drive from France, this mountainous wine destination is definitely worth adding to your itinerary. Take a Lavaux Valley wine tour to sample the flavors of Vaud’s many winemakers that have cafés, cellars and restaurants, where you can sample their products. When not sampling wines, tour the Chillion Castle, hike around the alps or take the Golden Line train to some of the most scenic vistas Switzerland has to offer.
When it comes to where to say, Airbnb has some incredible options like this Swiss chic 1 bedroom chalet, this private cottage and pool near Lake Geneva, or this entire house right on the lake that fits 8 guests!
The somewhat rainy and cool climate of Wales doesn’t naturally incline us to think of it as having a perfect wine growing climate, but on the contrary! The Romans introduced wine-making here over 2000 years ago, and in the past fifty years Wales has developed a more significant wine industry. Wales grows Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and 18 other types of grapes! And just in case there is any doubt over the quality of wine in Wales, a Welsh wine was recently voted best sparkling wine in the world at a competition in Italy (and the Italians know a thing or two about wine).This specific award winning wine came from Welsh Ancre Hill Estate, a winery that still practices the biodynamic growing methods in Monmouthshire. Do a wine tasting tour and luncheon or stay the night in their country cottage that sleeps 6! If their cottage is booked check out this rustic “cottage in the clouds” Airbnb for an authentic experience just a few miles away. Llanerch Vineyard is another must see, being the oldest wine estate in Wales, it has a lot to offer alongside its elegant wine brand. In 2019 they opened a hotel in the middle of the vines; and there’s also an on-site cookery school and restaurant. Vineyard tours take place from April to October. If you’re planning on exploring more of Wales, this restored cottage on the coast in a must, or stay at the Michelin Star Restaurant Ynyshir, that has limited boutique hotel rooms on site and offers a 19-course tasting menu for a foodie experience of a lifetime!
Douro Valley, Portugal
Portugal is often overlooked by visitors when it comes to wine due to having wine powerhouses like Italy and France so close, but what makes this wine region so special is that it is the region that creates Port!! Now, if Port isn’t your thing, don’t write this spot off quite yet, since many varietals grow within the Douro Valley, not just Port!
The best thing about this region is that it can be explored via car, rail or boat. Now tell me, where else in the world can you winery hop by boat??! This is the perfect 1-2 day add on to a Portugal itinerary. Take a cruise from the nearby city of Porto, where you will travel up the Douro River and watch the dramatic scenery change around you as you enter wine country. Ahh I’m already mentally there. Visit some of the most renown wine houses in the region (many of which have guest accommodation if you prefer to spend a night on the estate) and taste your way through some of the best gastronomy in Portugal. For the ultimate luxury experience you must stay at the Six Senses Douro Valley.
If you prefer a private estate in the heart of wine country, check out this Airbnb for sweeping Vineyard views and an infinity pool, this one for a quaint countryside cottage or this one for an adorable room in a boutique winery hotel. While you’re there, make sure you taste some of their rare wines that aren’t widely exported, like white or sparkling Port!
Check out these other blog posts
The ultimate Napa Valley travel guide
The best places to travel right now from the USA
The best airbnb rentals for a destination wedding
Thank you for all these great recommendations around the world – your writing continues to beckon us to the destiations.