Your Guide to Bicycling Through Wine Country

From Napa to Tuscany and beyond, make a bicycling adventure out of your vineyard visits with these six globe-spanning travel destinations.
Photo by Sally Gall, Gallery Stock

Become a living part of vineyard landscapes with a bicycle adventure around some of the world’s legendary wine regions.

Itineraries range from DIY day excursions on designated wine trails to guided weeklong explorations that feature gourmet meals and accommodations at top-rated hotels. Routes uncork a premier blend of experiences: breathtaking countryside views, quaint villages, castles and museums, all amplified by the adrenaline rush of coasting from one extraordinary vineyard to the next. Exhilarated by the sounds and scents of the region, you’ll savor the flavor of every sip.

10 Best Wine Travel Destinations of 2017
Pernand-Vergelesses, France / Photo by Loren J. Root
Pernand-Vergelesses, France / Photo by Loren J. Root

France | Burgundy

The appellations of Pommard, Volnay, Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet,  and Chassagne-Montrachet—some of the most celebrated origins of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines—come to life along La Voie des Vignes (The Way of the Vines). This easy-pedaling route runs 13 miles, from Beaune to Santenay. Vineyard vistas mingle with pastures of pale-beige Charolais cattle, and simple, half-timbered cottages with imposing chateaus.

Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes achieve greatness in their historic home, which produces 100 Appellation d’Origine Protégée (AOP) wines. One hallmark of Burgundy is the concept of climat: Each vineyard (some walled by stone, some not) has its own name and acknowledged characteristics of soil and weather. Some are barely the size of a suburban backyard and many have belonged to the same families for generations.

A bastion first of the Gauls and later the Romans, the region became the seat of the powerful dukes of Burgundy during medieval times. Surrounded by ramparts, Beaune is known for its annual wine auction and the Hôtel-Dieu (founded 1443), roofed with multicolored glazed tiles. Dating to the 11th century, the Château de Meursault estate features vast caves. Its biggest cellar can house 800 barrels.

Cyclists can reward their exertions with the lavish local cuisine, which includes escargots, gougères (cheese puff pastries) and, of course, boeuf Bourguignon.

Find Out More: La Voie des Vignes

Casablanca Valley, Chile / Photo by Roussel Bernard, Alamy
Casablanca Valley, Chile / Photo by Roussel Bernard, Alamy

Chile | Casablanca, San Antonio and Colchagua Valleys

Chile is a land of extremes. It stretches 2,700 miles long, but it’s just 110 miles at its widest point, squeezed between the Pacific Ocean to the west and the snow-capped, 13,000-foot Andes Mountains to the east. That multiplicity of landscapes yields an eclectic array of wine grapes: from cool-climate-loving Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc to warm-weather baskers like Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenère (Chile has 98 percent of the world’s plantings of this variety).

Upscape Travel delves deep into several of Chile’s most lauded wine regions on a seven-day, six-night biking adventure. The route covers the Casablanca Valley (with visits to Kingston Family Vineyards), San Antonio Valley (Matetic Vineyards) and Colchagua Valley (Viña Estampa, Viu Manent, Neyen, MontGras and VIK). Riders also sweep down the Ruta de Fruta (Fruit Highway) to the dramatic Pacific coastline.

Memorable meals explore the pairing possibilities of top Chilean wines with delicacies like fresh local oysters, grilled sea bass and steak marinated in anise and sea salt. Accommodations range from a restored 18th-century hacienda to a casually luxe beachfront retreat.

Gear up to visit during the best seasons in Chilean wine country: spring (October to February) and fall harvest (March to May).

Find Out More: Upscape Travel

Napa Valley, California / Photo by Michael Housewright
Napa Valley, California / Photo by Michael Housewright

California | Napa Valley

Despite the lofty reputation (and equally stratospheric prices) of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, America’s most exalted wine-growing region remains, at heart, a collection of farming communities. And it’s exactly this laid-back, countryside reality that’s highlighted along the new Napa Valley Vine Trail.

A work-in-progress, this designated 47-mile walking and biking path is slated to connect the entire Napa Valley, from Vallejo to Calistoga. A key 12.5-mile section from South Napa to Yountville recently opened, which affords cyclists perhaps a new perspective on wine country.

Flanked by dozens of wineries, the prime tasting zone runs five miles, from Oak Knoll Avenue to Yountville to the north. Cyclists can start in Yountville with a short detour to Bell Wine Cellars, a Cabernet specialist producing impressive single-vineyard and clonal bottlings. Back on the Vine Trail, interesting stops include Elyse (known for Zinfandel), Silenus (which pours estate offerings and wines from up-and-coming producers) and Trefethen, where a stunning mile-long driveway lined by sycamores leads to the original ­­­­1886 winery.

Returning to Yountville, cyclists can finish with glasses of bubbly at Domaine Chandon or afternoon snacks at one of the town’s superb eateries, such as Bouchon or Bistro Jeanty.

Find Out More: Napa Valley Vine Trail, Napa Valley Bike Tours

Kangaroo crossing, McLaren Vale, Australia / Mick Rock, Alamy
Kangaroo crossing, McLaren Vale, Australia / Mick Rock, Alamy

Australia | McLaren Vale

Nestled between the Mount Lofty Ranges and the Gulf St. Vincent’s sandy beaches, McLaren Vale lies 20 miles south of Adelaide in South Australia. Thanks to its Mediterranean climate, McLaren Vale is one of the country’s premier wine-producing districts. Best known for Shiraz (roughly half of the area’s production), McLaren Vale also earns renown for Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon. Varieties on the horizon include include Fiano, Vermentino, Tempranillo and Sangiovese.

Several tour operators offer guided trips from Adelaide, with routes designed for maximum downhill coasting. The adventure often begins at Kuitpo Forest, where riders might share the road with kangaroos and koalas. From there, a gentle descent down Willunga Hill arrives in McLaren Vale for wine tasting.

The itinerary can include cellar doors (Aussie-speak for tasting rooms) like Kangarilla Road, with its views that sweep across vineyards to the sea; Angove, a fifth-generation winery founded in 1886; and ­Samuel’s Gorge, which overlooks the Onkaparinga River National Park and produces Grenache, Shiraz, Mourvèdre and Tempranillo.

Detours might also include visits to a microbrewery, a stop for fresh-made chocolates or a swim at the beach. It all adds up to a very g’day, indeed.

Find Out More: Escapegoat Adventures, Tour de Vines

Tuscany, Italy / Photo by Martin Plöb, Age Fotostock
Tuscany, Italy / Photo by Martin Plöb, Age Fotostock

Italy | Tuscany

A journey through Tuscany’s Chianti region, between Florence and Siena, reveals medieval towns, castles, churches and acre upon acre of vineyards. Cultivated in central Italy for millennia, Sangiovese rules here. A vineyard diva, the finicky but versatile grape produces wines that range from pasta-and-pizza-loving Chiantis to powerfully elegant Brunello di Montalcino and Chianti Classico.

Bike routes blend tasting opportunities with UNESCO World Heritage Sites perched on the hilltops. The route from San Gimignano to Siena is one of the loveliest passages, following country byways past olive groves and rows of cypress. A walled city crowned by towers, San Gimignano is a charmer. Famous for the Palio horse races through its main square each summer, Siena houses a 13th-century cathedral, one of the finest Gothic churches in Italy.

With some signicant climbs along the way, the region is best pedaled on guided tours, which offer support vans to shuttle riders out of trafficked cities and up to the ancient hill towns. Cyclists will be glad they’re working up appetites, as Tuscany is the home of regional specialties like Pecorino cheese, ribollita (a vegetable and bread soup) and bistecca alla fiorentina (a thick cut of steak from the special Chianina breed of cow). Stops at regional wineries like Il Borro are a welcome treat along the way.

Find Out More: Backroads, Bike Florence & Tuscany

Stellenbosch, South Africa / Photo by Meg Baggott
Stellenbosch, South Africa / Photo by Meg Baggott

South Africa | Stellenbosch

Encircled by mountains, the Stellenbosch wine region lies 30 miles from Cape Town in the heart of South African wine country. Grape-growing traditions go back more than 300 years, with many of the earliest plantings made by Huguenots who fled religious persecution in France.

Several tour operators offer guided trips to the winelands that wind through famed regions such as Paarl, Franschooek and Stellenbosh, with visits to famed wineries such as Backsberg and Vrede en Lust, among others, and stops to nosh on local chocolate, cheese and biltong (cured, dried meat) along the way. Rides through backcountry byways—flanked by rivers and forests of oaks and poplars—can offer additional stops at  a distillery or two.

Itineraries also visit the namesake town of Stellenbosch, founded in 1679 (the second-oldest European settlement in South Africa—the first was Cape Town). Set on the banks of the Eerste River, it melds the lively vibe of a university town with rich history, reflected in its whitewashed Cape Dutch houses with gabled fronts.

With mountainous terrain, good rainfall and diverse terroirs, the region favors a wide range of grape varieties. Cabernet Sauvignon remains a Stellenbosch star. Inland locations yield richer, more intense wines, while those closer to the sea convey fresh elegance. Bordeaux-style blends shine, as does Pinotage, a unique South African cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault. It pairs especially well with local specialties like bobotie (curried mince meats) and braai (barbecue).

Find Out More: Bike & Saddle, Bikes ’n Wines, Winelands Explore

Published on March 16, 2017
Topics: Travel


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