If you’re lucky enough to visit during harvest season, French wine tours offer a traditional and festive way to enjoy the autumnal bounty. There’s a sense of joy and magic in the air as vineyards across France produce their newest batches of wine, collecting grapes that have been painstakingly cultivated over the previous months and harvested at just the right moment.
In September and October, it’s often still warm enough to enjoy cycling or driving tours through some of the country’s most beautiful vineyards, stopping for tastings in prestigious and coveted cellars along the way. Whether you wish to explore the hallowed terroirs of Burgundy, Champagne or Bordeaux, your bespoke tour will allow you to fully appreciate the beauty of local landscapes and bask in the traditions of wine harvesting.
Your private guide can arrange meetings with some of France’s renowned vintners, allowing you to enjoy exclusive tastings in the cellars of greatest interest to you. Why not also observe, or even participate, in the harvest? There’s perhaps no better way to appreciate the expertise and dedication required to produce an excellent bottle of wine than witnessing firsthand how grapes are harvested, fermented and later vinified. It’s a magical process that you should experience at least once. However, trying to go it alone isn’t advised: you’re much more likely to experience a wine region from an insider’s perspective by working with an experienced local guide.
Experience Wine Harvest Festivals
Autumn wine festivals in France are always joyous and exciting occasions. In October, the Fete des Vendanges in Chalon-sur-Saone, Burgundy offers visitors an opportunity to taste new wines, participate in elaborate street ceremonies and masses presided over by wine Confraterniies and the red-robed Sonneurs du Débuché order, and enjoy numerous other events and festivities. The end-of- harvest weekend festival, or “Paulée”, literally refers to a grape shovel pouring its contents into a wine press for the final time of the season. This is a wonderful way to discover Burgundy and its vintnering traditions, which stretch back hundreds of years.
Heading south to Saint-Emilion, just an hour from Bordeaux, the annual Ban des Vendanges harvest festival sees the red-robed “Jurade”, an order created to promote and maintain excellence in winemaking, take to the streets of the old medieval city for a traditional procession. New members are initiated, wines are tasted, and ceremonies are celebrated in front of picturesque old churches and atop stunning medieval keeps. This is another dramatic, traditional and wholly festive way to celebrate the harvest.
There are many other similar events held across France’s main wine regions during the autumn. Your private tour can easily include one or several stops at some of these.
It’s not all about wine: Autumn is also an ideal and inspiring time to indulge in a private gourmet food tour in France. Nearly every region has delicious offerings. Why not embark on a colorful and palate-opening adventure through traditional food markets in Provence, where in the fall stalls are piled high with delicacies such as mushrooms, truffles, olives and olive oil, saffron and bright autumnal vegetables like pumpkin?
Fall food tours around France can include authentic encounters with artisans, from Norman cheesemongers to Breton purveyors of salted caramels or alcoholic apple ciders. Paris is another obvious choice for a gourmet getaway: you can sample seasonal tasting menus at some of the city’s finest restaurants; embark on a cheese or patisserie tour of the capital, visit wonderful local markets such as the Marché d’Aligre, bursting with local character and color or even try your hand at a French cooking class led by a master chef. The fall is also the time when major gourmet events, such as the Salon du Chocolat– a trade show entirely dedicated to the art of chocolate-making– turn the city into even more of a gastronomic paradise than usual.
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In short, if you associate fall with gourmet discoveries, there are nearly endless possibilities for just that during your autumn stay in France.
In autumn, the heat has generally died down and it can be a very pleasant time to enjoy exploring France’s rich architectural and cultural legacies. Why not take a luxurious private tour around the sweeping, dramatic Mont St-Michel Abbey, made all the more beautiful by crisp fall light? Or embark on a tour of the marvelous prehistoric caves of the Dordogne, including the breathtaking Lascaux? Or bask in the stunning rose windows and stained glass of Gothic marvels Notre Dame and St Chapelle in Paris, Chartres further north, or the remarkable Cathedral at Strasbourg, comparing how the rose windows of Notre-Dame compare to those at Chartres. Tour the soul-stirring Loire Valley chateaux, from Chambord to Chenonceau. Witness their fine architectural details against the backdrop of the wild river and green landscapes, perhaps from the vantage of a privately hired barge.
In short, a private history and architecture tour of France will make your autumnal getaway even richer. Forget the usual guidebooks: your personal guide will know precisely how to reveal France’s most-cherished historical legacies to you, enriching your understanding and appreciation and creating unforgettable memories along the way.
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