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Least crowded wine region?

We will be traveling to France next May and want to visit wine country. Our favorite wines come from the Rhone Valley, Burgundy and Alsace so we are initially looking at those areas. We enjoy spending time walking in the countryside or in quiet villages or small towns. Which of these three French wine regions would be best in the sense of being least crowded? And do you think May is early enough to avoid the summer rush? Thanks for your help!

Posted by
784 posts

Any of these regions should suit you in May as far as crowds go. The problem with May is that other than tasting rooms, there won't be a lot of other activity relating to wines. I've been in Languedoc-Roussillon- a huge wine growing region in the south - in late April when the vines were just starting to leaf out. I've also been in Burgundy, Alsace, and Provence in September when there are grapes hanging on the vines and harvest activity is beginning - much more interesting wine experience.

Posted by
136 posts

Thanks, Carolyn. You raise a good point. We actually just came back from a trip to the Douro Valley in Portugal to see port wine production, and it was not that crowded. We're hoping to have a similar experience in France but we thought it might be more crowded in French wine making regions around harvest time. How did you find the crowds in September, and was there any difference among the three regions we're looking at?

Posted by
1166 posts

We drove through the Alsace region last year during the first week of October. We loved the harvesting and the pungent aromas of the grapes...

We did not find this region crowded in the least !

Posted by
4132 posts

In all of these regions, there will be crowded areas and not crowded areas. Early May will be less busy than late.

Popularity often does relate to quality, so I wouldn't shun all crowds. But you can manage them by going early or late, or by nipping in and out, taking refuge elsewhere.

Burgundy is quite rural and with a car or bicycle solitude is an option.

Posted by
136 posts

Thanks, Carla and Adam, for your input. After talking more with my family, it looks like they are leaning toward the Rhone Valley for this trip, but we may be able to do it in the fall rather than in the spring. Either way, we will have a car, which will give us more flexibility and hopefully more solitude.

Another question I'd like to ask concerns wine tastings. Given that the law is so strict in France, is it usual for people to use taxis or drivers to get to and from wineries to avoid driving after a tasting?

Posted by
2466 posts

You are supposed to have one of those alcohol test things in your car, if you are personally driving.
If you'd like to appreciate wines to the fullest extent, I'd have someone call for a taxi.
A tour might be within your budget, but a private driver probably won't be.

Posted by
10308 posts

At least one person should spit. It's a tasting, not a meal. After some large, hearty meals with a few different wines, that's when you'd need a driver!

Posted by
136 posts

Thanks Chexbres and Bets, very helpful intel for planning. Does the alcohol measurement device come with the rental car or are you supposed to have your own? If so, where would you get it? It sounds like our best bet is to try to choose a home base that has wine tastings that we can walk to and try to arrange one or more tours to the vineyards. Also choose some town with restaurants that we can walk to or take a cab from afterwards. Not planning on doing any heavy drinking, but do want to enjoy some nice wine with meals.

Posted by
55 posts

We just returned from wine tasting in the Vaucluse area near Gigondas and Chateauneuf-du-Pape. The harvest just finished and the vines are just starting to change color. We took a small group day-long tasting tour with one of the guides recommended by Rick Steves in his France 2017 book and it worked out well. None of the tasting rooms we visited were crowded; in fact, we were usually the only visitors!

The roads in the wine growing regions tend to be very narrow and curvy with no shoulder, so one person should be the designated driver. Also, our guide told us of police checkpoints to catch those who have been drinking, so be forewarned. (And spitting doesn't guarantee you won't be affected.)

That said, remember that French meals usually last a couple of hours, minimum. So, if you order a glass of wine with dinner, it will be served before your first course. The effect will likely wear off before you're on the road! :)

Posted by
136 posts

Thanks mmebonnie for the helpful comments. You're right, I don't think spitting is 100% effective and I'm not surprised to hear about the police check-points. What I'm currently thinking is to base ourselves somewhere like Chateauneuf-du-Pape in an accommodation near the town centre so we can walk to and from restaurants and wine tastings, as well as taking a wine tour to the vineyards. We would use the car only for scenic drives, for which we will have a designated driver if we stop anywhere to eat while we're out. I think you are probably right that a drink before dinner will be metabolized by the end of the meal, but better still if we don't have to drive afterwards at all. I hate to have my husband, who does most of the driving in Europe, rationing his wine at dinner all week!

Posted by
55 posts

Sounds like a good idea. We stayed within walking distance of Saint-Didier and loved walking to town for dinner vs dealing with the narrow, curvy roads. Even the small town restaurants are surprisingly good!

Posted by
12172 posts

Burgundy was pretty deserted when I went this May. That said, I felt it was a little early to be there. It was still cold and the vines barely had leaves starting. Many restaurants in smaller towns weren't open or only had very limited hours. The good part was I felt I had the place nearly to myself. Beaune was still pretty crowded. If you're going later in May, it may warm up quite a bit.

I was in Alsace right after Burgundy and the weather had improved, even just a few days later. Alsace seemed more crowed in all of the famous wine route towns, but not crazy. I was still able to find parking fairly easily.

Posted by
136 posts

Thanks for your comments, Brad. I think we have refocused on Rhone Valley, in part because the red wines are more affordable then in Bordeaux or Burgundy and that's an important part of the trip for us. For work reasons, it looks like we will have to go in the spring, even if the vineyards are just getting up and running, but we just experienced the wine harvest season in Portugal's vineyards so maybe that will carry over the Rhone Valley vineyards.

But we are starting to wonder if early June would be a good compromise in weather vs. crowds. Do you think the first half of June would be a bad time to go?

Posted by
4132 posts

Early June in the Rhone would be spectacular. I think late May would be as good too.

Posted by
12172 posts

If I went back to Burgundy, I think early June would be ideal. Rhone should warm up a little ahead of Burgundy.

Posted by
136 posts

Great! Thanks, Brad. I think that's when we will go - late May/early June.

Posted by
120 posts

Burgundy is always a good idea as it never gets crowded (except in Beaune because it is the wine capital). As for the weather it is very unpredictable and we may have a wonderful April and a rainy June. We are mid October and it seems that Summer is back, with colours of Autumn (and we cross our fingers to keep it a bit longer). Good luck with your plans and welcome to France !

Posted by
136 posts

Thank you Samantha and Coco. We have already made some plans to visit the Rhone Valley next spring, but Burgundy and Alsace for sure in future trips. All such beautiful country, hard to go wrong!