Explore Marlborough Country

Good heavens, they are in part for Sauvignon Blanc (& # 39; Savvy Blanc & # 39; as they call it) in New Zealand.

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And nowhere in the country is more of it produced than in Marlborough, at the top of South Island. You've seen the labels hundreds of times in your local supermarket – but being here is a completely different feeling.

This charming region accounts for 80 percent of the total wine production in New Zealand, and what gives it extra zest is that wine making here did not begin until 1973.

Savvy cyclists: There are 171 wineries in the Marlborough region, of which about 35 are open to the public

Savvy cyclists: There are 171 wineries in the Marlborough region, of which about 35 are open to the public

So this is something of a pilgrimage for wine lovers. Marlborough is easily accessible by plane from Auckland to Blenheim, where luggage arrives on a trailer and you help yourself. Or it's a day's drive to the north of Christchurch. The grapes are grown on flat plains flanked by mountains and there is an enviable climate (the sunniest place in all of New Zealand, although the evenings are cool), a focused atmosphere and the friendliest people.

There are 171 wineries, about 35 of which are open to the public. We first call one of the most famous, Cloudy Bay (the bay that got the name of Captain Cook).

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Together with the award-winning Sauvignon Blancs, we taste some excellent Pinot Noirs and beautiful Chardonnays. The latter will restore your confidence in that much ridiculed grape that is incorrectly associated with cheap nights in Essex.

Admire the immaculate straight vines of Marlborough, and if you're here in March when the harvest starts, it's all the better.

The map above shows the most important places that Mark Palmer visited during his tour through Marlborough

The map above shows the most important places that Mark Palmer visited during his tour through Marlborough

The map above shows the most important places that Mark Palmer visited during his tour through Marlborough

At winery Wither Hills we join a group that eventually finds its way to the bar room for a blending session – and we come with a certificate of completion. It is hardly heavy. After dividing into teams of three, we have the task to make the perfect Pinot Noir mix with wines from three different vineyards. We have to name our wine and sell its merits to one of the master mixers of Wither Hills, who then decides which of the teams has produced the best wine.

Mine does not succeed in winning the day, but we drink deeply from the source of wine knowledge and enjoy the process immensely.

We also enjoy staying at The Marlborough Lodge, a hotel with ten rooms that does not look like a hotel. It was opened in November 2016 and is set in beautiful gardens.

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At one point it was a monastery, hence the chapel on the property. Every evening, guests gather around an outdoor fireplace in the garden for a drink, followed by a dinner that is almost entirely prepared with local ingredients. The man who owns the hotel is also in charge of The Marlborough Tour Company, one of the many outlets with boat trips on the nearby Marlborough Sounds, a maze of islands, bays and watercourses.

Mark stayed at The Marlborough Lodge (above), a hotel set in beautiful gardens

Mark stayed at The Marlborough Lodge (above), a hotel set in beautiful gardens

Mark stayed at The Marlborough Lodge (above), a hotel set in beautiful gardens

If you are lucky, dolphins will play a performance while you indulge in local Greenshell mussels (the largest in the world), salmon and mussels.

The main starting point for this is the town of Picton (4,000 inhabitants), which we think is incredibly sleepy, but my guide describes it as "hyperactive" in the summer. We are here in the summer, and if this is hyperactive, I am Usain Bolt.

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One evening we eat in Arbor, situated between different vineyards. We start with 40-year-old Storm Shell cockles of shells the size of half an orange. I keep mine to put salt in the house.

Taking a look at the Peter Jackson aircraft museum is a good idea. The Lord Of The Rings director gives a great show of airplanes from the First World War and no costs have been spared for the presentation.

Peter Jackson's aircraft museum is located near Blenheim, the major city of Marlborough, but only around 30,000 permanent residents live there. When we visit a bookstore, an employee asks us where we are from and when we tell her we are from Great Britain, she seems full of admiration that we have come all the way here.

She's wrong. We are the ones full of admiration – for a region that eats, drinks and is cheerful with apparently so little effort.

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