Walking and wine tasting vacations

It’s a shame that red wine doesn’t go well with oysters. Croatia’s Pelješac peninsula is famous for both. Ston oysters are considered some of the best in the world, whilst Plavac Mali grapes make a fruity red wine that’s very drinkable, especially after a long day of walking.
Red wine and oysters might not be the best combination, but walking and wine tasting certainly is. It’s all a question of terroir.
Walkers can reap the benefits of rolling hills, warm sun, and sea breezes just the way vines do. “Combining the wine tastings with the walking allows you the chance to walk through vineyards to see how the grapes are grown, as well as work off any extra calories you get from the wine!” says Leslie Downham from our wine and walking vacation specialist Exodus.

Europe’s historic vineyards have shaped the way the landscape looks – to striking effect. Along the Duero Valley in Spain, the hills have been sculpted by terraces of vines, the granite underneath excavated to create networks of underground bodegas. In the town of Penafiel, in central Spain, squat stone chimneys protruding from the ground mark where wine cellars are hidden in underground caves. “To have a true Chianti winery, there needs to be both olive trees and cypress tree present,” Leslie says. It’s true – in Tuscany you can’t miss the cypress trees, dark punctuation marks on the hills above the grand old wine estates.

What does a walking and wine tasting vacation entail?

These are very convivial small group vacations, where you can share tasting notes with groups of up to 16 people. Walking is generally gentle to moderate, you don’t need to be particularly fit, and there’s plenty of time for trying local produce. You’ll stay in locally-run guest houses and rural farmhouses, and eat (and drink) in traditional, family-run restaurants. These contrast well with innovative wineries, like Protos Bodega in the Duero Valley, a modern winery that processes a million grapes a year, and has won a slew of design awards for its sweeping architecture.

Where to go on a walking and wine tasting vacation

Tuscany

Italy and wine have a long history, full of crumbly estates, dank, dark cellars, and, of course bacchanalia. Italians are the world’s largest wine producers, and the fifth most frequent consumers. Wine is big business here – but the industry remains in the hands of small growers. The size of the average wine estate here in 2010 was under two hectares – the European average is nearly eight.

Tuscany is a wine heartland. Ancient vines are snarled along the pergolas on every hillside and 35 million bottles of Chianti Classico are produced every year from the region’s Sangiovese grapes. Chianti was traditionally produced in a bottle called a fiasco, but you will only find tourists buying these bottom-heavy, straw wrapped bottles nowadays.
We stayed in a very lovely converted farmhouse, ate in local restaurants, shopped in small towns and villages, and tasted the local Chianti Classico in several wineries.
Susan Sargeant booked Tuscany Tours: Walking and wine tasting in Italy
On a walking and wine tasting vacation you’ll take to the back roads between borgos (hamlets), leading you to feel like an invading army as you sneak up on the famous hill towns through the fields. San Gimignano has one of the most strategic positions in all of Tuscany, but you’ll take it by surprise when you pitch up fortified by a morning of wine tasting in the nearby hamlet of Donato.

When you reach Siena, you can enjoy classes at The Tuscan Wine School run by professional sommeliers. A stroll in the city will soon reveal patrons propping up the industry in a profusion of wine bars and enotecas (regional wine shops), and eat at a mix of casual trattorias, and even more casual osterias.

The walking in the area is generally easy and undulating. Opt for a center-based walking vacation so you can always find your way back, even after a glass or two.

Dalmatian Coast

“Plavac Mali loves to suffer,” says Mirjana Popovi? from our local specialist Epic Croatia. She’s describing one of the Dalmatian Coast’s most common grape varietals, which thrives in bad, salty soil. “The mineral notes and rounded taste are result from the soil composition and the vicinity of the sea.”

The sea is the key, not just for the Pelješac peninsula’s wine, but also for producing its oysters, which are famously harvested at Ston. Mirjana explains how the sea mingles with fresh karst spring water from Neretva River in Mali Ston Bay, so that “you end up with a natural recipe for the world’s best raw oysters.”

Croatian vineyards lack the prestige and polish of Tuscany’s but not the charm. The vines grow in white, stony soil, and seem unpromising and unkempt, yet the landscape is compelling – you’re walking right by the sea, on the famously sunny Dalmatian Coast. You’ll follow a single road, route 414, careering down the Pelješac peninsula, whilst the Konavle Valley, a gentle valley of deciduous trees and shrubs, has proved fertile enough for good farming, and great for wine.

“The main wine varieties grown in Konavle are red Merlot and white Dubrovnik Malvasia,” Mirjana explains. “Over 40 quality wines are being produced in Konavle today, such as Maraština, Grk, Pošip, Plavac and many more.”

The terrain on a Croatian walking and wine tasting vacation is easy-going, which gives you plenty of time to drop in for tastings. Croatian red wines are well-paired with local cured meats, and you can enjoy the fruits of the fertile valley, too.

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If you'd like to chat about Walking combinations or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

The Duero Valley

The winemakers of Penafiel, a town in Castile y Leon, central Spain, built chimneys on their wine caves to let out the fermentation gases. They still stand today – little stone towers poking out of the ground, as if from buried houses.

People from Penafiel aren’t the only winemakers to use caves in Spain. Under Aranda de Duero are a series of interconnected caves cut out of the granite, which have served as bodegas for the town’s wineries for decades. The wine comes from Tempranillo grapes, which grow well all along the Duero Valley. Once you get to Fermoselle, you can try wine made from Juan Garcia grapes. In the 19th century, phylloxera – an invasive American aphid – killed nearly every vine in Europe, but Fermoselle’s vines survived, making them some of the oldest on the continent.

If you keep following the Duero Valley on this ‘long and winey road’, it runs into Portugal, and gets a name change. The Douro Valley ends in the city of Porto, where port wine was allowed to age before it was sent to grace England’s drinks cabinets.

A walking and wine tasting vacation in Spain and Portugal leaves plenty of time for exploring cities and towns. In 12 days, you can wend your way along the Duero/Douro Valley, starting in Madrid, stopping in cities like Segovia, which is dominated by a striking, double-decker Roman aqueduct (those Romans missed a trick only transporting water along it) and finishing in Porto. Natural parks like Arribes del Duero provide spectacular scenery.

Best time to go on a walking and wine tasting vacation

In the winter, vineyards can look rather drab – the vines in the fields are reduced to driftwood-dry stumps and the trees are bare. So wine tasting and walking is best from spring to autumn. You can walk along the Douro Valley between May and October, and in Tuscany and Croatia from early April, as bright green buds appear on the vines. Wine festivals tend to run in late summer and early autumn to make the most of the tourists, and the grape harvest begins in late summer. By October you might start to smell fermenting grapes as the winemaking process begins across the countryside.
Written by Eloise Barker
Photo credits: [Page banner: Kelsey Knight] [Intro: Kym Ellis] [Tuscany: Jason Parrish] [Dalmatian Coast: ANDREJ NEUHERZ] [The Duero Valley: Marco Varisco]
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