If you’re anything like me, you’re pretty desperate to go somewhere, ANYWHERE right now. Us Brits are known as world travellers (is it an island thing?), and love nothing more than exploring interesting places and sunning ourselves in tropical climes.
Scratch that, more like in any climes. Just look at any park when it’s slightly warm and sunny and shirts will be off and bikinis on. You know what they say, “mad dogs and Englishman go out in the midday sun’. Oh, that’s actually from a 1931 Noel Coward song, so might not be as profound as I originally thought. Anyway, I digress…
Having been locked away for nearly a year, many a thought has turned to the coming summer. Will we be able to get away? With travel restrictions, it’s not looking good for going abroad, but maybe we’ll be free to enjoy UK holidays, exploring our own green and pleasant land. I am someone, and I don’t think I’m alone in this, who has often overlooked the UK for lands much farther away. Up until a couple of years ago, I’d been to New Zealand, but not to Scotland. It’s not just covid either, there’s also a moral dilemma involved – climate change. Air travel isn’t doing our planet any favours, especially flights that whisk you over to the otherside of the planet. Perhaps then, it’s time to explore closer to home.
But hang on a second, you didn’t come here for moral debates or to read about such depressing things! As much as going abroad on holiday is just extra special, the UK is a fabulous destination in it’s own right. I mean, we have a 7,700 mile coastline, there are definitely some decent beaches in there somewhere right? We need to look for the best of both worlds, where you can stay in the UK, but feel like you’ve flown/sailed/driven to another country entirely, to make summer 2021 just that little bit less rubbish and a little more magical.
So here they are, the UK breaks that will make you feel like you’ve ventured abroad:
Isles of Scilly Sat just 28 miles off of the coast of Cornwall, the Isles of Scilly get the balmiest weather in the UK. With a slow pace of life similar to that found in hotter lands, the Scillys are also home to beautiful white sand beaches, turquoise waters and lush tropical gardens. If you try really hard, you could kid yourself that you are in the Caribbean.
The Wine Garden of England Once just the Garden of England, Kent has had upgrade! The county encompasses a large area of chalk down, just like France’s champagne region, and has gained a reputation for excellent sparkling wine as well as it’s beautiful scenery. Come in the summer and embark on the Wine Garden of England trail of seven wineries, including England’s largest, Chapel Down, and Domaine Evremond partly owned by the Taittinger Champagne family, and you’ll fancy yourself in the south of France.
Portmeirion, Wales A little slice of the ‘Bel Paese’ on the Welsh coast, Portmeirion is a fanciful resort village modelled on the coastal settlements of the Italian Riviera, with palm trees, colonnades and pastel hues a plenty! Begun in 1925 it took Sir Clough William-Ellis 50 years to complete his homage to Italy at the age of 90. Beautifully set on a forested peninsula, Sir Clough’s creation is a unique and whimsical beauty; many of the buildings are holiday lets so you can stay and explore the village and the gorgeous surrounding countryside and beaches for a few days.
Cornwall Obviously, Cornwall is already a top destination for UK breaks, but there are many aspects of this extraordinary county that will give you the feel of being in another land. The mysterious St Michael’s Mount is a great place to start, especially as it has a sister tidal island, Mont St Michel, just across the channel in Normandy. Then you’ve got the beaches; Kynance Cove channels the Med, whilst Sennen,with its wild Atlantic waves has South African vibes, and Porthcurno smacks delightfully of the Algarve.
Snowdonia and Ben Nevis The UK’s mountains (kind of want to put mountains in inverted commas…) are on a somewhat smaller scale than the likes of, say, Canada. In the end, though, who’s to say that one snow-capped peak is more or less spectacular than another? Driving towards Snowdonia you could be forgiven for thinking you had been transplanted over to New Zealand’s South Island, or when hiking around Ben Nevis that you fell through a portal into the Alps. The views will still be awesome, the air fresh and the walking flippin’ hard going.
Isle of Skye Scotland’s second largest island, off of it’s west coast, Skye’s epically spectacular scenery is akin to Iceland or Norway. Rugged and moody with rolling mists, jagged peaks, waterfalls and towering sea cliffs galore, you’ll even find some Scandi-style architecture around Quiraing. It’s a great place for those who love hiking and if you visit at the right time and you might even be lucky enough to spy the Northern Lights.
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For someone who considers themselves a bit of a sparkling wine connoisseur, I find it odd that I can’t remember the first time that I tasted prosecco. It feels like it should have one of those illuminated-by-a-heavenly-light-angels-singing life changing moments but nope, I draw a blank. I mean, there could be an explanation for that – too much of said prosecco – but I’d like to think I savoured that bubbly goodness and didn’t just neck glass after glass.
Although I started as a Prosecco absolutist, as time has gone by I’ve taken my taste buds on an international sparkling wine adventure, be it whilst on holiday or just because I liked the look of it in the supermarket. I’d like to share with you all the glorious things that I’ve discovered, tasted and loved about this most beautifully, bubbly temptress. I am by no means an expert but I’ve definitely drunk a lot of the stuff…
Where better to start than the grand dame of the sparkling wine scene, Champagne. It is popular belief that a monk named Dom Perignon invented bubbly wine back in 1697, though some say, including Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger of Taittinger Champagne, that it was invented by the English 30 years earlier (no really, check out this link!). Either way, the French took it and ran away with it, and Champagne remains the most popular sparkling wine in the world today.
But Champagne is by no means France’s only sparkling wine. As we know, Champagne can only be Champagne if it is produced in the Champagne region and satisfies a pretty hefty set of rules. But what about the sparkling wine produced in the many other wine regions? In the Loire Valley they produce sparkling wines called ‘Vouvray’ and ‘Crémant de Loire’, in Bordeaux ‘Crémant de Bordeaux’, and in the Languedoc-Roussillon ‘Crémant de Limoux’ and ‘Blanquette de Limoux’, to name just a few. Less bound by the restrictions of Champagne production, vintners from other regions can use different grapes and even different methods to make their bubbles. Whilst any of the sparkling wines labelled ‘crémants’ are made using “Methode Traditionelle” or “Methode Champenoise” – the same as Champagne – ones like the Blanquette use “Methode Ancestrale”. The difference? It’s all in the fermentation process, Traditionelle is fermented twice, Ancestrale just once, so Ancestrale produced wines will be a bit less bubbly and have a more delicate froth.
We don’t see many of the alternative French sparkling wines for sale in supermarkets in the UK, but wine specialists might stock a few. As with most French wines, you’re pretty safe in the knowledge that it’ll be pretty delicious.
Prosecco outsells Champagne these days in terms of the volume sold. Why? It’s cheaper, it’s fruitier and a bit sweeter than Champagne making it incredibly drinkable and it goes with everything, from crisps and dip to a curry. Prosecco is from the hills of northern Italy, made using the ‘Charmat’ method (carbonated in large metal tanks) and made mainly of glera grapes – like Champagne, only sparkling wine from a specific area can be called Prosecco. DOC Prosecco can be made in 4 provinces of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region and 5 provinces of the Veneto region. DOCG Prosecco, which is considered superior, must be from the Conegliano Valdobbiadene area of the Veneto. I spent a very happy day with two beautiful friends in the village of Valdobbiadene walking between wineries, doing tastings and buying a lot of Prosecco. We were in Italy for 4 days on that trip, and got through about 18 bottles of the good stuff. Ah, happy times!
So what other sparkling wines does Italy produce? Well, quite a few but here are my top 5 favourites:
Asti – a sweet sparkling wine made from Moscato Bianco grapes in the Piedmont region. It is slightly lower in alcohol than the other wines and can be drunk with dessert.
Lambrusco – a dry, lightly sparkling red with fruity hints, mainly produced in Emilia-Romagna. Made from mostly lambrusco grapes, it is great as an aperitif.
Franciacorta – produced using the traditional Champagne method in southern Lombardy, using Pinot Nero, Pinot Bianco and Chardonnay grapes.
Pignoletto – produced in Emilia-Romagna close to the culinary mecca of Bologna from Grechetto Gentile grapes using the Charmat method.
Trento – from the northern province of the same name, this sparkling wine is made the same way as Champagne, using Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Meunier, and Pinot Nero grapes.
Many UK supermarkets have started stocking a bigger variety of Italian sparkling wines alongside Prosecco. Asti has long been a cheap sparkling option whilst Pignoletto is now available at Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose. For any of the others, a more specialist wine shop or warehouse might have a few options. Better yet, go to Italy!
In the 1860s a Spanish wine maker visited France’s Champagne region to sell his still wines, and returned home to Catalonia with the secrets of sparkling wine production. He began experimenting using this traditional champagne method and by 1872 had created a local sparkling wine. Neighbouring wine-makers got in on the action using mainly local parellada, xarel-lo, and macabeo grapes and Cava (‘cave’) was born.
The majority is still produced around the Penedès area of Catalonia but Cava can actually be made anywhere in Spain, as long as it is produced following a set of rules. It is grouped by the amount of sugar used in the production process, ranging through 7 categories from Brut Nature (less than 3 grams of sugar per litre) to Dulce (over 50 grams of sugar per litre), as well as by amount of time it has been aged, from Cava de Guarda (minimum 9 months) to Cava de Guarda Superior de Paraje Calificado (a minimum of 36 months).
Cava is produced in a more temperate climate than other sparkling wines, making the final product drier but with more subtle hints and flavours to delight the palate. Like Prosecco it is a versatile beverage that works well with many cuisines, and is widely available in supermarkets across the UK.
English sparkling wine is still in it’s infancy but has been on an upward trajectory for a while now, winning enough awards to give Champagne a run for its money! With our ‘temperamental’ climate, grape cultivation here is a tough one, but in the south in Kent, Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire particularly, winemakers are making a pretty good job of it. The soils in the southeast are chalky, like those of the Champagne region and vintners here tend to grow and use the same grapes as their counterparts across the channel – Chardonnay, Pinot noir and Pinot Meunier, and produce their fizz using the good old Methode Traditionelle. The nuances of production, of climate, of soils and so on though, give English sparkling wine a flavour of its own.
The UK wine scene was pretty dead until a revival in the 1950s saw wines produced with mainly German grapes. It wasn’t until Nyetimber came along in 1988 to plant Champagne grapes in their plot in West Sussex that things began to kick off. In the 1990s some of our big hitters began to start their sparkling wine production – Ridgeview and Chapel Down (featured at at least one royal occasion) for example, with things exploding in the 2000s with the likes of Hush Heath (their ‘Leslie’s Reserve’ is one of my all time favourites) and Squerryes joining the party. Today there are over 100 vineyards in England producing sparkling wine, including a brand new venture in Kent by Champagne house Taittinger. Things are only going to get bigger!
English sparkling wine is widely available, and though it’s pricey it is certainly worth trying! Alternatively, find your nearest vineyard and go along for a tasting.
South African wine is pretty delicious and extremely popular, but I bet most people have never had a crisp, bubbly glass of South African sparkling. Why? Well, it’s a pretty new venture, with the first local fizz popping up in the 1970s but not really taking off until 1992, when a number of producers came together to form the Cap Classique Producers Association, with the aim of rising standards. Called Méthode Cap Classique, MCC if you will, it is again produced using the traditional champagne method and, whilst any grape can be used to produce one, many wine-makers stick to the traditional champagne grapes. As similar as it may be the champagne, South Africa’s warmer climate gives an entirely different ‘New World’ flavour when compared to its ‘Old World’ ancestor.
For the best of the best look for a Blanc de Blancs from the likes of Simonsig, Graham Beck or Colmant, but with MCC production growing exponentially and getting all the accolades, you can expect plenty more to appear in the coming years.
Anyone had Canadian wine? No? Icewine maybe? Canada actually has some massive wine regions, which have, in recent years, been receiving more and more international acclaim. The majority of the vineyards are located close to the southern border with the US where there is much more moderate weather. Yes, the winters are pretty epic, but the climate mirrors that of the Champagne region, offering the perfect grape ripening weather, and the soil is rich in limestone, which makes for extra happy grapes.
Ontario’s wine region, south of Toronto and surrounded by the Great Lakes is Canada’s largest grape growing region. There are over 100 wineries producing bubbles here – the number of producers has tripled in the past decade – particularly around the Niagara Peninsula. Here you’ll find the traditional Champagne method is popular, and the Charmat method, as well as a wealth of different grapes, from traditional to unique (the hybrid Vidal for example) giving a fine variety of fizzy sensations.
Over in BC, the climate is moderated by the Pacific and Lake Okanagan. There are over 270 wineries here, dotted through a range of spectacular landscapes which gives a great variety of terrains and soils. The Okanagan Valley has established itself as a wine region extraordinaire and here a number of wineries whip up a pretty delicious fizz; the slightly more temperate climate making it slightly more fruity than its Ontario counterpart. You’ll find the usual suspects grape-wise, the cold grape varieties of Champagne – Chardonnay, Pinot noir and Pinot Meunier, as well as Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and Zweigelt make for some truly interesting bubbly tipples.
It’s pretty difficult to find Canada wine in the UK, online wine retailers are your best bet. But with the rate the Canadian wine industry is growing and the attention it’s attracting, we’re bound to be seeing more of it soon.
Without a doubt there are PLENTY of other countries producing amazing sparkling wine – I’ve not mentioned Australia, Germany, the USA, purely because I’ve not yet had the chance to try their wares. All in good time…
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