I am finally fulfilling a long time desire to spend some time traveling Europe. My focus will be on visiting the wine regions of France, Spain and Italy. I welcome any recommendations on "must see's and do's", dining, etc... I'm traveling with a friend on a moderate budget. Our plan is to buy a Eurorail pass to get around. We will have 2+ weeks originating in London. Also, curious if there is any advantage to purchasing wines over there and shipping back? Thanks in advance for any input.

RobertPS
Original Post
Welcome to the WS forums! Smile

I have no experience, sadly, in visting vineyards in Europe, but I do know London pretty well. There are several wine-specific things to do there that will get your trip off on the right foot.

I won't re-hash everything here, but will instead suggest that you do a search for a thread entitled Where London, as well as some other threads concerning travel to Europe. Type in London as the subject in the search window and I'm sure it will appear.

If it doesn't, here are the highlights:

-Vinopolis, City of Wine -- an interactive tour through everything you will likely want to know about wine, which includes tastings along the way, and a huge wine store at the end of it. It's near the Globe Theatre on the southbank of the Thames

-Berry Brothers and Rudd wineshop at 3 ST. James Street, probably the oldest continually operating wine store on earth, dating back to 1690 (and full of good stuff!)

-the Cork and Bottle wine bar and restaurant downstairs, just off Leicester Square, and the El Vino wine bar in Fleet Street.

You could do all that in a day, without too much effort, if you wanted.

Bruins rule!
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"My focus will be on visiting the wine regions of France, Spain and Italy... We will have 2+ weeks originating in London."
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That is quite a bit of ground to cover in 2 weeks. Which wine districts do you want to do most? What does a Eurorail ticket cost these days? It might be around the same cost to rent a car and you will see the wine districts much better. Very few wineries are near train stations.
For Burgundy, there were doubtless be a rail stop in Dijon, which is a nice town. If you can get to Beaune, which is not far from Dijon, it is the center of Burgundy, and some quick trips can take you to Clos du Vougeot.
Friendly people and extraordinary wine.

Irwin

"Life is short....start with the dessert."
In that limited time span I would recommend Tuscany with full emphasis.

Dedicate as much time to Siena/Chianti as you have scheduled for that country.

Have a great trip.

Smile
Welcome RobertPS,
I just got back from a trip to London, and while I was there I visited their wine museum, called Vinopolis. It was interesting, and based on your knowledge level, you may find it facinating. The wine selections are nothing to go gaga over, but it is interesting to see all the various countries where wine is being produced. I actually asked a couple of the guides at the museum for recommendations for wine shops where I could buy more eclectic bottles. One suggestions was a shop just a few blocks from vinopolis. For the life of me, the name escapes me, but I had a great time talking with the proprietor, who was a young Swiss gentleman...
get a car and just drive around, man, it doesn't matter where you go, it's all good.
in terms of wine, i personally buy stuff i can't find here, mostly obscurities that nobody wants to drink. Frown
Yeah, you've got to drive!

France: Alsace (Barr), Burgundy (DRC), St Emilion.
Spain: Rioja Alta (Harro), Priorato (Grattalops, near Tarragona)
Portugal: Duoro Valley (the most beautiful wine region I have seen)
Italy: Trentino, Tuscany, and (not that it is a very good wine region, just an awesome spot) Cinque Terre, on the north western coast (Liguria). Book a hotel in Manarola.

pete

www.peterhowlandwines.com
I did the same years ago, and I have to warn you. I railed all over Spain and France and make a quick tour to Portugal, 3,5 weeks, and that was just barely enough time to get an impression.

In 2+ weeks you should, in my opinion, concentrate on a few regions and spend at least 3 days in each. Otherwise you'll find you're rushing from the train in the morning and back to the train in the afternoon. Consequently you'll only have a few hours time to visit any wineries and some of that time may be ruined by missing a train, or wineries being closed. It is a great way to see Europe and visit vineyards, but don't try to take in too much! There's a lot to treasure taking in the surroundings and enjoying the cuisine and wine on picnics in the country-side or in small restaurants.

Other than that a few tips:

-Call ahead or write an e-mail right now, to all the wineries you plan to visit and ask them if it would be ok to visit and aprox. what day you'd be coming. In Spain, especially, wine tourism is a thing that not all wineries are accustomed to yet. In case you have to cancel, just give them a call.

-The houses of Champagne and the Cava cellars of Penedes are pretty much interchangeable, I recommend choosing one, not both. Pommery gives excellent visits daily in the former, Codorníu likewise in the latter. Freixent is directly by the train station in Sant Sadurni d'Noya.

-If you're headed to the south of Spain (it may be off the beaten track for you) the houses (bodegas) of Jerez have quite impressive tours and together with the growers in Penedes seem to be the ones most anxious to promote their wine.
What Markus said mainly.

Depending on where your interest lay and you starting your trip in London, I would suggest you leave Italy/Tuscany for a future trip. It's really out of the way, though beautiful it is.

You could do Champagne (staying in Epernay), move south to the Côte d'Or (Beaune), further to North- and/or South-Rhône, get a look at Roussillon/Collioure/ Corbières. Then cross the border and see the Catalunyan vineyards of Penedès and Priorat (maybe have a look at Barcelona).
You could then turn back or cross the Pyrenees, have a glimpse of Irouleguy and Madiran, which would lead you to Bordeaux.

Doing this in a fortnight would leave you with less than a day per region... I guess you would definitely need a car.
A 15 day 1st class rail pass will run $498 per person. Based on some of your input, we have been rethinking whether it would make more sense to drive. For about the same $ we can rent a nice Mercedes sedan. Kinda leaning that way... Great suggestions from all of you. Many Thanks!!!

RobertPS
I've travelled quite a bit in Europe, mostly walking. Trains are fine if you want to see the major cities. If you want to get out into the countryside and smaller villages and towns (which is generally where you want to be for wine), then you really need a car.

The southern Rhone is pretty spectacular, particularly the areas to the west of Orange and Avignon (Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Cotes du Luberon).
Plus, railcards aren't as free as their made out to be! In Spain, every time you cross a regional border (and buddy, Spain has quite few of them), you have to pay a fee regardless of wether you have a railcard or not. Anyway, the fee is marginal, but can be quite irritating in case you had planned to use your cash to buy wine.

Some railcards require you to fill in train-number and destination by hand. BE SURE TO DO THIS BEFORE THE TICKET CONTROLLANT SEES YOU. Or you may be fined 100€, have your card confiscated and be thrown off the train, all in fluent french. Nearly happened to me because noone had informed me of this.
As noted two weeks is not very long. I would suggest a swing through Burgundy, Rhone and Piemonte as they are "relatively" close together and offer beautiful views, incredible food and of course great wines. This is still a lot to do in a couple of weeks.

Craig Camp
Piemonte! a wine journal
www.vinocibo.com
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spending at least an hour, writing my post with all my recommandations, I hit a link and my post is gone, just 'smack' and good-bye.

Therefor I'm kind of p ... and sorry, but will only give the links:

www.eurostar.com
www.tgv.com
www.easyjet.com
www.specials.parishotels.com
www.guideweb.com/provence
www.la-maison-volets-bleus.com
www.chez-serge.com (Restauarant Provence)
Don't miss the market day in Ilse-sur-la-Sorgue
www.specialplacestostay.com
www.tuscany.net

Have a wonderful trip! Cécile
quote:
Originally posted by Markus Randall:
Plus, railcards aren't as free as their made out to be! In Spain, every time you cross a regional border (and buddy, Spain has quite few of them), you have to pay a fee regardless of wether you have a railcard or not.


Markus makes a good point. Also, in general, train service in Spain is not very good at the national level. They only have a high speed line working right now between Madrid and Seville.

It is best to rent a car and drive. Avoid driving in the major cities if you can (Lot's of traffic congestion).

When you factor the cost make sure you factor in gas prices and tolls. Both are very high in France.

Try to pick two or three reigons to explore so you have time to enjoy them.

Also there are two discount airlines EasyJet, and RyanAir that offer insanely low cost flight to a lot of european destinations. Example right now, you can get a flight from London to Florence for about $17/person one way.

Have a great time.

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"I have lived temperately ... I double the doctor's recommendation of a glass and a half of wine a day and even treble it with a friend." - Thomas Jefferson
By the way, we don't speak French! We are thinking that it may be a good idea to seek out English speaking guides in the various regions we are planning to visit. Does anybody know of any resource for such local guides?

RobertPS
In Spain, perhaps with the exception of Penedes, I think it will be difficult to find. In Bordeaux, at least, you'll find some guides who speak english, ask at the tourist offices.
Robert,
you don't need no stinking guides. Big Grin pretty much everyone of interest speaks english. peasants don't know a single word, but it's not like you were gonna try to strike meaningful conversations with any, weren't you? wine trade, hotels, restaurants they all live off foreigners, so they are prepared to swallow their national pride and converse in our tongue. relax and don't pay attention to speed limits, it's for locals only. Big Grin
What you call "peasants" might be called "wine growers".
It's they who have the interesting stories.

"US rule"-types like Grunhauser will always miss most of the fun, as they are running from hotel desk to hotel desk, picking a few bottles on the way at a "English spoken"- wine shop.

And, to your suprise you may meet quite some "peasants" who know their bit of English too.
The will not have to swallow their National Pride to establish their natural hospitallity.

But who am I to know, I just live here.
I'm with Rik on this one. Just returned from Loire and the best experiences we had were off on some of the smallest side roads I've seen this side of Ireland. The winemakers were extremely pleased to receive us no matter what they were in the middle of doing at the time. They struggled with English, we struggled with French and despite the gaps we learned more from them than we did in the big show rooms.

Also -- just my $.02 but we found Vinopolis a big dissapointment when we were there earlier this year.


I always wanted to be a procrastinator.
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Sorry I came to this discussion late.

As an American who has lived in Europe for six years and has done quite a lot of traveling, here is my two cents for what it's worth.

1. I agree with most people's advice that France, Spain and Italy in two weeks is ambitious. I also agree that car rental makes much more sense than train.

2. HOWEVER, *if* you really want to see wine regions in three countries, it is do-able...you just won't get more than a superficial impression.

If you do this, fly don't take train. Why? (a) Trains take too long especially if you are going to smaller cities and have to change at big hubs like Paris and Madrid; (b) they cost about as much as flights.

Use the budget airlines. I agree with people's advice that easyjet and ryanair are great notwithstanding the bad service they offer inflight, their many delays, etc. There are other budget airlines too. Big on-line travel agents in Europe include www.ebookers.com (in London) and opodo.com (in London, Frankfurt, Paris). Try also www.expedia.co.uk. PS: you have to book easyjet fligts directly on their website, www.easyjet.com, and not through travel agents' websites.

The fact that most of these airlines offer e-tickets is a plus: you won't have to give a European address for ticket delivery (not sure about billing though). Alternatively, in London, you could buy directly from an agent. The best (bricks and mortar) budget travel agent is STA. See http://www.statravel.co.uk/ for branch locations in London. My wife and I used them many times, especially when she was a student to take advantage of student discounts.

A lot of travel agents and/or airlines offer car rental deals when you book with them. Look on the websites above.

Good luck!

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