It's not your typical gap year activity...
But who wants to only do the mainstream stuff that everyone else does? I mean, can you think of a better way to explore your gap year travel destination of choice than through the many vineyards and wineries that scatter hillsides, lakesides and endless plains around the world?
The winemaking process dates back to 6000 BC and it's certainly hard to resist a tipple during sunset or as you gaze over surrounding rolling green hills. The complex flavours and rich history that come with drinking a glass of wine provides the perfect opportunity to mix travel, pleasure and history into one fantastic trip!
Many wineries await with open arms (and free-flowing wine) to offer tours of their operation and – most importantly – samples of their best vintages.
So whether it’s a smooth Pinot Noir, a Crisp Chardonnay or a sweet Riesling you're after, I've explored all the options. Here's my list of five of the most interesting wine regions for gap year travellers to visit...
Central Otago, New Zealand
As you meander through Central Otago, in search of a delicate Pinot Noir or an aromatic Pinot Gris, you are surrounded by rolling hills, lush green pastures and if you look really closely you may spot a hobbit or two. This is true Lord of the Rings country, so if you fancy sipping your glass of vino as you gaze over the shire then Otago is the place for you!
Central Otago is the southernmost wine region of the world and is famous for it’s cool-climate wines. Whilst the risk of frost in spring and autumn is high, the surrounding lakes and rivers help to offset this risk and keep the vineyards healthy all year round.
Rippon Vineyard is Wanaka’s oldest vineyard and is a pioneer for the region. It uses an approach to agriculture known a biodynamic agriculture that aims to provide sustainable practices. It sees soil fertility, plant growth and livestock as interrelated tasks. Once you’ve enjoyed the stunning scenery and amazing wine you can always pop in to the local cinema. It offers a traditional movie theatre experience and you can order all types of local wines during the interval.
For those of you who are more active and fancy hoping on a bike to explore the wine region, it is possible to cycle the old railway tracks that meander through the vineyards. Of course there are plenty of little wineries to visit on your route. If you look at the map you can ensure to end you bike ride at one of the larger vineyards to reward yourself with the free-flowing wine.
Don’t forget the difference in seasons in the Southern Hemisphere, if you want to head here for harvest then the best time to go is around March and April!
Mosel Valley, Germany
This valley in Germany offers a fairy-tale landscape filled with castles, gurgling brooks, rolling hills and meandering rivers. It is particularly famous for it’s delicate Rieslings that are arguably the best food wines. If you’re partial to spice, then a Riesling will match just beautifully.
Amongst this magical landscape lies Europe’s steepest vineyard. Whilst it does require a two-hour hike to reach, it is definitely worth the trek! The hike takes you through bustling villages, roman ruins, town markets and past Burg Eltz one of two castles that are left undamaged.
Once you’ve made the climb the views are stunning! It certainly makes for the most scenic glass of wine you’ll probably ever have the pleasure of sipping. If you enjoy sitting out and watching the sunset, then head over to Weinguter Monchhof. They’ll offer you a selection of tasting wines to enjoy whilst sitting on their terrace watching the evening set in.
Have you ever been to a wine festival? Doesn’t that just sound like the ideal way to spend a late summer day. Head over to Mosel Valley in August and September and you will be able to enjoy oompah bands and festive costumes to celebrate all things wine.
Valle de Guadalupe/Baja California, Mexico
This vineyard is a must see if you enjoy getting off the beaten track. Visitng the 50 odd wineries on offer, often means venturing off the area’s three paved roads onto rutted dirt ones. The area arguable still has a wild side and wandering through the vineyards offers that feeling like the one when hiking in wilderness or paddling a surfboard into a wave.
You can follow the Ruta del Vino that will explore the best the region has to offer and match these complex, full-bodied and aromatic wines to the seafood street carts that line the route. Pick yourself up a tostada smothered in urchin or ceviche or some tasty fish tacos. It’s all there right on the door step of the vineyards.
The area is fairly new to the wine making venture with grapes originally planted in the valley by Jesuit priests in the 18th Century. Since this first planting the trade has taken off providing wine with a generally higher alcohol content than European wines and offering a truly delicious selection.
If you are a horse lover, then why not jump on horse back and venture through the vineyards on some of the many horse riding tours available. If you’re looking for something a little different, then Vena Cava winery is built from reclaimed materials, including a roof made from a wooden fishing boat!
Now from the weird and wonderful to one of the most popular destinations.
Tuscany is one of the more famous regions and may have popped into your head when you saw wine tours of the world. Set around undulating hills and picturesque villas, it is possible to visit on a day trip from Florence or stay on site at an operating winery to learn the ropes. There is something for everyone!
Depending on your wine preferences can change where you spend your time in this beautiful area of the world. Choose the town you visit on your wine preferences; San Gimignano is known for its vernaccia, one of Italy’s most important white wines. Montalcino is the origin of the ever-popular brunello, and Montepulciano is well-regarded for both its red vino nobile, or noble wine, and also its amazing dessert wine, vin santo.
Being in the heart of Italy combines my two favourite things – great food and fantastic wine! In Tuscany you are able to taste cheeses, olives, dabble in pasta making all alongside your wine tasting.
If you think you have what it takes to make this beautiful liquid then why not enroll on a course to “Become a Winemaker for the Day”.
Or, if you prefer to leave the wine making to someone else, then follow in the footsteps of Michael Caine in the Italian Job through the Vintage Fiat 500 tour available. Although you won’t be racing round in a mini you can explore the countryside with panoramic pit stops and renaissance villas before heading to your final destination for wine tasting within a medieval cellar!
Aegean Islands, Greece
Last, but most certainly not least, is the beautiful Aegean Islands of Greece. This destination hits the top for the most unusual destination. If you wish to not just tread in the footsteps of wine tourists through Yarra Valley and Napa Valley then the Island of Santorini is the place to head!
Greece is argued to be the Father of wine. It is in the Sterea Ellada region of Greece, where Athens is located, that Dionysus supposedly first introduce Greeks to the wonder that is wine.
If your looking for something to do in the day before settling in with your wine, then you can hike to the rim of Santorini’s volcanic caldera. It’s a hike that takes you through villages and past picturesque churches and chapels.
The Island of Santorini is one large farm that offers beautiful scenery of whitewashed villages clinging to steep hillsides which drop toward deep blue sea. This idyllic setting is just begging you to take a seaside seat, a glass of dry Muscat and some beautiful scallops.
Red Red Wine
So there you have it, five of the best regions to visit for wine. We’ve gone from the traditional Tuscany to the wild Valle de Guadalupe and even covered an area for any Lord of the Rings fanatics out there.
So what’s stopping you? Get exploring and discover the wonders that wine can offer! From a day trip while you explore all that New Zealand offers the traveler to a dedicated Island holiday to explore Santorini – it’s waiting for you!
Have you had a great tasting experience? Or maybe you’ve found an amazing tour that you want to share? We’d love to hear your wine tasting stories in the comments below!
Do you need some help deciding what else to do? Then download our comprehensive gap year advice guide: The Gap Adventure Blueprint. It contains several chapters that will help you get your head around all the options and offer advice on how to raise funds, plus much more.
on 10 / 11 / 2015