Wine Tours in South-West France - Towards the Pyrenees

Wink Lorch's picture

The South-West of France is a huge area in wine terms, stretching from south-east of Bordeaux to Toulouse and on southwards to the Pyrenees and the border with Spain.  Criss-crossed by rivers such as the Dordogne, Garonne, Lot and Tarn, it has numerous valleys ideal for wine growing.  A visit requires some detailed planning, especially of where to be based, and depending how long you are going for, you may well want to consider two or three bases. This is a region of small towns and villages, with a rich countryside, with modest family-run hotels and B&Bs and country restaurants. If you want sophistication, best pay a visit before or after your visit to the cities of Bordeaux or Toulouse), both ideal to start or end your trip.


Wine Travel Guides - South West France

South West France – Between Bordeaux and the Pyrenees


Our three travel guides to the wine regions are divided into the Dordogne, an area beloved by the English and other northern Europeans, many of whom have second homes there; the Valleys of the Tarn and Lot, with famous towns such as Albi, Rodez and Cahors, the latter also known for its so-called ‘black wines’; and thirdly Gascony and the Basque country, home to Armagnac brandy, rich food including foie gras and incorporating the vineyards on the foothills of the Pyrenees. I am really fortunate to have persuaded noted expert on the wines of this region and long-term part-time South-West resident Paul Strang to write these guides and he keeps them rigorously up-to-date too. Paul’s brand new book ‘The Wines and Wine-makers of South-West France’  has recently been published in French and in English, by The University of California Press.

Before giving you a few tasters of these guides, a word about the wines, which really provide something for everyone, as they come in all colours and styles. Those who prefer wines from familiar grape varieties will find that Bergerac, Duras, Buzet and others from Dordogne are made from Bordeaux varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and for whites, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. The more adventurous wine drinkers amongst you may be delighted to find that this region has a plethora of obscure grape varieties, probably more than any other region of France. Some of you might have heard of Petit Manseng or Tannat, but what about the really strange sounding Len de L’El (also known as Loin de l’Oeil) or Fer Servadou? Paul Strang writes about these varieties:

“The vineyards are on or close to the roads taken by pilgrims in the Middle Ages to St-Jacques de Compostelle, and historians believe that these rare grape varieties were perhaps brought back from Spain by the pilgrims as they stopped off for refreshment, rest and worship at the medieval abbey churches such as Conquest."


The Dordogne, an easy journey from Bordeaux , used to be a centre for tobacco (who knew?) as well as wine and Paul writes:

“It is a land of romantic castles, of battle-torn history between rival religions, of elegant manor houses and Romanesque churches, and of course the cooking of the Périgord, world-famous partner for the regional wines. Bergerac [the main town] is thriving: its local light industries jostle with the traditional businesses of wine growing, the diminishing tobacco trade and the canning and preserving of local foie gras and other pâtés and fruits. Most of the interest is in the old town, a small area leading down a sloping terrace of land towards the Dordogne and the old port. The summer season attracts crowds to the many small restaurants specializing in the local wines and foods.”


As a lover of mountains and vineyards in the foothills, Gascony is high on my list of ‘Places I must visit soon’ – I confess to having never been there and it would be easy to combine a wine tour with another passion of mine, jazz. The region boasts an international jazz festival each August in the town of Marciac – that and my favourite brandy, Armagnac and I don’t know what’s stopped me so far. There’s even an original character to the people, as Paul writes:

“Gascons used to be regarded by Parisians as mad or uncouth or both. But even in the French capital they recognize the wonderful originality and quality of the food and wines which come from this extreme southwest corner of France. It is a largely unexplored area, apart from the holiday beaches leading down to Biarritz, the slightly anglicized town of Pau and the pilgrimage town of Lourdes.”


Paul’s favourite area is inevitably the one where he and his wife Jeanne, who has also written cookery books, own their house – in the Tarn and Lot. Paul writes:


“The countryside is breathtakingly beautiful, sometimes wild as the rivers tumble through chestnut woods, or sometimes gentle and pastoral as they water the duck farms, walnut plantations, strawberry fields and plum orchards of the valleys further west. The limestone plateaux above the Lot are an important centre of truffle production, the ‘black diamond’ as it is called by cooks all over the world. The local cuisine is equally famous, for here you find confits and magrets of duck, the decadent cheesy potato dish enriched by cream and garlic called aligot, an inexhaustible range of charcuterie, pâtés and, of course, the famous foie gras.”


Paul Strang’s complete travel guides to the South West of France  can be viewed free on our website since a big change we made in November 2009. Once you get closer to planning a tour, you can purchase each travel guide as an attractive PDF to print the pages you need  - I’d recommend becoming a Gold member of our site so that you can download the latest guides at any time – there’s a special membership discount for visitors to the Wandering Educators site at our Wine Travel Guides Section.



Wink Lorch is the Wine Travel Guides Editor for Wandering Educators