This incredibly scenic drive through the southern Côtes-du-Rhône Villages isn’t just for wine lovers.
It starts and finishes in the Medieval walled city of Avignon, passing through beautiful countryside and several wine-growing villages before finishing in perhaps the most famous of all, Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
The itinerary is a tour of Avignon and the Comtat Venaissan which includes all the major wine producing villages of the Côtes du Rhône. Avignon itself is a magical place although, for many, the real stars are the villages.
A note of caution:
Wines of the Côtes-du-Rhône are very strong, (Typically 14%), so if you wish to take part in la degustation (tasting) before buying, it is recommended that at least one member of your group does not drink any alcohol. The police enforce the law vigorously and it is worth bearing in mind that the blood alcohol concentration limit is 0.05 in France as against 0.08 in the UK and the USA.
This fascinating walled city is a great place to stay either before or during the itinerary and there is so much to see. I have highlighted two of these: the Palais des Papes and the Pont St-Bénezet. You could choose to admire both before or after your tour but it takes a couple of hours to explore the Palais so it may be best to leave this till another time.
Leave Avignon by the D225. After 7.5km at le Pontet take the D942 in the direction of Carpentras for 18.5km. Carpentras, an important centre for wine, used to be the capital of the Comtat Venaissin, the Avignon Pope’s own territory within France. In fact, many of the world famous wine villages on this itinerary are in the Comtat. Perhaps this says something about the Avignon Popes’ interest in, and enjoyment of, the wonderful robust red wines of the region and who could blame them?
Carpentras is an ideal place for lunch – there is a good selection of restaurants in a relatively small area.
Drive north from Carpentras on the D7 for 6km until you reach the D90. Turn right and in 3km you will reach Beaumes-de-Venise below the limestone slabs of the Dentelles de Montmirial. The produce here was enjoyed by the Romans who knew a thing or two about wine. In medieval times St Louis considered it an essential accompaniment during his journey to the Crusades.
Rejoin the D7 to the circular village of Vacqueras complete with walls and a 12th Century belltower. Continue for 4.5km till you reach Gigondas a village founded by Roman soldiers and originally known for its white wine. Nowadays, red is king and known by many as the little brother of Châteauneuf du Pape. Leave Gigondas on the D79 and after 1.9km turn right onto the D7 passing Sablet, another wine village. Finally you will reach the Plus Beau Village of Séguret nestling at the foot of a steep hill.
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Leave Séguret and turn right onto the D88. After 4.5km at the roundabout take the 2nd exit onto the D7 passing through Rouix. At the next roundabout take the 4th exit (D975) and after 3km you will arrive at Rasteau where the red wine only gained ‘Appellation’ status in 2010.
Now it’s time to meet the cheeky ones! Leave Rasteau on the D69 and continue 5km to Cairanne, an unpretentious village whose inhabitants, known, for some reason lost in time, as ‘the cheeky ones’, nevertheless produce wine of the very highest status.
No tour of the Côte du Rhône villages would be complete without a visit to the village where perhaps the best known of all these splendid, fruity and robust wines are produced – Châteauneuf-du-Pape. From Cairanne take the D8 south for 7.5 km. At the roundabout take the first exit for 8.5km and at the next roundabout take the D950 for about 3km. At the final roundabout take the 3rd exit, the D92, pass through Couthézon. After 4km you will arrive in Châteauneuf.
It is fitting that this is the last stop because the popes built their retreat here in the 14th century. What better place to enjoy a goblet or two of the red stuff.
Follow the signs to Avignon and you should be back in 25-30 minutes. Take the D907 turning onto D225 which follows the south bank of the Rhône to the free Parking des Italiens on the left from which you can access the City.
Choose any convenient car parking (see map) and and explore the city a little before choosing one of the many restaurants available. If you’ve time before eating try to see the Pont St-Bénézet and the Palais des Papes in evening light. The best panorama is from the Île de Piot in the centre of the Rhône.
To book a suitable hotel or other accommodation in Avignon, you can use the map below, which shows current prices for hotels and apartments. To book further afield, then just enlarge the map (+/-) to see more properties or if you have somewhere particular in mind, enter your preferred city/town/village in the ‘Where are you going?’ box.