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10 Wine Country Escapes

A convent, a castle and other great hotels surrounded by vineyards

All wine country vacations turn on the same happy routine: days spent ambling through a mosaic of vineyards, making leisurely stops at a clutch of wineries to swirl, sniff, sip and spit; yawning through discourses on malolactic fermentation and the price of French oak; dining at restaurants where the regional food is a perfect complement to the local wines. Selecting a place to spend the night, however, can make or break the trip. Here are 10 of the most enchanting wine country hotels in the world. Whether you choose to sleep in a castle, a convent, a farmhouse or a mecca for haute cuisine that just happens to offer beds for the night, you'll wake up in the morning feeling intoxicated.

HOTEL CONVENTO DE SÃO PAULO
ALENTEJO, PORTUGAL

Hotel The former monastery, set among 1,500 acres of olive groves and woods, was constructed in 1376 by monks in search of tranquillity.

Location The property is in the Alentejo region, where gnarled olive trees and eerily beautiful cork forests cover the land.

Rooms You'll feel virtuous sleeping in any of the 17 rooms, most of them in pleasantly claustrophobic monastic cells. Modern amenities--phones, televisions, private bathrooms, air-conditioning--almost ruin the mood.

Famous Visitors The dukes of Braganza, who ruled Portugal in the 19th century, were regular patrons. Other Portuguese nobles have also slept here.

Restaurant Food in the hotel dining room is grandmotherly: duck and black olive stew; açorda, a bread soup with salt cod and olive oil.

Wine List Recommended bottles include Porta da Ravessa and Monte da Ferra, both from the nearby Adega Cooperativa do Redondo.

Point of Pride Portugal is famous for its azulejos (tilework), and the hotel pays tribute to the tradition with passageways covered in 50,000 astounding blue-glazed tiles narrating the life of Saint Paul.

Details Aldeia da Serra, Redondo; 011-351-66-999-100, fax 011-351-66-999-104; doubles from $160.

LE TRE VASELLE
UMBRIA, ITALY

Hotel This 17th-century country house has thick stone walls, terra-cotta floors and wood-beamed public rooms outfitted with antique furniture, textiles and artwork.

Location A cork's throw from Perugia and Assisi, the Umbrian town of Torgiano (as in the wines of the same name) is surrounded by sandstone ridges blanketed by rows and rows of grapevines.

Owners The Lungarotti family is one of Italy's most esteemed producers of classically made wines.

Rooms Think old-world plush. Some of the 61 rooms have Jacuzzis and views of vineyards or the Tiber River. You can also check into the hotel's La Bondanzina villa, where the walls are frescoed with trompe l'oeil pastoral scenes.

Restaurant The food here is sophisticated regional: risotto with Rubesco Riserva, ricotta-stuffed zucchini blossoms. The chef is clearly intent on showcasing homegrown ingredients from the Lungarottis' impressive farm.

Wine List The Lungarottis have a virtual monopoly on local wine production. Try the family's highly regarded Rubesco reds and Torre di Giano whites.

Side Trip Torgiano's fabulous wine museum displays Etruscan, medieval and Renaissance enological artifacts.

Extra Credit Le Tre Vaselle's chef teaches cooking classes at the hotel upon request.

Details 48 Via Giuseppe Garibaldi, Torgiano; 011-39-75-988-0447,fax 011-39-75-988-0214; doubles from $175.

CHATEAU DE BAGNOLS
BEAUJOLAIS, FRANCE

Hotel The château comes complete with medieval towers, a Renaissance courtyard and room after room filled with period art and furniture. When was the last time you entered a hotel via a drawbridge? Although this sounds over the top, somehow the total effect is tasteful and serene.

Location Bagnols is only about 12 miles from Lyons and a two-hour trip on a fast train from Paris.

Rooms In the château's 12 rooms, poster beds are hung with velvets and walls are decorated with trompe l'oeil arcades. Eight rooms in the converted stables offer rustic chic.

Restaurant The Salle des Gardes, which boasts France's largest Gothic fireplace, matches the magnificence of the château with such extravagant dishes as bacon-crusted rabbit with chard and chanterelles.

Wine List Besides a nice selection of cru Beaujolais, there is draft wine sold by the pot, a half-liter bottle made of thick glass.

Gift Shop You can stock up on some of the excellent items that are specially produced for the hotel, such as glassware modeled on 18th-century designs.

Details Bagnols-en-Beaujolais; 011-33-474-71-40-00, fax 011-33-474-71-40-49; doubles from $435.

RICHARD LÖWENHERZ
WACHAU VALLEY, AUSTRIA

Hotel Medieval walls and vaulted refectory-style dining rooms betray the hotel's former incarnation as a convent. But the feather beds, the garden in the courtyard and the lushly landscaped grounds are anything but ascetic.

Location A European wine country paradise, Austria's Wachau Valley lures visitors with abbeys, castles, orchards and wine taverns.

Rooms Each of the 38 is pleasant, but the ones on the first floor have more character; all are decorated with country antiques. Definitely ask for a room with a river view.

Restaurant Guests can sit outside on a lovely terrace that overlooks the Danube River. The menu includes such Austrian dishes as creamed chanterelles with bread dumplings and apricot parfait strudel. There's also an enormous breakfast buffet.

Winery Neighbors Emmerich Knoll, F. X. Pichler and Franz Schmidl all produce fruity Rieslings and wines made from Grüner Veltliner (Austria's signature grape).

Side Trip It would be tragic to miss the Landhaus Bacher restaurant across the river in Mautern. It offers rapturous Austro-Italian flavors (like pike fillet on cabbage lasagna) and beautiful wines (like the 1990 Hirtzberger Grüner Veltliner).

Namesake Richard Löwenherz means Richard the LionHearted; the English king was imprisoned in a castle nearby almost eight centuries ago.

Scheduling Tip The best time to visit the area is in May and June, when the apricot trees are in bloom.

Details Dürnstein; 011-43-27-11-222, fax 011-43-27-11-222-18; doubles from $150, including breakfast.

HOTEL DES BERGES
ALSACE, FRANCE

Hotel The owners of Auberge de l'Ill, France's second-oldest Michelin three-star restaurant, run this small, almost-swanky inn for dinner guests who feel like lingering.

Location The property lies on a tiny willow-flanked river in a picturesque hamlet a short drive from Colmar.

Owners The Haeberlins, who run the restaurant, are among Europe's legendary gastronomic dynasties.

Rooms The hotel offers seven cozy modern rooms, two junior suites, one apartment and a renovated fisherman's cottage, all decorated in shades of beige.

Restaurant The outstanding food at Auberge de l'Ill--featuring such classics as salmon soufflé from Haeberlin père and such innovations as lobster with coriander from Haeberlin fils--is the main reason for coming to the hotel.

Winery Neighbors Marcel Deiss in the town of Bergheim and Trimbach and Kientzler in Ribeauvillé are in close proximity. Ask the concierge for the French tourist office's excellent brochure on Alsatian wine routes.

Details 4 Rue de Collonges au Mout-d'Or, Illhaeusern; 011-33-3-89-71-87-87, fax 011-33-3-89-71-87-88; doubles from $215.

THE KENWOOD INN & SPA
SONOMA, CALIFORNIA

Hotel This well-groomed getaway has an identity problem: it thinks it's a Tuscan villa--and it almost convinces its guests.

Location It's just off Highway 12, in the Valley of the Moon, on a hillside facing acres of sloping vineyards.

Rooms The 12 suites have working fireplaces, feather beds and either balconies or private terraces.

Restaurant Open only to guests, it serves simple Mediterranean-style breakfasts and light California lunches, with items like focaccia and grilled salmon with mango salsa.

Winery Neighbors The inn is near Kunde Estate Winery, Landmark Vineyards and Kenwood Vineyards.

Spa La dolce vita goes New Age. Services include the ancient Ayurvedic body purification ritual, a warm-oil treatment.

Details 10400 Sonoma Hwy., Kenwood; 800-353-6966, fax 707-833-1247; doubles from $255.

PARADOR DE SANTO DOMINGO DE LA CALZADA
RIOJA, SPAIN

Hotel First a palace for the dukes of Navarre, then a hospice for pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago, it's now one of the most evocative properties of the national government-run paradores chain. You might experience a Gothic epiphany in the lobby, which has archways, a coffered wooden ceiling and sculptures of angels and saints.

Location The hotel is in the medieval town of Santo Domingo de la Calzada, a great base for exploring the Rioja Alta.

Rooms The 61 rooms are surprisingly bright, with splashes of blue or green against buttery walls. If there is no fiesta in town, book accommodations overlooking the plaza.

Restaurant Tiny lamb chops grilled over vine leaves and stuffed piquillo peppers are two of the offerings, which focus on lusty yet delicate regional cuisine.

Wine List Can't choose among all the Rioja bottles available? Try a Crianza from the nearby monastery of Yuso.

Winery Neighbors The town of Haro, about 10 miles away from the hotel, has the richest concentration of wineries in all of the Rioja. López de Heredia, La Rioja Alta and CVNE, in particular, should not be missed.

Details 3 Plaza del Santo, Santo Domingo de la Calzada; 011-34-941-34-03-00, fax 011-34-941-34-03-25; doubles from $105.

THORN PARK COUNTRY HOUSE
CLARE VALLEY, AUSTRALIA

Hotel This rambling English-style farmhouse, set amid acres of fields, has traditional Australian wraparound verandas and views of towering gum trees and grazing cows. Hundreds of rosebushes surround the building.

Location The Clare Valley is more secluded and rural than its better-known sister, the Barossa Valley. The scenic drive north from Adelaide takes about two hours.

Owners The homestead belongs to David Hay, an interior designer and chef, and Michael Speers, a former art teacher who sings (ask for a Gilbert and Sullivan tune).

Rooms Each of the six guest rooms is decorated with tasteful Victoriana: you'll find lots of mahogany furniture and lovingly preserved brass, wood and cast-iron beds.

Restaurant The Aga stove produces modern Australian flavors: anise-scented poached beef, beet soup with crisp potatoes, passion-fruit panna cotta.

Wine List The 1997 Grosset Pinot Noir on the reserve list is a standout. As a less expensive choice, the 1997 Pike's Polish River Sauvignon Blanc is a good bet.

Winery Neighbors Skillogalee Vineyards, Mitchell Cellars and the valley's grande dame, Sevenhill Cellars, are all nearby.

Details College Rd., Sevenhill; 011-61-888-43-43-04, fax 011-61-888-43-42-96; doubles from $250, including breakfast.

BREUERS' RÜDESHEIMER SCHLOSS
THE RHEINGAU,GERMANY

Hotel Don't be misled by the word Schloss (castle) in the name: the exterior is understated, the interior an improbable mix of country quaint and urban hip.

Location The hotel stands smack in the historic center of Rüdesheim, a feast of architecture from the Middle Ages in the heart of the Rheingau's Riesling land.

Owners Heinrich and Susanne Breuer are more than gracious hosts: their family produces voluptuous Georg Breuer Rieslings. The Breuers are also serious art lovers (they've commissioned local artists to design their wine labels).

Rooms Most of the 21 rooms are installations dreamed up by different artists. Some have furniture and color schemes that echo the views from the windows; others act as galleries and display modern art on their walls.

Restaurant The food here features modernized regional flavors in dishes like Benedictine duck stuffed with figs. In warm weather, you can eat in the garden to the music of a waltz-playing band. In the morning, breakfast comes with a glass of sparkling Riesling.

Winery Neighbors Georg Breuer is just a 10-minute walk away. Robert König, a producer specializing in Pinot Noir bottlings, is also nearby.

Details 10 Steingasse, Rüdesheim am Rhein; 011-49- 6722-905-00, fax 011-49-6722-479-60; doubles from $150, including breakfast.

GRANDE ROCHE HOTEL
WESTERN CAPE, SOUTH AFRICA

Hotel South Africa's most hedonistic property, this whitewashed 18th-century Cape Dutch manor has been refitted with crystal chandeliers and black-marble columns.

Location Follow the buzz in the wine world and it will lead you to the Paarl Valley of the stunning Western Cape wine lands, where mountain peaks frame vineyard views. The area,about 30 minutes from Cape Town, was settled by French Huguenots and Dutch pioneers some 300 years ago.

Rooms Brightly patterned fabrics and Japanese motifs give some of the 35 suites a modern-Orientalist feel, a tribute to the Dutch East India Company, which was based in Cape Town.

Restaurant Bosman's serves Continental haute cuisine (beef fillet with morels and barley risotto), as well as South African dishes (Cape Malay roti, a pancake,with ostrich curry).

Wine List Choices include such exceptional Western Cape bottles as a 1995 Saxenburg Pinotage Private Collection.

Winery Neighbors Make time to stop at Glen Carlou, Nelson Creek and Fairview (which also sells terrific goat cheese).

Details Plantasie St., Paarl; 011-27-21-863-2727, fax 011-27-21-863-2220; doubles from $205. >=

ANYA VON BREMZEN's most recent book is Fiesta! A Celebration of Latin Hospitality (Doubleday), which won a James Beard Award.

Published October 1998
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