I thought I knew how to ride a bicycle until I moved to France, where I discovered that you do not need special shoes—any old pair of five-inch heels will do. In France, I learned that helmets are for rugby and that a bike clip is what fastens your skirt to the saddle so your underpants won’t show (where I come from, it’s the thing that attaches your shoe to the pedal so you can pump like a maniac). I learned that wine is an energy drink—something farm hands and dockworkers have known for centuries—and that the best way to tour Burgundy, or almost any wine region, is on two wheels, sampling the local terroir as you go.
Here are some top wine areas for exploring on two wheels.
A magical relationship exists between bicycles and vineyards, a symbiosis that has a lot to do with geography.
“The main thing is that the roads that vintners take to get to their grapes are paved small trails, perfect for biking,” says Tyler Dillon, a travel planner who has put together many vineyard biking trips. “Second, the distances between villages are just right, a comfortable 10 to 15 kilometers [about 6 to 9 miles]. They work well with mealtimes. You can ride for two or three hours in the morning, ending at noon in a small village that’s serving a Michelin-star lunch.”
Wine regions are accessible to cyclists of all skill levels.
“The gradual changes in elevation that are suitable for growing grapes are also good for cycling. If you haven’t been training you can stay at the lower altitudes.”
The pace is just right.
“There’s also a certain pace of life that’s appealing. You’re immersed in a culture that’s based on seasonality, on a crop and cycles of nature. It’s a slower pace than in a big city, a pace that matches with biking. On a bike you’re forced to slow down and take it all in.”
Traveling on the ground helps you understand what comes out of the ground.
“To understand a bottle of wine you have to understand the region where it’s grown—the rocks, the soil, the humidity in the morning, what time the sun rises. That’s what you want to walk away from on a bike trip. You want to smell the lavender. You can’t do that in a car.”
Where to Plan a Wine Region Bike Trip
Tyler names his favorite wine-country destinations for cyclists:
Burgundy: “Not too far from Paris, so you can catch a train there pretty easily. If you get off in Dijon and go south, every town you stop in you’ve seen on a bottle of wine.”
Piedmont, Italy: “A close second to Burgundy, with similar geography but like a big bowl, so instead of going from point A to point B you can do the trip in a circle.”
Rioja: “It feels a little more adventurous than the first two because the climate is more stark and Don Quixote–like. The vineyards spring out of the shale rock and it’s very dramatic.”
Bordeaux: “Great country roads and great food.”
Côte du Rhone: “Dry Mediterranean climate, shaley soil, and a rugged countryside with secluded pockets that feel like no one has been there since the Romans.”
Tuscany: “Hillier than Burgundy or Bordeaux or the Côte du Rhone; it feels like biking through a painting. It’s also quite hot. In hot climates, there’s a little more of a looseness and a celebratory feel in the culture and the wines are more flavorful. The geography is epic, with stunning vistas; when you bike through it you feel like you have a full orchestra behind you.”