Saint-Emilion is both a beautiful medieval village and a famous appellation of red Bordeaux wine. When you go on a Bordeaux wine tour, be sure to check out the St Emilion wineries as well as Saint Emilion village. Although small, there are plenty of things to do in St Emilion in addition to sampling St Emilion wine. The Saint Emilion restaurant scene is fantastic and there are several historic sites in the village to visit. The very helpful Saint Emilion tourist office runs tours, rents bicycles etc. Moreover, you should consider checking into one of the St Emilion hotels so that you can enjoy this beautiful place when the tour buses leave with their hordes of tourists.
Saint Emilion Bordeaux
Saint Emilion village is widely accepted as the most beautiful of the wine towns in the Bordeaux region. And with good reason!
St Emilion Bordeaux is 21 miles east of the city of Bordeaux which is a 45 minute drive. The town and its vicinity are a UNESCO world heritage site since 1999. Although only about 2000 people call it home, it hosts thousands more visitors annually. In terms of historical visitors, St Emilion is also part of the Santiago de Compostela route.
The medieval town of Saint-Emilion is named after Emilion, a hermit cave-dwelling monk from Brittany. After his death, his cave became a place of pilgrimage which gradually expanded to become Saint Emilion village .
The irony? St Emilion with his hermit habits would have hated the crowds of tourists who flock to his town every year.
The glow of the limestone buildings adds to the charm of the rabbit warren of charming cobble-stone streets. The steep streets are called tertre locally. There are still parts of the 13th century city walls in existence.
Vineyards in St Emilion
Saint Emilion is one of the major red wine regions of Bordeaux along with Medoc and Graves. Some of the most prestigious and expensive wine is produced in St Emilion Bordeaux. A lot of the best Saint-Emilion wines are actually being produced in the limestone soil of Saint Emilion wineries within a mile of the town itself.
Saint Emilion Bordeaux has been a wine region since the Romans planted vineyards here nearly 2000 years ago. There’s even a wine growing brotherhood (the Jurade de Saint Emilion) which was set up by King John (of England and Magna Carta fame) in 1199. In exchange for the Jurade, English merchants got first pick of all the St Emilion wine. This arrangement lasted all the way until the French Revolution!
St Emilion wine is a combination of mostly Merlot and Cabernet Franc with some Cabernet Sauvignon added for good measure.
Saint Emilion wine is classified into 3 tiers since 1955. Every 10 years, St Emilion wineries have to take the classification test for their wine production.
There are approximately 800 Saint Emilion wineries, both large and small. At the top of the pecking order is the Premier Grand Cru Classe (18 chateaux), then the Grand Cru (another 63 chateaux), then the Grand Cru Classe (276 chateaux) and finally your standard Saint Emilion wine (443 chateaux). Note these numbers are as of 2012.
The Tourist Office at Saint-Emilion offers daily listings of chateaux that are open for wine tastings. In addition to checking out the wine room, vats and barrel cellars, you may get lucky and even get to see a bit of the 125 miles of underground cellars some of these St Emilion wineries possess.
Wine tasting St Emilion
You can spend days wine tasting St Emilion wines and die a happy person pickled in red wine.
If all that wine tasting has you coveting Saint Emilion Bordeaux wine for your own home cellar, stores will happily ship the wine anywhere in the world.
Bad Boy Bordeaux
For a break with tradition, check out Bad Boy Bordeaux, one of the innovators of wine in the region in the 1990s. The producers of Bad Boy Bordeaux created their award winning wine in a garage instead of a chateau due to a lack fo funds. A visiting wine critic was so impressed he called it the “Bad Boy of Bordeaux”. The name stuck and the so-called garagistes gained traction.
Bordeaux Classique is a wine store run by Greg Stanford, an Australian chemist who married a French woman and settled in the area. Greg is gregarious, enthusiastic and knowledgeable about his wine. And, obviously being a native English speaker he could answer all our questions in a way we could understand.
We highly recommend a stop by Bordeaux Classique who demystified St Emilion wine for us without being patronising. Moreover, Greg’s store is not limited to St Emilion wine. Among the boxes of Saint-Emilion wines we shipped home to London, my husband snuck in a bottle of Armagnac.
Maison du Vin Saint Emilion
If you want to take the whole wine tasting thing more seriously, go to Maison du Vin Saint Emilion which has a wine school as well. You can have various wine tastings depending on your familiarity with St. Emilion wine.
A Self-Guided Wine Tour St Emilion
Feeling active? You can walk or cycle around the Saint Emilion vineyards working off (some of) the wine you imbibe. As previously noted, most of the best St Emilion wineries are within a mile of the town itself so you don’t need to go too far.
The superb St Emilion tourist office has also runs a St Emilion bike rental service. The St Emilion tourism office also have suggested hiking and cycling routes. Fear not, the easiest route is just a 2 mile loop! These routes work to a 30 mile loop if you are feeling hard-core.
If cycling is too much hard work, visit the St Emilion wineries by train – Saint Emilion has those adorable little toy trains that you seem to find in every tourist area of France. You can also visit St Emilion by Tuk Tuk! Both of these options leave from the Espace Villamaurine.
Actually there are a lot of St Emilion tours that have unique ways to see the Vineyards in St Emilion – motorcycle side car, hot air balloon, electric scooter etc.
What to do in Saint Emilion
There are plenty of cafes, restaurants, boutiques and art galleries in Saint-Emillion in addition to a handful of historical sites. We are, of course, assuming you will want things to do in Saint Emilion that don’t involve a Saint Emilion wine tour.
Saint Emilion Restaurant Options
Every Saint Emilion restaurant is poised to balance all that fine wine with good food. In addition to brasseries and bistros, there are also fine dining establishments, including two Michelin starred restaurants located St Emilion hotels.
For those with a sweet tooth, Saint-Emilion is known for its macarons thanks to the Ursuline nuns who established their convent in the town in 1620 (and rescued from the French Revolution).
St Emilion Monolithic Church
The St Emilion monolithic church carved into the limestone is from the 12th century. This church is the focal point of the town. The bell tower of the St Emilion Monolithic Church soars 173 feet into the sky which makes the town instantly recognisable from a distance.
You can only visit the St Emilion Monolithic Church on a guided tour from the St Emilion Tourist Office. On the tour, you will get to see the cave where St Emilion lived for the last years of his life as well as the catacombs of early Christians. If you are feeling fit, you can climb the 196 steps to the top of the tower.
Chateau du Roy
After climbing the steep 118 steps of the 800 year old Chateau du Roy, you are rewarded with great views over the Saint Emilion wineries and the Dordogne River just a few miles away.
Did I mention that your glutes will have a workout in Saint Emilion Bordeaux ?
Anyway, its unclear whether it was a French King or an English King or maybe even the Jurade who constructed the Chateau du Roy.
When Eleanor of Aquitaine ditched her first husband, King Louis VII of France, to marry her second husband, King Henry II, she gave the English kings a claim to this region. The area was a bone of contention between the French and English kings for hundreds of years.
The Cordeliers Monastery and Cloisters
The Cordeliers Monastery got its name from the Franciscans who wore a brown robe with a cord tied around the waist. The Franciscans occupied this monastery from the 14th century until they forced out during the French Revolution. The monastery fell into ruin until the late 19th century when a sparkling wine facility was opened in its cellars.
With all the red wine Saint Emilion produces, bet you didn’t know there was also a sparkling Saint Emilion wine?
These cellars run for miles under the Saint Emilion village . Of course, you can arrange for a Saint Emilion wine tour and wine tasting of the Cordeliers cellar.
This church in Saint-Emilion has a nave dating from the 12th century. Probably the most memorable part for my son was that he got to hammer pins into a wooden stake in lieu of lighting prayer candles.
There are two lavoirs in St Emilion Bordeaux where the local women would come to rinse their laundry in clean water. These are now fountains and a cool historical throwback to when Saint Emilion village wasn’t chock full of tourists.
If you are a music lover, one of the cool things to do in St Emilion is visit during its annual jazz festival at the end of July.
The Jurade wine brotherhood also organises two annual festivals, the Spring Festival in June and the Vintage Festival in September where the members of the Jurade parade in snazzy traditional red and white robes.
Saint Emilion Hotels
During the busy summer season, Saint Emilion Bordeaux can get very crowded. You will have the better experience if you stay in Saint Emilion village so that you have it to yourself after the tour buses have left. On the downside, with a town this small, you don’t have many options for in-town Saint Emilion hotels.
Although there are plenty of luxury options in the countryside, these are the best hotels in Saint Emilion France itself. In such a small town, there really isn’t that many St Emilion hotels to choose from. There is another high-end St Emilion hotel, Les Chambres d’Ovaline, which is closed until February 2020.
Hostellerie de Plaisance is a Relaix & Chateaux property with a double-starred Michelin restaurant onsite, La Table de Plaisance. This 5 star St Emilion hotel is based in a former convent with beautiful views over the town.
Check out the great TripAdvisor reviews for Hostellerie de Plaisaince.
Auberge de la Commanderie is a luxury guesthouse located in a former 12th century Knights Templar house. It, too, has a Michelin starred restaurant on site – Le Logis de Cadene. This St Emilion hotel also has family rooms that can accommodate up to 5 people.
Check out the great TripAdvisor reviews for Auberge de la Commanderie.
Au Logis des Remparts is our pick among 3 star hotels in Saint Emilion. A boutique hotel in the center of St Emilion, this St Emilion hotel has a pool which you will welcome on a hot summer day.
Check out the great TripAdvisor reviews for Au Logis des Remparts!
Saint Emilion Map
The Saint Emilion Tourist office has great maps of both the town and the surrounding countryside. This Saint Emilion Map though is just the basics to help you get oriented to the town.
Saint Emilion To Bordeaux (and Vice Versa)
If you are in Bordeaux, then you can get to Saint-Emilion fairly easily. There are Bordeaux wine tours that visit St Emilion. You can also take the train which takes about 45 minutes and leaves you at a train station a little less than a mile outside of town. If you drive it’s 25 miles and also about 45 minutes.
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