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Sipping Your Way Through History: 10 World Heritage Sites in Wine Country

Explore the History of Winemaking at These 10 UNESCO world Heritage Sites

Sipping rosé on the banks of the Loire River, surrounded by charming ancient villages and Renaissance palaces… sounds inviting, doesn’t it? This is just one of the amazing stops you will find surrounding my list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in wine country. From the gently rolling hills of the Loire Valley in France, to the steep Alpine hills of Lavaux, Switzerland, there’s a lot for a wine lover to see and do at these historic world treasures.

Alto Douro, Portugal

Alto Douro, Portugal
View Of Vineyards In Douro Valley From Double Viewpoint De Loivos – Vila Real District, Portugal, Europe

This scenic river valley has been supporting historical vineyards for two millennia. That is a lot of wine to come out of this relatively small region hugging the Douro River, an hour’s drive southeast of Porto. Most famous for its port wines, many of the terraced vineyards hugging the steep valley slopes were literally chiseled out of the unforgiving rock. A wide variety of grapes are grown to match the equally varied topography and the many diverse microclimates.

The five main red varietals you will find in this region are Touriga Nacional, Tinta Barroca, Tinto Cão, Tinta Roriz, and Touriga Francesa. For white wine lover, the top three The five main red varietals you will find in this region are Touriga Nacional, Tinta Barroca, Tinto Cão, Tinta Roriz, and Touriga Francesa. For white wine lover, the top three white varietals are Malvasia, Rabigato, and Viosinho.

The Azores, Portugal

The Azores, Portugal
Vineyards on Pico Island in the Atlantic Ocean

São Miguel is the largest of these stunningly beautiful Portuguese islands located two hours from Lisbon. It’s also home to the island group’s international airport (so now you know when to book your flight). Pico is the second-largest island and home to a vast series of tiny, walled-in vineyards that date back to the 15th century. The people living on these isolated islands went to a great deal of effort to protect their precious Verdelho vines from surging waves and harsh winds. These unique vineyards and the fortified Verdelho wines that result are treasured by wine lovers across the world.

Currently, 33 grape varietals are authorized to grow on the island (15 that produce red wine, and 18 that produce white) including the historic Arinot dos Acores, Verdelho, and the Terrantez do Pico. These historic volcanic vineyards are a fantastic opportunity to sip while taking in some history. Make sure to check out the magnificent, reticulated stone walls created from black basalt stone that were created to protect the vineyards from the wind and waves of the surrounding Atlantic Ocean.

Burgundy, France

Burgundy, France
Burgundy: Scenic road that crosses the wine region and introduces us to the main producers and their vineyards.

Winemaking has been going on here since the High Medieval Period (approximately 1000 – 1300 A.D.) and is still going strong today. Pinot Noir grapes produce the region’s famous red burgundy wine while Chardonnay grapes produce white burgundy

Champagne, France

Champagne, France
Row vine grape in champagne vineyards at montagne de reims countryside village background, France

The home of the celebratory bubbly is an hour’s drive, or a 40-minute train ride, from Paris. Visiting an elegant Champagne house is a rather grand experience and involves dressing for the occasion. Would you expect anything less when visiting the home of one of these revered sparkling wines? Visit the famous vineyards where the Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay grapes soak up the sun for a slightly less indulgent experience.

Loire Valley, France

Loire Valley, France
View of the French town of Saumur in the Loire River running through it

The Loire Valley has played an important role in French winemaking since at least Roman times. The area is rich in history, as reflected by the elegant châteaux and humble villages that line the river. Cabernet Franc, Chenin, Folle Blanche, and Melon de Bourgogne grapes have all played their part in producing the tantalizing red, rosé, white, and sparkling wines for which the region is famous.

With so many UNESCO sites in France, it’s easy to sip in some great hiking too. Take a With so many UNESCO sites in France, it’s easy to sip in some great hiking too. Take a peek at this epic list of trails to hike in France.

Lavaux, Switzerland

Lavauz, Switzerland
World famous vineyards in Lavaux region in Chexbres, Switzerland

Nestled between the stunning Swiss Alps and gorgeous Lake Geneva, the 900-year-old vineyards of Lavaux include a popular and scenic hiking trail known as the Swiss Wine Trail, which stretches between Lausanne and Villeneuve. There are 23 charming towns along the trail and innumerable places to stop and enjoy the spectacular scenery. Chasselas grapes produce the dry white wine so popular in the region.

Piedmont, Italy

Piedmont, Italy
Panorama of Piedmont vineyards and Barbaresco town

According to the Italian government, “Vine pollen has been found in the area dating According to the Italian government, “Vine pollen has been found in the area dating from the 5th Century BC.” UNESCO appeared to agree that a history of more than 25 centuries of winemaking deserved recognition and made the area of Piedmont a World Heritage Site in 2014. The complex layering of soil types in the region gives the wines made from Barbera, Dolcetto, and the revered Nebbiolo grape their equally complex flavors.

Prosecco, Italy

Prossecco, Italy
Prosecco Vineyards at summer on the Euganean Hills.

Just an hour away from Venice, the tiny ciglioni, or narrow vine-growing terraces, of Prosecco are an impressive sight as they crawl up the steep foothills of the Dolomite Mountains of Northern Italy. The ciglioni are filled with the temperamental Glera (formerly known as Prosecco Tondo) grapes that make sparkling Prosecco.

Tokaj, Hungary

Tokaj, Hungary
Tokaj is the center of famous Tokaj Wine Region

The rolling green hills of Tokaj are a 3-hour drive, or 2 1/2-hour train journey, from the cThe rolling green hills of Tokaj are a 3-hour drive, or 2 1/2-hour train journey, from the capital of Budapest. This region has been famous for its wines for more than 1,000 years. French King Louis XIV extolled the sweet Tokaji-Aszú dessert wine as “the wine of kings, the king of wines”. This ‘kingly’ wine is produced mainly from the Furmint grapes that grow so well in the region, although five other varietals are permitted to carry the Tokaj appellation.

Upper Middle Rhine Valley, Germany

Upper Middle Rhine Valley, Germany
Panorama city landscape Bacharach on the river Rhine

Lying along the beautiful Rhine River, and true to its name, this valley lies midway between Frankfurt and Bonn. It’s about an hour and a half drive from either city. UNESCO recognized this valley not for its stunning beauty but for its long history as an important trade route. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the quietly spectacular scenery. Enjoy a peaceful boat ride between villages while you admire the Riesling and Pinot Noir vines clinging to the steep hillsides. It takes fortitude to harvest grapes on some of those slopes – they’re at a 60˚ angle!