West of Bédoin

WEST OF BEDOIN

The Wine Itinerary & The Ardèche

Wines of the Southern Rhône

As you drive south from Tain-l’Hermitage the steep sided vineyards of the northern Rhône give way to the open plains of the south. here wine production changes. To the north, where the climate is typically continental, the wines are big, lumbering and tannic. By contrast, to the south where the climate is Mediterranean with more predictable temperatures, the wines are more fruit-forward, spicier and more approachable. It’s the famous communes of this region which this itinerary will visit.

Winery Visits

It’s almost impossible in this region to go more than half a kilometer without seeing a sign inviting you to taste wines. There almost all good and so I’m not going to recommend any in particular – just take your pick.

Vineyards of AOC Beaumes de Venise

Bédoin to Beaumes de Venise

Leave Bédoin via the D974 south in the direction of Carpentras. After about 5kms take the first exit off the roundabout (past Utile supermarket) and follow the D85 up the hill into the village of Saint-Pierre-de-Vassol. At the T junction turn right onto the D55 which will take you to Caromb. In Caromb follow the one-way system round and take the D21 sign posted Beaumes de Venise.

Although the red wines of this region are increasingly growing in reputation, it’s the sweet vin doux naturel made from the muscat grape for which the village is justly famous. The ancient process involves arresting the fermentation at around 5º-6º by adding alcohol. This kills the yeast, thereby stopping the fermentation, and preserves the delightful sweetness. It makes an excellent apéritif when served straight from the fridge – better still (although perhaps a bit of a heresy) served long with soda water.

Beaumes de Venise – Vacqueyras – Gigondas

From Beaumes de Venise take the D7 to Vacqueyras. The wines from this village have always suffered  from being caught between the twin peaks of Gigondas and Châteauneuf du Pape and are unfairly thought of as a poor relation of both. However, when you consider them on their own merit, the wines of AOC Vacqueyras make a very delicious impression on the wines of the southern Rhône. The soil is sandier here than in the better known regions of the area  and the grapes ripen sooner. The results are slightly, more approachable wines and very good value.

A tasting spot worth visiting is the impressive co-operative called Rhônea. You’ll find it on the right hand side as you drive towards Gigondas. It’s a cooperative of over 400 wine-growers in the region and an excellent place to get an introduction to the whole area under one roof.

From Vacqueyras take the D7 out of the village. After about 3kms turn right onto the D80 into the village of Gigondas. This is possibly the best spot on the tour for a lunch break. There are three or four restaurants all of which are good but I would recommend either of the two in the centre of the village under the plane trees. If you feeling wealthy then try L’Oustalet, if you want something a little less pricey the Du Verre à l’assiette opposite is excellent.

As to the wines, although Châteauneuf du Pape dominates the region, the difference in quality between Gigondas and its more famous neighbour is one of stye rather than quality. Here the chalkier soil tends to produce slightly more aromatic and gentler wines.

Gigondas Vineyards

Gigondas Vineyards

Gigondas to Châteauneuf du Pape

Retrace your steps back to the D7 then turn left and first right onto the D8. At la Bégude turn left onto the D977. Continue straight on for about 15kms trying to ignore the fact that the D77 becomes the D950 then the D72. After crossing the A7 motorway in about 3kms turn left onto the D68 which will take you into Châteauneuf du Pape.

The village itself is all you would expect from one of the great tourist honeypots of France; plenty of expensive hotels and restaurants and row upon row of wine-shops trying to entice you in to taste and buy.

Apart from great quality of the wines found here there are two quirks for which the area is famous. Firstly there are eighteen grape varieties for red permitted in the appellation. By contrast there is just one in Burgundy (Pinot Noir) and only six in the Médoc region of Bordeaux. The other distinctive feature are the galets. This is the name given to the large flat stones which cover many of the vineyards and which help to regulate the temperature throughout the day and night and act as excellent water retention during the long, hot, dry summers.

In reality the principal grapes are the grenache, the syrah and mouvèdre. The red wines reach some of the highest levels of alcohol in France. In fact, at 12.5% they have highest minimum requirement  of any appellation. They can reach as much as 16%, particularly as a result of the effects of climate change, so be careful if you’re planning a walk up to the ruins of the château after lunch.

Les galets

East from Châteauneuf du Pape

Vineyards of Châteauneuf du Pape

Châteauneuf du Pape – Tavel – Lirac

No trip to Provence would be complete without a visit to one of its most famous Rosé producing areas. Take the D17 west out of Châteuneuf du Pape, after 5.5kms tun left onto the D976 towards Roquemaure. Cross the Rhône and continue south on the D976 and after about 6kms turn right onto the D4 to Tavel and Lirac.

Traditionally the Rosés of this region were dark pink and powerful, made as ideal partners for the strong flavours of the region. More recently there had been a move towards a slightly lighter style but with no lessening of quality.

Lirac – Cairanne – Rasteau – Vinsobres

Crossing back over the Rhône at Roquemaure head towards Cairanne. This is an appellation which has had a deservedly growing reputation in recent years producing reds from grenache, syrah and mouvèdre to rival some of the best of the region. Further north the charming hilltop villages of Rasteau and Vinsobres take back off the plain of the southern Rhône and into the foothills of Drôme.

THE ARDECHE

Just fifty minutes drive from Bédoin is the start of the spectacular Ardèche gorges. The best way to experience the gorges is to start at Vallon-Pont-D’Arc. You can either follow the signs for the Gorges and take the D290 along the 40km twisty road that traces the Ardèche river way below you. There are several look out stops along the way – you won’t be disappointed. There’s talk of this natural phenomenon being a rival to the Grand Canyon – that’s stretching it a bit, but if you’re not planning on being in Arizona any time soon this will more than do.

Kayaking

Unlike Colardo river at the Grand Canyon, the Ardèche is realtively sleepy and a perfect place to hire a kayak and drift along admiring the stunning scenary as you go. There are some rapids to be negotiated but nothing like a knuckle ride on the Colarado. Again, the best place to start is at Vallon-Pont-D’Arc. There are a variety of trips that you can take including the amazing two-dayer, camping along the way. Whichever one you take they’re all one-way with the flow. The rental company will pick you up at designahted drop-offs and return you to base.

Swimming

There are plenty of places to swim along the river but I would recommend two. Firstly at Le Pont D’Arc which is a breath-taking natural arch over the river, situated about half way along the trip. Park up in the official carpark and take your bathers down to the river. A swim under the arch itself is an awesome and sobering experience.

The second recommended swimming spot is at Saint Martin D’Ardeche – or almost. It’s a secret that seems only known to locals and closely guarded by them. It’s called the Plage de Sauze which is accessed off the D290 via the Route de Sauze. Search ‘Camping de Gorges’ Saint Martin D’Ardèche on maps. There’s plenty of parking but be aware that it’s paying.

Access to the river here is off lovely smooth rocks. The river is wide and gentle and is a great place to spend a peacful afternoon. If there was one slight downside it’s that there’s not much shade so if you can take a sun umbrella that would be advisable.

Les Gorges de L'Ardèche

Le Pont D'Arc

Les Gorges de L'Ardèche

Plage de Sauze, Saint-Martin d'Ardèche