IT may only be February, but chances are the rat race is already becoming tiresome. So what better way to recharge your batteries than kicking back and enjoying life at a slower pace, off the beaten track?

With a new high speed rail service running between London St Pancras and Marseille on the south coast of France, it's never been easier to pack your bags and put your out of office on your emails. Within hours you can find yourself immersed in the sun-kissed rolling hillside vineyards of the Rhône valley where there will be a glass of something red and refreshing awaiting your arrival.

Winding its way south towards Avignon, the Rhône divides the Drôme department with its more energetic neighbour the Ardèche - home to craggy mountains that lure in thousands of thrill-seekers each and every year, all eager to throw all their energy into white water rafting, mountain climbing and high ropes.

But you are far better off keeping your feet planted on the eastern bank of the river where you can enjoy life at a slower, more relaxed, pace. Plus the historic hillside Hermitage appellation gives you a great view of the playground of the adventurous and those energetic souls who have chosen to holiday there, but you won't have broken into a sweat reaching this summit - they offer tours by segway. No walking boots required.

The Cave de Tain co-operative at the foot of the Hermitage hill is a great place to begin a food and wine tour of the region - and is just a short drive away from Valence’s TGV station on the high-speed Paris to Marseilles line.

Seen as the spiritual home of the Syrah grape, which is used to make the Hermitage, Crozes Hermitage, Saint Joseph, Cornas and Saint Péray wines this hillside is famed for, the vineyard is also home to a selection of white wines made using Roussane and Marsanne grapes. And while half the fun is in tasting the wines, it wouldn’t be right to do so without first exploring the vineyards and discovering the history behind the appellations.

Thankfully, Cave de Tain have this in hand and offer guided tours of the hillside by Segway and electric bike, allowing you to really take it easy, while not missing out on the spectacular views offered from the top of the hill. Optional walking tours are also available, but there really is no beating the relaxing meander up the hill of a Segway. You will be rewarded with a fantastic tasting back at the Cave, where you can explore the wines with one of the Cave’s wine experts, take a stroll through the cellar and browse their rightly-so named treasure vault.

Not too far away from the Cave is another culinary delight - in the form of chocolate lovers' dream - La Cité du Chocolat Valrhona. This is France's biggest chocolate discovery centre, having handed out well over 16 tons of chocolate samples since its opening in 2013 to sweet-toothed visitors. Built on the site of the former factory, which has now moved to the edge of town in order to deal with increased international demand for the Valrhona name from the finest gourmets and patissiers, the Cité is now home to Europe’s tallest molten chocolate wall, which would be enough to turn Willy Wonka sick with envy.

You can even get hands on here, tasting chocolate in its various forms on the production line, as well as the delicious finished article of between 15 and 20 different types of chocolate.

The Drôme department's nearby capital, Valence, has its own international culinary credentials that see the town home to a number of Michelin stars

A little further south along the river Rhône, Valence is home to Maison Pic - the triple Michelin-starred restaurant that catapulted the Pic family to international culinary fame - now in the hands of Anne-Sophie Pic. Her new restaurant André takes guests on a culinary journey into four generations of the Pic family and some of their most delicious family recipes.

Here, Sophie will take you on a journey into the family cookbook where you can expect to find wholesome dishes on the seasonal menu such as pan fried duck Foie Gras and marc de l’Hermitage, rib of pork and fig tree leaves, and veal kidneys with Meaux mustard.

Round off the day’s events with a relaxing night at Hôtel de France 4*, which offers a great central location should you wish to enjoy a late night tipple in this charming town of pedestrianised shopping streets and shady terraces.

Following the river further south still will bring you to the magnificent hill-top palace of Grignan.

The story behind the magnificent castle itself is only matched by the notoriety of societal goings-on of the time, which visitors can experience first-hand today thanks to the Marquise de Sévigné’s seemingly endless appetite for letter writing during the reign of Louis XIV. She only stayed at Grignan Castle three times for a total of four years, but her now published letters have left an indelible mark on the castle. They were never published in her lifetime, but she found acclaim in the 18th century as a genuine epistolary writer, which saw travellers from across France and beyond journey to Grignan.

The castle itself has its own story to tell – as everything you see is not initially as it would seem at this, the largest Renaissance palace in southeast France. It was all-but destroyed during the revolution, with the furniture and any items of value looted. It wasn’t until the early part of the 20th century that then proprietor of the castle Marie Fontaine began the faithful reconstruction of the castle to the architectural marvel that looks down upon the village today. Each piece of furniture and art within the castle walls has its own story to tell, and it is well worth the time exploring the many rooms of this castle to understand why it has endured.

A gentle walk down from the castle into the picturesque streets of the commune and you will come across the charmingly beautiful Le Clair de la Plume. This hotel, gourmet restaurant, bistro, tea room and boutique is a tranquil getaway for those wanting to enjoy their visit to Grignan at a slower pace, drinking it all in while surrounded by fragrant lavender fields and enjoying gourmet meals whipped up in the kitchen by Julien Allano.

His motto “evolution within tradition” sums up the delicious meals served here morning, noon and night. Just last year the Michelin Guide awarded the bistro the Bib gourmand. The hotel even has its own hives to ensure the honey that’s served is as fresh as it gets. Guests at the hotel can enjoy the hotel’s picturesque, and award-winning, Mediterranean garden which has, at its heart, an organic, chemical-free, swimming pool where a glass of something sparkling can be enjoyed while taking in the spectacular views towards the castle.

If the sweeping lavender fields surrounding Grignan piqued your interest then a visit to Distillerie Bleu Provence in Nyons should also be taken in. Here you can discover the secrets behind the plant and its transformation into that most coveted of essential oils, with a ton of the delicate purple flowers needed to produce just 10kg of essential oil. If you fancy getting practical you can learn to become an apprentice perfumer, create your own bar of lavender soap, or simply relax in their shaded terrace and sample some exquisitely refreshing lavender sorbet.

From here make tracks to Suze-la-Rousse, a hill-top medieval fortress set within a wooded park of Mediterranean trees, where some time in the classroom awaits you. Now this may not sound very relaxing, but the château of Suze-la-Rousse is home to the Université du Vin. Here you will learn the fine art of wine tasting, taking in everything from the vineyards and their geological composition that create the perfect conditions for growing vines, to how to identify the many different tannins each wine is harbouring, and even the much-talked of Mistral wind that gives much of this area such great character. You will never hold a wine glass in the same way again, or be able to drink a full-bodied red without first tasting it to get a sense of what the wine is all about.

If a day exploring hill-top castles from days gone by wasn’t enough to give you your fill then do not fear, as the nearby Château de Rochegude 4* offers the opportunity not just to dine like a king in such a castle but to sleep overnight there too. Billed as a medieval gateway to the kingdom of truffles and black olives, this 12th century fortress, which became the summer residence of the Marquis de Rochegud, has been transformed from top to bottom in to a luxurious hotel for the modern traveller in search of somewhere special to rest their head – on a canopied bed, naturally.

The Marquis’ room is particularly spectacular, complete with her own window into the adjoining church. With a well-being suite, tennis court, 10 hectares of grounds, and an outdoor swimming pool should the fancy take you, the hotel has its own gastronomic restaurant and extensive wine cellar for you to put your new-found wine tasting skills into practice.

But then, you would expect nothing less from a hotel created for the nobility.

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