To really get a proper taste of Languedoc, France, we recommend taking the scenic route (outlined below) which will let you explore several corners of the lesser-known wine region in the South of France. Rent a car, get a good map, and enjoy the ride through gorgeous countryside, hilltop villages abutting the Pyrenees Mountains, and seaside hamlets. (Just be sure to schedule your wine tastings before an overnight at one of the choice hotels mentioned below!) Before you go, check out this round-up of fabulous Languedoc wines available in the U.S.
MONTPELLIER Like many traveling oenophiles, we started our wine-tasting trail in Montpellier, the capital city of the Languedoc-Roussillon region, and only a quick hour flight south of Paris. The pretty city is home to the oldest medical school in Europe, founded in the 13th century, and has a young, lively vibe, thanks to the influx of students who come to study here. Bed down at the new Crowne Plaza Montpellier Hotel, just opened in July, which features fun, contemporary finishes in its 146 rooms (each floor showcases designer touches from a different continent), free Wi-Fi throughout, a pool terrace, and a cocktail lounge and Mediterranean-style restaurant. (Nightly rates from $171; www.crowneplaza.com)
PIC SAINT LOUP Continue due north to the bucolic farmlands and vineyards in Pic Saint Loup (translation: Peak Saint Wolf, named so for the craggy mountain peak reminiscent of a wolfs fang). Some fantastic wines are grown here, mostly from Mourvedre and Grenache grapes. Nestled among the vineyards of Coteaux du Languedoc, Ostal du Pic Saint Loup is a cozy bed and breakfast run by Bertrand Bosc. Home-cooked meals and friendly service included. (Package rates, including overnight, breakfast, dinner, wine-tasting, and shuttle start from $219/night; www.lostaldupicsaintloup.com) Another little gem just around the corner is La Cazarelle, a newly renovated three-room bed and breakfast surrounded by lush gardens and ponds. Breakfast is served alfresco on the poolside patio. (Nightly rates from $88; www.chambreshotes-lacazarelle.fr)
BELESTA The tiny village of Belesta, about 15 miles from Perpignan, is home to only 200+ residents and Cave le Riberach, a former wine cooperative turned boutique hotel and winery. The impressive remake has an industrial feel, 18 attractive rooms (some within the old vinification vats), gourmet restaurant La Cooperative, and a working winery and tasting cellar. (Nightly rates from $156; www.riberach.com)
BANYULS-SUR-MER & COLLIOURE Neighboring seaside towns Banyuls-sur-Mer and Collioure in Catalan country sit on the Mediterranean coast just north of Spain. The coastal stretch of Banyuls-sur-Mer is backed by bustling shop-lined streets with, of course, a few wineries here and there, like Domaine de Madeloc which produces delicious sweet wines like Banyuls and red Collioure, a blend of Grenache Noir, Mourvedre, Syrah, and Carignan grapes.
Picture-perfect Collioure has been attracting artists since the early 1900s. Matisse and Picasso came then to paint the medieval streets which havent changed much in the past 100 years, and are still today filled with easels and budding artists. Terraced vineyards wind up the hillsides behind the town where vintners produce chocolatey wines like Les Clos de Paulilles Banyuls Rimage. Hotel Golfe in Argeles-sur-Mer, located a mile from Collioure and 4 miles from Banyuls-Sur-Mer, comes with a heated outdoor pool, a terraced lounge overlooking the ocean, a rotating art exhibition, and 49 simple, contemporary rooms with balconies or patios. (Nightly rates from $121; www.hotel-du-golf.com)