Top 10 wine regions in Europe by train
Europe has hundreds of wine regions, many of which are accessible by train, so defining the top 10 wine regions in Europe is quite a challenge. But with a Eurail pass, a good map, and sufficient knowledge of Europe’s regional trains, you could consider weaving a few of these destinations into your European travel plans.
Porto and the Douro Valley, Portugal
Fortified wines around the world have mistakenly become known simply as “Port”. But like Champagne, there is only one place to get the real deal. The grapes used to produce these typically sweet red wines are cultivated along northern Portugal’s Douro River. The railway line along the Douro, from Porto to Pocinho, is a remarkable feat of engineering, with several tunnels and bridges making a spectacular and scenic journey through the wine country. The city of Porto is the place where much of the tipple is fermented. Take the train directly to São Bento station in the city center and head over to Gaia, where you’ll find the cellars that store and age Port. Most of the cellars offer tours and tastings.
Bordeaux, in the southwest of France, is the largest wine-producing region of the world’s largest wine-producing country. Bordelais have been fermenting grapes into elegant blends since the eighth century. To get a feel for the region, head to the town of Saint-Émilion. There are numerous producers all over Bordeaux, but Saint-Émilion is easily accessible by regional rail from Bordeaux city and offers historical attractions beyond vineyard tours and wine tastings.
Piemonte, as it’s called in Italian, is a wine-growing region in the northwest of the country dominated by the big boys, Barolo and Barbaresco. Nebbiolo grapes are king here, and wines are characterized by deep tannins and great longevity. Other wines you may want to try or buy in Piedmont are Barbera d’Asti, Barbera del Monferrato, Dolcetto d’Asti, Moscato d’Asti and, Asti Spumante. Asti and Alba are the two main cities in this notable wine region. They are most easily reached by regional trains (which require no fee or reservation) from Turin, and less frequently from Milan.
Champagne hardly needs an introduction. The region is easily accessible by rail on a day trip from Paris. Or you could spend the night and take in tastings and tours of a few of the famous Champagne-producing houses headquartered in Reims. At some, you can venture into wine cellars that were dug into the limestone below the city centuries ago. For a small-town Champagne experience, get off the train early at Épernay. The high-speed TGV train whisks passengers to Reims from Paris in less than an hour but requires a reservation and a 9-euro fee. There are limited seats available on TGV trains, but you can always hop on a regional train, which makes the journey in about two hours.
Germany ranks fourth in European wine production after France, Italy, and Spain, and the country has an efficient rail network. To taste some outstanding German wine, you’ll want to head to Mosel. While most people associate Germany with beer, wine production here has generated some highly sought-after bottles. The riverside train ride between Cochem and Koblenz is quite scenic, and both Cochem and Trier make excellent bases for exploring the Mosel wine region.
La Rioja, Spain
La Rioja is a small region in northern Spain that has grown famous due to Tempranillo, Spain’s noble grape. The strong and full-bodied wines gain their character from the long time they spend aging in oak barrels. La Rioja wines are best sampled on a night-long tapas and wine crawl through the regional capital of Logroño. The train station at Logroño is equally distant from Barcelona and Madrid, and the city also sits along the ancient Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route. Nearly all long-distance trains in Spain, including the Alvia and AVE – trains you’re likely to use for Logroño – require a reservation. Keep an eye out for the reservation-free Intercity trains when planning.
Hungary is an underappreciated wine country, but a well-developed one with more than a thousand years of winemaking experience. There are 22 wine regions in the country. Tokaj-Hegyalja, Hungary’s best-known wine region, has been declared a World Heritage Site. An excellent place to start your exploration here is in the foothills of the Zemplén Mountains, in Tokaj. This locale is famous for its full-bodied sweet dessert wine, Tokaji Aszú. A 3-4 hour train ride from Budapest gives you the chance to sip the wine in the place where it’s made.
Italy’s Tuscany is comprised of individual wine regions, the most notable being Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, Montepulciano, and Carmignano. While the rail network here doesn’t quite reach every little wine village and town between Florence and Siena, it does get you efficiently to either city, both of which are extraordinary destinations in their own right.
Moravia, Czech Republic
Czech Republic is another country famous for its beers. Yet in Moravia, on the country’s east side, wine is favored. Wine lovers will want to make a beeline for southern Moravia, which is only 90 minutes from Vienna, Austria, by rail. Znojmo is a good town to get oriented to Moravia’s wine, culture, and history.
Rhône Valley, France
A personal favorite of mine, the Rhône Valley of France is a highly underrated wine region. It produces some deep, dark wines dominated by Syrah. The Rhône covers a large swath of territory. It can be broken down broadly into the northern Côtes du Rhône, south of Lyon, and the southern Côtes du Rhône, around Orange and Avignon. Tain-l’Hermitage is a riverside town surrounded by hillside vineyards, and the town has an abundance of places to sip some tasty northern Rhône wines. To view the vineyards and wineries from your window and stop at the region’s wine-producing towns, take the scenic French regional rail.
Fancy dropping by some of Europe’s wine hotspots? Check out the Eurail Global Pass