Autumn is a magical time to visit northern hemisphere vineyards; the vines glow golden and green in the late summer sun, there’s still enough daylight to explore the great outdoors and for many harvest is full swing so the sights, sounds and smells of this annual activity are high in the air.
With UK vineyards and wineries beginning to realise the opportunities that tourism brings, many now offer rooms or guesthouses in amongst the vines, opening up a whole new world to explore for the wine-loving traveller.
Here we take a look at some of the best vineyard stays accessible by train, and as well as the best places to stay in the UK there are many possibilities further afield in mainland Europe, all striking distance from railway stations and easy to get to via Eurostar from London St. Pancras.
So if a quick hop to some of the UK’s most exciting estates, or a day on a train racing through Europe with your feet up, a glass in one hand and a novel in the other, sounds like the perfect autumn getaway, there’s plenty here to inspire you…
Nearest station: Headcorn
The Kent winery has teamed up with the local Sissinghurst Castle Farmhouse Bed and Breakfast – on the Sissinghurst Castle Gardens National Trust estate – to offer travellers a base from where to explore the surrounding area, including of course the Chapel Down wine estate. Packages include vineyard and winery tours, a tutored tasting and a lesson in sabrage – not for the faint-hearted! From central London you can be in the Garden of England enjoying a glass of English fizz in under two hours.
- Chapel Down Winery & Store, Small Hythe, Tenterden, Kent TN30 7NG
- Open 10am-5pm.
- Vineyard tour and tastings: booking in advance advisable.
Nearest station: Seaford
A stone’s throw from the south coast is one of the UK’s newest wine estates. Rathfinny was established by Sarah and Mark Driver in 2010 and is pushing to become one of the UK’s premium sparkling wine houses. As well as its Sussex fizz Rathfinny makes still wine under the Cradle Valley label and gin. Its Flint Barns are the perfect retreat after a day by the sea or on the South Downs, offering open fires, snugs and home-cooked meals in the dining room.
- Rathfinny Wine Estate, Alfriston, East Sussex BN26 5TU
- Cradle Valley winter tour & tasting: selected dates November-March. Buy tickets in advance.
Nearest station: Dorking
Head to the Surrey Hills and one of England’s largest wine estates for a stay in the UK’s first vineyard hotel. Denbies, near Dorking (less than an hour by train from London), was planted in 1986 and stretches over 265 acres where award-winning still and sparkling wine is grown and made. Denbies Vineyard Hotel offers views across the Surrey Hills and from here you can explore the estate and the local area, and enjoy on-site tastings and a vineyard tour by Land Rover-pulled ‘train’, no less.
- Denbies Wine Estate, London Road, Dorking, Surrey RH5 6AA
- Estate open: April-October, Monday-Saturday 9.30am-5.30pm, Sunday 10am-5.30pm. November-March, Monday-Saturday 9.30am-5pm, Sunday 10am-5pm.
- Indoor wine tasting: run on the hour daily between 11am-4pm, all year. Advance booking recommended.
- Vineyard train tours: March-October. Advance booking recommended.
Nearest station: Bodmin Parkway
Billed – by some – as the ‘California of England’ Cornwall has its own burgeoning wine scene which may not rival Napa or Sonoma but is responsible for some of England’s finest wines. At the heart of this is Camel Valley where Bob Lindo and family have been making wine and welcoming visitors for 30 years. Stretch your legs after the four-hour train journey from London’s Paddington with a vineyard tour and tasting before staying in one of the estate’s barn-converted cottages offering stunning views across the vineyards and down the valley.
- Camel Valley, Nanstallon, Bodmin, Cornwall PL30 5LG
- Grand tour & tasting: Wednesday 5pm April-October & Thursday 5pm August.
- Guided tour: 2.30pm Monday-Friday April-September, with additional dates in October/November.
Nearest station: Castillon
Hit the continent and live like a (pre-revolution) French king at the spectacular Château de Pitray in Bordeaux. Just five miles from Castillon railway station, itself only two changes from London St. Pancras (Paris and Libourne), this 17th century castle overlooks the Dordogne River and wine has been produced on the estate for more than 300 years. Visit the vineyard and cellar and enjoy the nearby town of St-Émilion before a relaxing dip in the pool and a night in one of the castle’s classically-dressed rooms.
- Chateau de Pitray, 33 350 Gardegan-et-Tourtirac, France
Nearest station: Reims
The Eurostar to Paris then a 40-minute TGV train to Reims means it has never been easier to get to the homeland of fizz. The Le Clos des Terres Soudées guest house on the Champagne Roger Coulon estate in Vrigny has been in the hands of the Coulon family for eight generations and produces notable wines from estate-grown fruit. Complimentary tours of the cellars, followed by a tasting, are available to all guests, who from here can also explore the historic city of Reims, just five miles away.
- Le Clos des Tertres Soudées, 25 rue Saint Vincent, 51390, Vrigny
- Visit to the winery, cellars & tasting. Tuesday-Sunday morning by appointment. Complimentary for guests.
Nearest station: Langenlois
It’s possible to get to Vienna in a day from London by train (St. Pancras-Brussels, Brussels-Frankfurt, Frankfurt-Vienna) and can be done for around £100 if booked in advance. From Vienna hop on a local train to Langenlois then take a well-desserved rest among the vines at the incredible Loisium spa hotel, where you can take a dip in the outdoor pool or enjoy the full spa experience before dinner in the stylish modern restaurant. The wine-themed hotel is the perfect base from which to explore the region’s famous wine producers.
- Loisium Wine & Spa Resort, Loisium Allee 2, 3550 Langenlois