SAY the words 'Châteauneuf du Pape' to a wine connoisseur and it's likely he'll fall to the floor in a swoon.
This wine region in the south of France produces some of the world's most coveted wines; people who enjoy a good drop and love to know where it comes from have great respect for the Châteauneuf du Pape label.
The drive to the charming ancient village brings on anticipation as it takes you through vineyards that stretch to the horizon.
Then there's the romantic history of the place.
The Romans made wine at Châteauneuf du Pape more than 2000 years ago and the ruins of the stone wine containers and vats fascinate in the evocative cellars at Le Verger des Papes.
When the Popes relocated from Rome to nearby Avignon in 1309, Pope John XXII built a summer castle, Castel Gandolfo, at Châteaneuf du Pape.
Obviously fond of a good drop, the Popes planted vines and did much to promote the wine growing region and advance the reputation of the area.
The proud ruins of Castel Gandolfo dominate the town and look over vast acres of vineyards planted by the Popes all those years ago.
Wine cellars and wine caves, bistros and restaurants, and just a few quality shops tucked away in narrow streets draw visitors from all over the world.
When we visited and wandered into Le Verger des Papes we were just behind a large group of Japanese tourists.
We watched as they listened obediently to the cellar master and then sniffed and swirled and sipped and spat with much serious nodding as though they knew exactly what they were doing. Just as we did.
Some of the wine caves are set deep into the earth.
Climbing down steep stone steps to step into a cool world of ancient stone walls surrounded by racks of wine bearing the famous Châteauneuf du Pape labels is the stuff of dreams.
We visited as many caves and cellars as we could in one day.
We love a good long lunch and studying the blackboard menus outside the charming bistros became quite the mission.
Most bistros offered a plat du jour (dish of the day) for about 10 euros and as we had discovered all over France, there is usually an add-on to the plat du jour, such as an amuse bouche, a green salad, or coffee and petit fours.
Although don't make the mistake I did, overestimating your French and ordering without asking for an English translation. Instead of ordering a pork tarte tartin, I ordered pork tartare - quite a different matter all together.
Getting rid of the raw chopped pork on my plate without offending our good waiter would have been impossible if I didn't have a husband who does not baulk at raw meat and took over for me.
You do not have to be a wine lover to enjoy strolling the narrow flower-filled streets of Châteauneuf du Pape, and the surrounding green countryside is a drawcard for hikers and cyclists.
IF YOU GO
- Château Neuf du Pape produces the Cote du Rhone wine, a red wine from the region bearing the same name.
- Chateauneuf du Pape is on the east side of the Rhone River, south of Orange.
- The French Popes lived in Avignon Rome from 1309 to 1378 and built summer residences with vineyards in Chateauneuf du Pape.
- History of the region reveals the Rhone River valley was one of the earliest wine regions of France.
- The Romans used the area for wine production and used the river to ship wine and grains south to the seaports as they established provincial centres in Arles, Avignon, St Remy, Orange, and Nimes.
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