Follow these tips for a wine vacation that leaves you with a smile.

Even the most well-planned vacation can have hair-tearing moments of stress. And a wine vacation should be the epitome of a relaxing trip. Whatever your style—independent or guided, packed or peaceful—keep these tips in mind for a travel memory you look back on with a smile.

How to plan and enjoy a relaxing wine vacation

Know how you plan to get from Point A to Point B. Maybe Napa has the wine shuttle figured out, but wine country Italian-style is quite a bit less touristy and devoid of these amenities. Especially if you’re independently planning your vacation and don’t plan on getting a guide, this is an important consideration. What gives you the most sense of calm: do you relish the freedom of driving when and where you want? Pick up an international driver’s license and rent a car when the plane touches ground. Don’t want to worry about reading road signs and dodging crazy Italian drivers (they’re not that crazy, we promise)? Hire a driver.

When you start planning your activities, as winery tour planner Valerie Quintanilla of Girl’s Gotta Drink says, visit “two – and, no more than three winery visits – in a day.” More than that, and you end up downing the wine as quickly as possible just to get to your next appointment. If you’re on a tour and you notice, say, four wineries in one afternoon, mention your concern for having enough time to calmly do everything: see the winery, talk to the producers, ask questions, walk in the vineyards, take pictures, and savor wine with no pressure to finish.

Give yourself time to explore. Even if you’re a staunch scheduler, we suggest you leave “free time” on your itinerary. Park the car, grab your camera, and walk through the streets to stop inside little churches, shops, and wine bars. Pause for a caffé, taste the local specialties, and climb the bell tower. Give yourself the chance to wander naturally.

Sometimes the best memories and discoveries are made this way.

Don’t forget to allow yourself to indulge your senses. Vacation is about indulging. Certainly this includes imbibing in great food and wine…but we know all too well that stress rears its ugly head after one dessert too many. So in addition to enjoying the cuisine (which, don’t get us wrong, is thoroughly recommended), indulge your sense of exploration, your wish to spend a full hour with a book and cappuccino, your sense of beauty with vineyard walks, fantastic vistas, and castles. Because if your wine vacation is 100% wine, going to the next tasting might begin to feel like a chore.

Travaglini wine cellar

Travaglini wine cellar – © Courtesy of Travaglini Winery

Off the beaten wine trail

Finally, try choosing a destination that isn’t well-trod. Wine country in Italy is already off the beaten track compared to cities like Rome and Florence. But delve even deeper and experience the tranquility of authentic Italy set back in the countryside, away from tourist’s eyes. In Piedmont, for instance, head up closer to the Swiss border for northern nebbiolo wines like Gattinara DOCG; or south closer to the Ligurian border in Gavi to taste the mineral freshness of the white Gavi DOCG.

Villa Sparina, wine cellars

Villa Sparina, wine cellars – © Courtesy of Villa Sparina Winery

Or further south still to Liguria, which is certainly off the usual wine tourist’s radar. A visit to a winery to taste Vermentino from the Ligurian Riveria would be perfect after a day by the sea. Does anything sound more relaxing than that?

Poggio dei Gorleri Estate

Poggio dei Gorleri Estate – © Courtesy of Poggio dei Gorleri Winery

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