Posted September 9, 2013 by SmarterTravel.com
From medieval hilltops to breezy coastlines, European wine towns make
for irresistible vacation spots. Local cuisines help form a food-wine
symbiosis unique to each locale, and surrounding vineyards provide the
perfect backdrop. Whether renowned or under the radar, these gastronomic
playgrounds offer plenty to taste plus enough history and culture for
days of exploration. So head down into the cellar, uncork a prized
vintage or two, and toast to these 10 amazing European wine towns.
Within its ramparts and narrow cobblestone streets, Beaune has one
major priority: the production—and consumption—of wine. Dubbed the wine
capital of Burgundy—itself one of the most famous viticulture regions in
all of France—the small town has been obsessed with the drink since the
Middle Ages, thanks in part to the lavish lifestyles of the Dukes of
Burgundy. Today, it remains the region's center for wine trade and
tourism. As you walk through town, undoubtedly in search of prestigious
Pinot Noir-based vintages, stop at the Wine Museum, the Dukes' former residence, for a quick study in oenology, then enter the cellars at Marche aux Vins for a free tour and tasting. Across the way, the Hotel-Dieu,
a medieval charity-hospital museum that hosts an annual wine auction
every November, offers a sobering look into the lives of the sick and
poor in the 15th century.
Uncork: Biodynamic wines at Joseph Drouhin, best tasted in the winery's historical Duke's cellar, built on top of 4th-century Roman fortifications.
Pair: In the snazzy, red-cloaked dining room at Loiseau des Vignes,
opened in 2007 by Dominique Loiseau (wife of late chef Bernard
Loiseau), choose from among 70 different wines by the glass to accompany
the regional prix-fixe menu.
Of the many wine villages on Germany's Mosel River, Bernkastel-Kues
is one of the most well-known and oldest. Set in the Middle Mosel
region, the town has the ideal terroir for growing prized Riesling grapes. Its steep, slate-covered hillsides are striped with vineyards and lead up to the ruins of Landshut Castle,
a focal point for cruisers floating by in river boats below. In the
town center, take time to admire the medieval market square lined with
half-timbered houses, and stop to photograph the narrow and leaning Spitzhauschen
("Pointed House") that dates back to 1416. Continue on, strolling
through small boutiques and breaking for a leisurely lunch at one of the
many welcoming restaurants. Just be sure to open a bottle of the town's
most legendary wine, Bernkasteler Doctor, which supposedly cured the 14th-century Archbishop of Trier of serious illness.
Uncork: More than 160 regional wines—including Riesling, sparkling Elbling, and fruity Kerner varietals—at the Mosel Wein Museum's Vinothek, housed in the cellars of the historical St. Nicholas Hospital.
Pair: Enjoy regional specialties complemented by a Riesling-focused wine list at Doctor Weinstube, a 17th-century hotel and tavern with an inviting, rustic dining room.
Perched above vineyards and cypress-tree groves in the Italian
province of Siena, Montepulciano is the biggest and highest medieval
hill town in southern Tuscany. Panoramic views of the Val d'Orcia countryside render it a perfect setting for movies like The English Patient and Under the Tuscan Sun,
but it is most famous for its Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, a red wine
made primarily from Sangiovese grapes. The town, lined with Renaissance
palaces and churches, centers on Piazza Grande, where the Bravio delle Botti
barrel race takes place every August. Food lovers will especially enjoy
shopping in the Centro Commercial Naturale, visiting the olive mill, and learning how to make pici pasta with flour from local wheat at the Il Sasso school for language and culture.
Uncork: The celebrated reds at the Consorzio del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano,
the local wine consortium made up of more than 70 producers, and its
Enoteca Wine Shop in the historical Palazzo del Capitano on Piazza
Pair: Sample Pecorino cheese, meat, honey, and olive oil in the town's cantines (wine cellars), which are often linked by underground tunnels. Local favorite Cantine Contucci, in the 13th-century cellars of the Palazzo Contucci, is open for tastings every weekday.
When in Portugal, many wine lovers make a beeline to Porto and the Douro Valley. However, the lesser-known Alentejo
region to the south has plenty to offer as well, especially when it
comes to smaller towns devoted to wine. Though the historical UNESCO World Heritage city of Evora has a regional tasting room and is a natural starting point for the Alentejo wine route, it's nearby Borba that truly lives for wine. From adegas
(wineries) in the heart of town to the annual Festa do Vinho e da Vinha
(Festival of Wine and Vine) in November, visitors to Borba have plenty
of opportunities to sample its robust reds. However, it's also
worthwhile to check out the architectural details throughout town:
Because of several nearby quarries, Borba is dressed in fine marble,
particularly at sites like the Convento das Servas de Cristo and the ornate Fonte das Bicas fountain.
Uncork: Touriga Nacional (considered Portugal's finest grape) along with other regional varietals such as Trincadeira and Aragonez at Adega de Borba, a cooperative that offers different labels from 300 wine-growing associates.
Pair: Dine among giant terra-cotta talhas storing wine while eating local specialties—including ensopado de borrego, a lamb stew, and migas, a traditional dish usually made with breadcrumbs, garlic, and pork—at tasquinhas, or small taverns and restaurants, in town.
On the hills of the Bukk Mountains, nestled in one of Hungary's main
viticulture regions, Eger is a popular wine town regarded for its whites
and especially reds. Architecturally, the town presents a melange of
Turkish, Baroque, and neoclassical styles, evident in well-touristed
sites like the Eger Cathedral and the original Ottoman-period minaret.
You can learn about the history of Eger's castle and its underground
fortification system at the Istvan Dobo Castle Museum, then unwind (releasing any lingering anxiety from the museum's medieval-punishment exhibit) at the recently renovated thermal baths and Turkish spa. After climbing the 97 claustrophobic steps of the needle-shaped minaret, get a sweet fix at the Marzipan Museum
and candy shop across the way. To taste wine, hop on the shuttle from
the central Dobo Square to cellars in Szepasszony-volgy, or "Valley of
the Beautiful Women," just south of town.
Uncork: The legendary Egri Bikaver, or
"Bull's Blood of Eger," Hungary's best-known wine internationally.
Blended with three or more red grapes—primarily Kekfrankos—the cuvee is
matured in oak barrels for at least a year.
Pair: Taste dishes such as goulash soup, roasted pork tenderloin with creamy wild mushrooms, and smoked Hungarian sausage at Kodmon Tavern, an elegant spot that has been serving local cuisine since 1778.
With clay soil ideal for growing grapes, multitudes of wine bodegas,
and an organized vineyard route, Haro has earned the right to be called
the wine capital of Spain's Rioja region. Not only does wine drive
Haro's local economy, but it is also taken quite seriously as a way of
life—so much so that on the feast of San Pedro (June 29), the town hosts
a wine battle,
during which opposing sides launch liters of wine at each other, then
throws an after party in central Plaza de la Paz Square. Oenophiles and
casual visitors alike can delve into the study of viticulture at the Rioja Wine Interpretation Centre,
which serves as a research center and museum, or taste the area's fine
red wines at the many vineyards and cellars open to the public.
Uncork: Wines from area bodegas, such as the generations-old Lopez de Heredia or the more modern Roda, which specializes in Tempranillo-based wines.
Pair: In Haro's Herradura neighborhood, known for tapas bars and restaurants, seek out dishes like pepitos (steak sandwiches) or pincho moruno
(skewered diced pork). For traditional cuisine, mixed vegetable stew,
chorizo, and lamb cutlets with vine shoots go nicely with the local
If the scent of freshly baked macarons wafting through medieval streets isn't enough to lure you into Saint-Emilion, the wine
certainly will. One of the most famed villages on the right bank of
France's Bordeaux region, Saint-Emilion is built as much on Merlot and
Cabernet Franc as it is on ancient limestone. After visiting the many
wine shops in town, take a tour of the 800-year-old Monolithic Church
and go underground to the cave where Breton monk—and hermit—Emilion
once lived. Come back up to admire the eye-catching 173-foot-high bell
tower before following the winding road that leads out to wine-tasting
chateaux and rows of vineyards in a World Heritage landscape that span as far as the eye can see.
Uncork: Wines by innovative—but controversial—garagiste winemakers, such as Chateau Valandraud and the appropriately-named Bad Boy label by Jean-Luc Thunevin.
Pair: Decant a bottle of Grand Cru Classe then toast to seasonal market cuisine either indoors or on the shaded terrace at L'Envers du Decor.
On the southwestern tip of Peljesac, a peninsula on Croatia's
Dalmatian coast, Orebic is a maritime town that attracts tourists
looking to relax on its sandy beaches, dine on the local catch, and
drink wine from the surrounding vineyards. Explore the Maritime
Museum—and its collection of models and paintings of boats—at the foot
of Mount Elijah, and find sea captain's homes (which you can often stay
in) throughout town. The Franciscan monastery's observation towers
afford views of the Adriatic, the old town below, and the fruit trees,
cypresses, and olive groves that dot the landscape. Winemaking on
Peljesac dates back to Roman times, and the Plavac Mali grape, called
"the blood of the soil" in Dalmatia, thrives in the Mediterranean
climate and takes center stage on the peninsula's pebbled hills.
Uncork: Dry, ruby-red wines such as Dingac,
which is deeply rooted in the region's winemaking tradition and became
Croatia's first protected wine, and Postup, the country's second
Pair: In Orebic's taverns and cafes,
seafood reigns supreme. The highlight is the local shellfish, in
particular crab, squid, and octopus, but make room for the region's
handmade cured ham and cheeses, local olive oil, and fresh citrus fruits
famous for its garnet-colored wines made from the Nebbiolo grape, is a
low-lying town tucked into a valley in Italy's hilly Piedmont region.
While the town has produced wine since at least Roman times, we can
thank the last Marchessa of Barolo, French-born Giulia Colbert Falletti
di Maulevrier, for realizing the potential of the noble grape in the
mid-19th century and getting the town on the map. Visit her former home,
the recently renovated Castello Falletti, which houses the WineMuseum (or WiMu) and tasting room, or head next door to the Corkscrew Museum in a former wine cellar. Stay in the neighboring countryside and use your rented villa or farmhouse as a home base for taking walks through the vast vineyards of Barolo and the rest of Piedmont's Langhe wine region.
Uncork: Wine from the 11 communes that produce Barolo at Enoteca Regionale del Barolo, located in the basement of the Falletti castle.
Pair: Choose dishes that can stand up
to—and are often cooked in—the region's wine, such as mushroom risotto,
braised beef, and gamey stews like bollito misto. Find similar items on the menu at Locanda nel Borgo Antico, a modern farmhouse restaurant tucked away in the vineyards.
Pico (Madalena), Portugal
It's one thing to be a wine town, but it's quite another to be a wine island.
On the Azorean isle of Pico, coastal vineyards grow along the sloped
edges of an enormous volcano, with their gnarled grapevines creeping up
basalt stone walls that protect the plots, or currais, from whipping sea winds and saltwater. Get an introduction to this unusual World Heritage vineyard landscape at the wine museum in Lajido, then trail the coastline in search of clay-roofed wine cellars built with black lava rock, old stone ramps (rola-pipas) that barrels would roll down and onto waiting boats, and tracks (rilheiras) carved by ox carts hauling grapes over the rugged landscape. At the cooperative in the main town of Madalena, learn how the basaltic wines are crafted and, of course, taste them too.
Uncork: Regional whites and reds from Frei
Gigante and Terras de Lava, plus aperitif wines and firewater, which
will knock you clear off your axis if you're not careful.
Pair: At Restaurante Ancoradouro in Madalena, start by drizzling corn bread and Pico cheese with honey, then pair a glass of vinho branco with any one of the seafood specialties. Grab a table on the breezy terrace for views of the sea and the nearby island of Faial.
Read the Entire Story: 10 Amazing Wine Towns in Europe
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Posted May 17, 2010 by Jaclyn Liechti
Rome is one of the most popular destinations in Europe, and with so much to do there it might be difficult to squeeze it all into one trip. The jaw-dropping elegance of the Colosseum, the immense holdings of the Vatican Museum, and the delicate splendor of Trevi Fountain are well-known attractions, but in a city like this, it's easy to get off the beaten path, too. Tiny ristorantes and gelaterias can be found around every corner, and the gardens of Villa Borghese offer a welcome respite from the tourist strip.
Hotel Boccaccio: The Hotel Boccaccio is a charming apartment-turned-hotel in the heart of Rome, near the Trevi Fountain. From here, you can walk to most of the popular attractions in the city, or jump on the metro right around the corner. The 1937 building is also the living quarters of its proprietor, Pati, and guests will feel right at home in one of the eight spacious guest rooms. The hotel is a member of the first group of environmentally friendly establishments in Italy. Double bedrooms with a private bathroom start at €100 (about $124, see xe.com for current conversion rates).
You can use our tool to compare airfares to Rome from multiple travel providers.
(Photo: courtesy of APT - Rome)
Posted March 24, 2010 by Amy Westervelt
As one of, if not the, most popular destinations in Italy, Tuscany can be fairly pricey. Still, if you follow the lead of Italians visiting the region and steer clear of the tourist traps, la Toscana can be downright affordable. There are numerous well-priced lodging options in the lesser-known villages of the region, and really no matter where you stay, you're always within close driving distance of the hot springs, vineyards, and amazing restaurants that have made the region famous.
Le Ragnaie: Nestled in the hills of Montalcino, overlooking its very own vineyard, Le Ragnaie is a local farmstead that doubles as a B&B. Rooms in the stone farmhouse are simple and pleasant, with large windows opening out over the heated saltwater pool. The on-site restaurant and homemade wine are also fantastic, plus its location is ideal for exploring the rest of the region. Rooms start at &eur;90 per night and include breakfast.
La Torre di Gnicche: To get a taste of the local wines and rustic fare Tuscany is famous for, head to one of the dozens of osteria (neighborhood restaurants) in the region, which typically serve up large platters of delicious local food for very reasonable prices. At La Torre di Gnicche (8 Piaggia di San Martino) in Arezzo, for example, you can pair one of the 800 area wines from its cellar with regional favorites such as crostoni (open-faced toasted sandwiches) and make it out the door for less than $30 a head.
Fattoria dei Barbi: Wine tasting the way we do it in the U.S. isn't typical in Tuscany, but some of the larger vineyards do offer tours and tastings. They can sometimes get a bit touristy, but are worth it for the vineyard views alone. At the Fattoria dei Barbi vineyard, one of the oldest estates to make Brunello di Montalcino (one of the region's most famous wines), tastings are free and guided tours of the vineyard for groups of eight or more can be booked in advance.
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(Photo: Emma Lee)
Posted July 8, 2009 by Jamie Moore
You know what they say: When in Rome.... I just couldn't resist tracking down some favorito local hangouts in this great city—two of which are actually in revamped garages. While you're here, savor a carefully crafted vegetarian meal. Drink to Italian style at a trendy wine bar. And rummage for bargains at a Roman "garage" sale.
Arancia Blu (in Italian only): At this elegant vegetarian restaurant, Chef Fabio Passan whips together unusual combinations for a big splendido! factor. Here you get unforgettable meals at reasonable prices. Order lasagna flavored with ginger. Or, try ravioli stuffed with potatoes and mint, served with Sardinian sheep cheese. With a seasonal menu and 250 different bottles of wine, you can try something new each visit … although you may need to sample the dark chocolate cake with warm orange sauce again and again and again.
Freni e Frizioni (in Italian only): Head to this mechanics-garage-turned-trendy-wine-bar to rub shoulders with the who's who of Rome. Hip locals who want to see and be seen do it here among romantic candles, grand chandeliers, modern art, and funky music. Savor one of the famous mojitos and gawk at beautiful people from the bar. Take five on the open-air terrace where views of the Tiber River ("Tevere" for those in the know) are as fabulous as the ones inside.
Borghetto Flaminio Market: Pick up an authentic souvenir at this Roman market housed in a funky old bus garage. You'll find bargains galore on everything from lampshades to designer clothes, but be sure to sharpen your wheelin'-and-dealin' skills before you arrive. This popular weekend market attracts Romans of all ages who have mastered the art of snapping up great deals. Who can blame them? Rumor has it one of Gucci's top designers sometimes books a table to sell off surplus goods at rock-bottom prices.
To search for flights and compare prices to Rome, please use our price-comparison tool.
(Photo: iStockphoto/Andrew Johnson)
Posted July 2, 2009 by Nicki Krawczyk
As far as picturesque seaside villages go, it’s awfully hard to beat the Cinque Terre region on Italy’s Ligurian Sea coast. First, because it’s actually a group of five villages and that gives it kind of an unfair advantage. Second, unfairly-advantaged or not, these five represent some of the most authentic, charming and still-relatively-tourist-untainted coastal towns you’ll find in Italy.
Adding to these molto belle little towns’ allure is the walking trail that connects the villages to each other and the various lesser paths through the hills. Sometimes a treat and sometimes a trek, you’ll enjoy the views even more if you’re comfortable, safe and not, oh, fearing for your life. Read on for a beginner’s primer to taming the trail of Cinque Terre.
Shoes. You’d think this would go without saying, but platforms are “in” again this season, so I think it’s important to note: This 8-mile trail is not the place to break in your new Italian leather pumps, ladies; and, gentlemen, forget the flip-flops. While in some places the path is as pleasant as a walk in the park, in others, it won’t be forgiving on anything less than comfy walking shoes.
Waterbottle. Yes, there are five lovely villages in which you can grab a little something to quench your thirst … but in between the villages is when you actually need it. With the sun beating down as you walk and, for example, climb the 368 stairs into Corniglia, you’ll be glad to be relying on the villages for refills instead of doctor-administered hydration.
Running. To each his own, I guess. If you do feel the need to see the Italian coast through the veils of sweat streaming in your eyes, it’s best to do it when the paths are less crowded: early in the morning or later in the evening. I’m kidding, of course; I’m sure this is a lovely way to experience the trails. Though, if you ask me, you’re taking your life in your hands a little bit since the trail can be quite…
Slippery. Especially when it rains, the walkway gets rather slick and offers hikers the value-added thrill ride of a very real potential to slide down the side of a precipice. Not so buono; tread carefully, my friends. You’ll also see many people utilizing walking sticks to thwart just such a disaster. As they say (or they should), “Walk softly and carry a big stick.”
Don’t Drink. Water? Yes. Grappa? No. And the same goes for pinot grigio, pinot noir, sangria and limoncello. Listen, the sun’s hot, the trail’s slippery and you’ve got miles to go—does it really sound like a good idea to add alcohol to the mix? Yet, you’d be surprised at the number of tourists who have clearly been imbibing. Wine from the local vineyards is spectacular, it’s true, but you’re better off saving your bottle for a celebratory dinner at the end of the trail. That way, there’s a much better chance you’ll actually make it there.
Posted May 20, 2009 by Kate Hamman
Long admired for its beauty and ingenuity, Venice captures the spirit of romantic dreams and artistic inspiration. The city may be sinking, but people come for the breathtaking scenery, historical buildings, and comfortable places to rest. And though the streets and canals are well traveled, this grand old city still has a few secrets up its sleeve.
The Secret Itinerary Tour of Doge's Palace: Walk in the footsteps of Venice's leaders as you skulk through the hidden passageways, the torture room, the prison where Casanova was once held, and the secret chancellery of the Doge's Palace. As your guide unlocks the door to start the tour, you're on your way to uncovering many of the ancient secrets of the city. Tours in English occur at fixed times each day. Tickets cost €16 (about $22 U.S., check XE.com for current exchange rates), and reservations are highly recommended.
Ristorante Lineadombra: The floating terrace of Ristorante Lineadombra, which overlooks the Giudecca Canal, is enough to take your breath away. While most come for the view of the Venice Lagoon, others stop in for the restaurant's specialties of tuna tartare and bass cooked in a salt crust. As one of the leading places to dine in Venice, prices can be a little steep. The view, however, is priceless.
Pensione Guerrato: With the Grand Canal at your doorstep and the Rialto marketplace selling fresh fish and vegetables next door, Pensione Guerrato is a hotel worth sighing over. You'll walk in the hallways of Venetian history when you stay at this affordable gem built in 1227. Many of the rooms are decorated with antiques, with some of the original stucco works still remaining. Prices, including breakfast, start at €70 for single rooms without a private bathroom.
To search for flights and compare prices to Venice, please use our price-comparison tool.
(Photo: Ristorante Lineadombra)
Posted June 18, 2008 by Zak Patten
What's in a name? In the case of OpenSkies—the new mostly-business-class subsidiary of British Airways—a whole lot. When first announced, the airline's name was inspired by the new deregulating treaty that allows airlines to operate on any routes they choose between the U.S. and E.U. Today, OpenSkies might also be taken as a comment on the lack of competition in the air, particularly since the demise of all-business-class carriers Eos, Maxjet, and Silverjet.
Sure, OpenSkies only has one airplane, a 757 that holds 82 passengers, but the Little Airline That Could has big plans for that one plane. We're talking three classes of service, with the top of the line being Biz, which boasts "truly lie-flat seats." Don't want to sleep that well? No worries. OpenSkies has Prem+, which must denote its premium-economy class, because I doubt it’s a typo (unless OpenSkies is planning on professionally curling its passengers' hair en route). Last but not least (well, actually it is the least, but OpenSkies swears it's not too bad at all), is the economy cabin. There are only 30 seats (genuine leather ones) there, so you should get plenty of attention, assuming there's also a designated flight attendant (kidding!). And everyone, regardless of class, will have access to the 50-plus hours of audio and video programming on their personal entertainment systems, so that's a step up from my favorite in-flight game: staring at the back of the seat in front of me.
So where exactly will OpenSkies fly? Let's just say it doesn't have a massive worldwide route network. In fact, there are just two cities involved, but they're pretty decent ones: Paris and New York. The plan is to scale up by adding new destinations as business results allow for it. Currently on the list of potentials are Amsterdam, Brussels, Frankfurt, and Milan.
In these days of cutbacks and fee increases, any airline looking hopefully toward the future should cheer us all up. No matter what it's called.
Posted March 13, 2008 by Zak Patten
I once saw a man boarding my plane with a full rack of antlers protruding from his backpack. Apparently the TSA doesn’t have any prohibitions against packing animal bones, no matter how sharp they are. I wonder if those security screeners would have even noticed the skeleton a 62-year-old woman recently flew with from Brazil to Italy?
As you might have figured, the woman was stopped by airport security (in Germany) and interrogated. It turned out she was fulfilling her brother’s dying wish from 11 years ago to be buried in Italy. The traveler (the live one) was actually able to provide documents allowing her to legally fly with her unusual luggage item. The authorities then allowed her to continue on her way.
Which got me to thinking, just what kind of bag do you pack a dead body in? I think first of all, you probably want to use a sealed, heavy-duty plastic liner inside the bag, just so you don’t lose any of the bones among your socks and underwear. Imagine putting on your skivvies one morning only to find someone’s metacarpal where it didn’t belong. And you wouldn’t want to trust airline baggage handlers to safely transport the remains of your loved one, so putting the cadaver in a carry-on is a must. It’s not like we’re talking about a full-on corpse, which would clearly require at least a second checked bag (and another 25 bucks on some airlines). No, I’d say your best bet is to get a good solid roll-aboard with a few sweaters thrown in around the deceased to avoid breakage.