Stunning coastline, great wines, superb gastronomy, protected national parks... the people of Provence know how to live la belle vie.
Cassis & Bandol fact file:
Planted area: 215ha
Main grapes: Marsanne, Clairette, Ugni Blanc, Bourboulenc for whites;
Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvèdre for rosés
Planted area: 1,500ha
Main grape: Mourvèdre for reds and rosés
Marseille is the place to be. In summer evenings, its bars are packed with visitors admiring the city’s gleaming new waterfront as they sip their glasses of rosé – because, as European Capital of Culture 2013, this gritty, edgy port has acquired bold architecture on a lavish scale, as well as a calendar of events stretching out as far as Arles and Aix-en-Provence.
This is all well and good but, for wine lovers, serious excitement lies down the road in a different direction. A short drive east of Marseille lie two of France’s oldest appellations that produce memorable wines on such a limited scale that they remain inside-track gems. Cassis specialises in smooth but racy whites, while Bandol’s reputation rests on savoury, long-living reds. As both also produce stylish rosé, all colour preferences are catered for within a 30km stretch of coast.
And what a coast! Sheltered by the steep cliffs of Cap Canaille, the pretty port of Cassis is close to the Calanques – deep inlets of turquoise water carved into a dazzling white limestone foreshore all the way to Marseille. Bandol is a bigger holiday town, yet within minutes of its bustling promenade you can be lost among vines, olive trees, pines, wild flowers, bare rock and screeching cicadas.
The two appellations share topography as well as history. Developed by the Greeks in 600BC, both sit up like amphitheatres facing the Mediterranean, their vines lining steep stone terraces known as restanques. The idea that these terraces boast elements of a Greek tragedy is not as far-fetched; wines appreciated by the Romans, the bishops of Marseille and the French court came close to annihilation when phylloxera struck in the 19th century. A determined rescue campaign led not only to early AC status (Cassis 1936, Bandol 1941), but to a resolute focus on quality.
Translated by Sylvia Wu / 吴嘉溦
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