Seeking out under-the-radar holiday destinations is no mean feat in the days of travel-savvy Instagrammers sharing photos of once-hidden rustic idylls and exotic climes.
So if you want to seek out a truly unique holiday destination, there's only one person to ask: a Wine Society buyer. Seeking treasures from off-the-beaten track is part of the job description, so we asked buyer Freddy Bulmer to give us his top tips for the best summer travel (great wine guaranteed). Explore some of Freddy's top under-the-radar wines to enjoy this summer with our Dive Into the Unknown offer.
Freddy's Top Tips for Summer travel
Villa Melnik, Bulgaria
The two main cities of Bulgaria are one of the most pleasant surprises I have had on my wine travels.
Both Sofia and Plovdiv are bustling old cities which have a great atmosphere, delicious food and good wine. Admittedly, before I went there on my wine travels, it wasn't really on my list of places to go on holiday: obviously, that's changed! You can find amazing value here, as I found out when three gourmet burgers, all the sides, beers and gin & tonic came to just £28 (so I generously offered to pay for the lot, aren't I nice!?) and there are gorgeous boutique hotels on offer.
Plovdiv in particular has so much to offer in terms of culture, history and architecture.
It's a bit of a drive out to some of the wine regions but it's well worth doing. If you are happy to splash out, drive to the Melnik region to visit the wonderful people at Villa Melnik and then stay a night or two at Zornitza Family Estate Relais and Chateaux, the luxury spa resort with vast and gorgeous views of the hilly countryside.
The summer gets scorchingly hot and the winter gets bitterly cold (down to minus 15 degrees or so). I went in October and it was utterly wonderful, so I'd recommend you do the same.
Admiring the view over Lake Balaton, Hungary
Hungary: Lake Balaton
Budapest is the first place that comes to mind for most Brits when holidaying in Hungary. But on a trip in 2018 it was Lake Balaton which bowled me over.
In the central eastern part of Hungary, Lake Balaton spans 48 miles from end to end, and is a popular holiday destination for Hungarians: when you see it you'll immediately understand why they tend to opt for a staycations rather than going abroad!
The most popular places to visit around the lake are Siófok, Keszthely, and Balatonfüred but there are many more, offering something for everyone. In the summer, the temperature of the water gets up to around 25 degrees and is popular for some wild-water swimming.
It was so good that I couldn't resist a dip!
Italy: Pontassieve/Rufina, Tuscany
The small hamlet of houses owned by Grati, in the hills of Chianti, Italy
It was a visit to the Grati family, who produce The Society's Chianti Rufina, which took me to visit these two charming towns which sit next door to each other along the river Arno, a short drive from Florence.
Pontassieve is the bigger of the two and has a beautiful cultural centre, with small shops, restaurants and bars, perfect for wandering, discovering hidden corners and soaking up the sunshine (and wine of course). Rufina is smaller and is the home of the Grati winery, where you can pop in to buy wines or their unbelievably wonderful olive oil.
This is a perfect place to stay if you want to drive (or train) into Florence with ease but also want to retreat to somewhere a little more peaceful at night. There are beautifully scenic walks to be had and views of which you could never possibly tire.
The food is rustic and delicious: don't expect anything fancy as this is seriously basic dining, and don't ask any questions about the wine (you get what you get!). I'll never forget a delicious, rustic dish of pasta with black truffle at Lago di Vetrice, a little fishing lake up in the hills. This is proper Italian food.
I was lucky enough to go and explore the wines of Washington State a few years ago and ended up spending a couple of nights in Seattle too.
While California tends to grab the headlines when it comes to wine tourism, Washington State is a place that's well worth exploring, with a wealth of wonderful wines to discover.
If you fly into Seattle, you'll find a brilliant bustling city, full of famous sights and plenty to do. Elliot's Oyster House is somewhat of an institution for the locals and their seafood platters are quite a spectacle! There are also a host of urban wineries, most of which have a brilliant cellar-door where you can spend evenings enjoying their produce.
If you head east and over the mountains, you get into true American countryside and the home of Washington's vineyards. Walla Walla – where you'll find some of the region's very best wineries – is the place to go for the authentic WA experience.
Australia: King Valley
When it comes to wine, the King Valley, north-east of Melbourne, is thought of by many as big 'little Italy'. Many Italian winemaking families have moved out here over the years and so it's a fantastic place to visit for a bit of an Aussie/Italian mash-up. And that's no bad thing, considering both do wine very well and Italian-inspired dishes work amazingly well on the barbeque!
At around a three hour drive from Melbourne Airport it's worth spending at least one night out in King Valley, where you can visit a number of wineries and taste their take on sangiovese which can be absolutely delicious (if a bit expensive to bring into the UK).
For the proper King Valley Experience, the Mountain View Hotel is the perfect Aussie/Italian match where you can find good cold beers and delicious Italian inspired food.
Austria, a land of mountain, mists and magical wine
Every time wine takes me to Austria I still get excited and Vienna is one of the reasons for that. If you haven't taken a long weekend to go and visit the Austrian capital then I really would recommend it.
If you like shopping, eating, drinking, walking, sightseeing and pretty-much-anything-else-ing, then Vienna will not disappoint. I have used it as a base in the past due to the fact that almost all of Austria's wine regions aren't much further than an hour's drive away, so it's a very convenient location to set-up camp. After a day's work seeing what's what in wine, I have enjoyed soaking up the culture on offer. If you're a wine lover in Vienna then MAST winebar is the place to be for the cool and modern side of wine. If you have had a day seeing wineries though, it tends to be a cold beer which is beckoning, for which you cannot beat 1516 Brewing Company (where the currywurst is good too!).
I was lucky enough to spend a night and day in Crete at the start of 2018 as part of the usual 'flying visit' winery tours that you tend to do a lot of as a buyer. I was struck by the arid beauty of the countryside and the general way of life.
Crete (along with a number of other countries) claims the oldest olive tree in the world and this symbolises a certain 'peaceful' way of life. The food is fresh and delicious, the wine can be superb and the landscape will make you never want to go home.
We stayed the night in Chania, on the coast, which is picturesque and buzzing. There are plenty of restaurants and bars on the waterfront which mustn't be missed, along with the beautiful Old Venetian Harbour.