I’ve read a lot of pieces over the years with this title or similar, which prompted me to wonder how many wine regions of the world the author or participants in the survey have visited. As a consequence of my career choice, I’ve had the very good fortune to visit a lot. Truth be told, there aren’t many that I haven’t visited. So I thought I’d hazard a listicle of my top 10 most beautiful wine regions to visit. Bear in mind, most of the occasions I’ve visited these places were purely for work. More often than not, I’m travelling on my own and working 12 hour days to pack-in all the necessary visits and tastings. But occasionally I have to stop, pull my rental car off the road and allow my jaw to drop as I take in the beauty all around me. So here’s my list of the very best of those moments:
1) Central Otago (+Waitaki), New Zealand
Everything you’ve seen in The Hobbit is truly there in Central Otago in all its magical splendor. But if you want an extra wow special experience, start driving north east from Queenstown, make a side trip to Lake Wanaka and then continue on through North Otago into the Waitaki region and to Lake Tekapo, a gorgeous little town in the shadow of Mount Cook.
2) Tuscany, Italy
Yep, it is every bit as drop dead gorgeous as folks say it is. After you’ve checked out the big hands on Michelangelo’s David in Florence, head away from the tourists into the idyllic countryside. My favorite towns: Panzano and Sienna. BTW, if you haven’t seen it yet, you've got to watch Monica Larner’s great video featuring The Butcher from Panzano.
3) Languedoc-Roussillon, France
Let’s face it, France is pretty gorgeous all ‘round, only to be outdone perhaps by Italy. Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne are charming in their own way, but not real “wow” places to visit in terms of scenery. The Loire, Jura, Alsace and Provence are truly spectacular in their own rights. But I just love the tranquil, bucolic mountains and ocean views of Languedoc-Roussillon with its ancient, cobbled stone streets and fortified villages. Throw in great food, quaint sea-side stops like Beziers and the must-see historic city of Carcassonne and you’re onto a winner!
4) Willamette Valley, Oregon
The USA’s Pacific Northwest coast is all totally mind-blowing. But my favorite getaway for sheer beauty has to be Oregon. Plus, Oregon’s amazing coastline is just a short drive from the Willamette Valley wine region and well worth a side-trip!
5) Andalucía, Spain
Just the thought of Andalucía’s unspoiled, natural beauty puts butterflies in my stomach and has me checking flights on Expedia. To be fair, this is a HUGE area and one not to be explored in a day or two; you’ll need at least 10-14 days to really see it in all its splendor. My recommended route/itinerary would be Malaga, Marbella, Gibraltar, Cadiz and ending up in the stunning city of Seville with its breathtaking Moorish architectural influences. You gotta be a huge fan of Sherry / Montilla for this trip…and boy am I in that camp!
6) Waiheke Island, New Zealand
Yes, New Zealand gets two plugs on this list and the extra mention is totally justified because the whole country is so darn gorgeous! A short ferry journey from Auckland is the gorgeous island of Waiheke. Make that extra journey if you’re in Auckland – you’ll regret it if you don’t!
7) Santorini, Greece
I have not been back to Santorini since my post college days spent backpacking around Europe. The beauty of Santorini has been etched in my mind ever since.
8) Margaret River, Australia
Although I come here often for work, I've also been many times to Margaret River on vacation with the family. I love this place and its wines so much, I consider moving here each trip. Gorgeous beaches, tranquil Karri forests and lovely little towns are all to this region's credit - if you fancy a dip though, just keep your eyes peeled for Great Whites!
9) Limari, Chile
A short plane journey north of Santiago gets you to this pretty little gem of a region, with some pretty amazing wines too.
10) Paarl, South Africa
I’ve only been to South Africa once, but that was enough to make my shortlist here. Just. Stunning.