Seen in the City are always on the lookout for beautiful new cities to explore, so when the opportunity arose to jet to the wine region of Bandol in the South of France with Princess Cruises, we were off before you could say “Sauvignon Blanc…”
We arrived bright and early to Marseilles airport before bussing it to the region of Bandol, a quaint town in the Southern region. It is resplendent with tall trees, glittering meadows, vineyards, valleys and streams making it one of the most picturesque locations we have visited in Europe. Thanks to the lush climate, good water source and fertile soil it is one of the most internationally recognised wine regions in France and is particularly famed for their rosé wines.
Our tour of the region commenced with a look around of one of the oldest functioning villages in the area. The epitome of traditional France, it buzzed with a myriad of sounds, smells and feels- fat strawberries and lemons swelling out of fruit punnets, street food sizzling in pans, buildings finished in cool stone and cobbled streets leading the way. The sun was warm and delicious on our necks, lending a breathtaking golden sheen to the postcard-picturesque views which tumbled below.
After a satisfying perusal of the beautiful town in Bandol we stopped for lunch at Le Bistrot de Jef, a Michelin star restaurant ran by chef Jean-François Bérard. You can read our full review of the experience here.
Feeling deeply satisifed and full, we were herded back to the minibus for our next stop – La Domaine De La Garenne, a local vineyard. Our guide Beatrix de Balincourt explains how it has been in her family for over 300 years and covers 27 hectares of land. The vines grow exceptionally well thanks to the microclimate and 3000 hours of sunshine.
The grapes are all hand-picked when ripe and contain no chemicals or sulphates (which means no hangover the next day – both welcoming and dangerous!) There are 5000 plants per hectare which produce 70% rosé and 30% red wine with some years seeing a little bit of white wine. It was so interesting to see the rows of fat vines reaching towards the sun, tiny grapes just starting to grow.
We were also treated to a tour around the inside of the vineyard and were show the large barrels which the wine in stored in. Thanks to the thick stone walls the wine is kept cool naturally whilst it is enduring the ageing process. We got to try six different rosé and red wines they produce – each delicious – and if you want to try yourself, you’ll need to head to the vineyard. They export 30% of the wine they produce but didn’t say where, so if you’re game for a bottle (and we recommend you are) then it’s worth a trip to the region.
Stop two was to the vineyard Domaines Bunan, owned by brothers Paul and Pierre Bunan in 1961. Philippe, our guide, is in charge of the winemaking and works by the motto that “good wine can be made when the vine is respected.” After tasting we were in agreement that yes, they must take trés trés bien care of their vines. A patchwork of fields are knitted together, vines, flowers and trees blooming beneath the sweltering french sun. This vineyard is beautiful to look at and we’re told they’re becoming popular for weddings. (Beautiful surroundings and unlimited vino – sounds good to us!) The grapes here grow so well, again, thanks to the climate and also due to the high-limestone levels in the soil which balances out with the humidity of the sea breeze to provide the ideal acidity levels.
We were treated again to a tour of the inside workings of the vineyard, large barrels stood uniformly around a vast, cold room. Apparently, years ago, after school little children were sent inside through a large hatch to clean out the barrels and thanks to the alcohol fumes ended up rather tipsy by the end! (Beats a job waiting tables in a cafe anyday!)
After a tour, we got to try six of their wines, including a very rich red, all of which were sumptuously delicious. There’s something about reclining in the warm French sunshine, a glass of wine in hand, standing looking over where it all came from, that makes it taste that bit better. The most surprising thing was just how good the rosé was, in the UK I feel it has a bit of a sidelined rep. Shunned for white and red at mealtimes – white for the white meats and red for the red meats, leaving no clear slot for our friend rosé to fill, instead becoming a party favour or choice to slosh around at a boozy lunch in the sun. The vineyard tours and the tastings of such fine rosé proved to me that it is a clear contender in the wine game and one we need to start taking a bit more seriously.
Both of these Bandol tours can be booked when you head to Toulon on a Princess Cruise. Our day trip shows that when cruising there is so much you can fit into your stop at port and it’s worth heading out a little further to explore the areas rather than staying around port as some people tend to do. Take a look at the excursions you can book with Princess Cruises here…