By Cheryl Antier

If you’re planning to travel to the south of France in the near future, think about adding a trip to one of the vineyards of the 60 wine growers in the “Côtes de Provence” region to your vacation itinerary.

A small, yet beautiful area, the Provence area of wines takes in the departments of the Var and part of the Bouches-du-Rhône.

An indigo sky, azure sea and miles of white, sandy beaches welcome you to this place. Limestone cliffs and medieval villages give way to miles of sharply-scented pine forests that shelter and protect peaceful lakes and lazy, winding rivers.

Whether you prefer to stay in a bustling, crowded metropolis with all the modern conveniences, or a turn-of-the-century country guest house filled with 17th and 18th century antiques, in Provence your days will be filled with sunshine and warmth, and your nights lush and full of promise, scented with jasmine, lavender and wild thyme.

Perhaps because of the breathtaking beauty of the Mediterranean Sea and the abundance of tourist attractions on found in Nice, Cannes and elsewhere along the French Riviera, Provence is often overlooked by those companies that offer traditional wine tasting tours, in spite of the excellence of its wines.

2600 years ago, the Phoenicians settled in what is now France and created the first vineyards to honor Bacchus (the God of wine). They left behind a legacy of full-bodied wines that have a sparkle and fullness that is as rich as the area they are grown in.

In Provence, as everywhere in the Mediterranean, you’ll find the people full of warmth, spontaneity and a “joie de vivre”. As you will soon discover, any of these master oenologists or vintners (wine growers) will be delighted to introduce you to the wines they have become famous for – and share a little of the region’s history with you.

If you’re very lucky, and your host is in the right mood, he might even share some closely guarded secrets of how to blend the right food with exactly the right wine, something that most French wine growers are passionate about!

As it is throughout all of France, winemaking in Provence is a serious business. Many of the winegrowers here have won the rights to include the prestigious “AOC” designation (Appellation d’Origine Controlee) on their bottles of wines. This label assures the buyer of a guaranteed vintage from the designated region.

In order to win the right to become designated as an appellation wine, winegrowers much pass rigorous tests and inspections. This is a truly prestigious and coveted award, as only the Ministry of Agriculture in Paris can bestow the title of an AOC on a wine.

As you will discover from the first delicious sip, the Côtes de Provence winegrowers are experts in utilizing traditional methods when harvesting and bottling their wines. Their deep respect for the soil, the climate and the different varieties of grapes they use comes through in the quality and taste of each bottle.

Want some ideas for where to go? Located in the heart of Provence’s winemaking region, the “Maison des Côtes de Provence” boasts an outstanding selection of appellation wines. Or try stopping in at one of the cooperative wine stores, where you can sample the wines of many different growers. (Be prepared either to buy a bottle or two, or be charged for tasting however. Winegrowers here want you to try their delicious vintages, but business is business!)

If you’re not worried about the thickness of your waist (or your wallet), a visit to the four-star restaurant the “Bacchus Gourmand” is a must, where you can savor real Provençal cuisine accompanied (of course) by the perfect bottle of a Côtes de Provence wine.

Or try sampling a home-cooked meal at one of the many out of the way cafes you’ll find tucked away on a narrow side street in any village, where your host is also often your chef, and he will be delighted to recommend a wine to you.

If you choose to take one of the organized tours that are available, you can even arrange to take a wine tasting course at one of the vineyards. Your host will do his best to give you a complete understanding of wine: its robe (color), its bouquet (perfume), its body (strength) and everything you need to know about service, conservation etc.

The Provence Rosés were the first wines ever produced here in the region. It is from these excellent vintages that the reputation of the Côtes de Provence was built on. Dry and fruity, recognizable by their brilliance – that touch of light so characteristic of Provence, these wines are enjoyed and appreciated throughout the world.

For the lover of white wines, Provence wines never fail to delight. A top producer of a wide selection of white wines, you’ll find varieties that have been described as lively, fresh, supple or fleshy. Whether you’re a true wine connoisseur or a novice, you’ll find these wines add a new dimension to Mediterranean fish and shellfish.

Depending on the terroir (the special interaction that takes place between the vine, micro climate and soil), the red wines of Provence are fruity and supple, bursting on your tongue with the subtle flavors of red berries and flowers.

Come and sample the subtle flavors of Provence’s wines, and of the French Riviera, and enjoy life the way it was meant to be enjoyed – one delicious taste at a time.

Learn all about where to go and what to do in the French Riviera from an American who lives there! Discover the best places to eat, stay and shop. Why settle for an ordinary vacation, when you can create an extraordinary one? French Riviera Vacation Guide