Saint Emilion is one of the best wines produced in France, and the region is known for its hundreds of vineyards that contain a rich soil, ideal for growing the precious grapes that give the wine its incomparable taste.
The town of Saint Emilion reflects the pride and history of the region and is a designated UNESCO Heritage site and on the list of Plus Beaux Villages of France (Most Beautiful Villages of France). Saint Emilion is an easy day trip from Bordeaux, just a 45-minute drive, but you can also stay in the numerous hotels in town or even in the vineyards.
The recorded history of Saint Emilion goes as far back as the second century, when the Romans planted vineyards in the area. Later on, monks started to process and bottle wine, and the medieval ages saw a proliferation of vineyards and also churches and monasteries, as the town was a stop on the Saint James to Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage trek.
Today, Saint Emilion still retains its medieval heritage and architecture and one of the most significant sites is the monolithic underground church. Constructed in the 12th century in the center of the village, it measures an astounding 125 feet long and 40 feet high, and there’s also a 68-foot-high bell tower connected to the church. It’s incurred many charges over the centuries, including being painted in the 14th century, damaged badly during the French Revolution, and renovated and restored in the 20th century. The church still hosts concerts and religious services, and the Brotherhood of wines of Saint-Emilion has their ceremonies there.
Pro Tip: You can only visit the church with a guided tour organized by the tourist bureau. Tours in English are hosted twice daily.
Cloitre des Cordeliers is a relic of a former cloister of a 14th-century Franciscan monastery, and for over a century, Les Cordeliers has produced an excellent Cremant de Bordeaux, a sparkling white wine similar to Champagne, but at a fraction of the price. Twice a day there are 90-minute walking tours during which you can visit part of the ancient two-mile cellars and enjoy three wine tastings for 11 euros per person.
Get that heart rate pumping with a 118 step climb up the Tour du Roy, a former 13th-century donjon (a massive tower), and you will be justly rewarded with a breathtaking, panoramic view of the village and beyond, including the Dordogne River and valley.
At the end of July, Saint Emilion plays host to a three-day jazz festival and invites international jazz performers.
Where To Eat And Drink
There are two weekly markets in Saint Emilion, the small, daytime food market which has local wine, fruits and vegetables, cheeses, breads and pastries, and fresh oysters, which is open on Wednesday and Sunday, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. The other option is the night market, which is open on Tuesdays from the end of July until the third week of August from 7 p.m. to 12 a.m. Tastings of Sauternes, Bordeaux, and Saint Emilion are available in addition to stalls with prepared foods of local dishes such as foie gras, escargot, and sliced duck breast.
L’Envers Du Decors
One of the best restaurants in Saint Emilion, L’Envers du Decors has chef Bertrand Bordenave preparing his exquisite cuisine with the freshest and finest local ingredients. Recommended dishes include filet mignon, lamb shanks, and for dessert, a Grand Marnier souffle. There’s a lovely garden terrace in the summer. Reservations are a must.
Pro Tip: The lunch menu, served from Monday to Friday, is an excellent value at 32 euros per person for three courses.
L’Huitrier Pie is committed to sustainable gastronomy, using produce, herbs, and edible flowers grown in their own garden using recycled rainwater. They also only serve ingredients from local purveyors who adhere to sustainability standards. The result is a refreshing and creative menu with dishes such as rhubarb tomato confit with smoked mozzarella, grilled oysters with foie gras and artichoke, and for dessert, peach mousse with a spiced crumble topping and pineapple and sage ice cream.
Sous La Robe
Sous La Robe is a down-to-earth wine bar with a good selection of wines and Champagnes by the glass at fair prices, starting at 6.50 euros per glass. They also have a light food menu with tapas, cheeses, and pates, and there’s live music.
Where To Stay
Hotel De Pavie
At one time a convent where nuns provided shelter for weary travelers and pilgrims, Hotel de Pavie is now a luxury, boutique hotel with just nine tastefully decorated rooms. Amenities include air conditioning, flat-screen TVs, coffee machines, and separate showers and bathtubs. Parisian Michelin star chef Yannick Alleno has created an exceptional menu at the hotel’s La Table de Pavie restaurant.
Pro Tip: The restaurant has a dress code. Shorts and flip-flops are not allowed.
Nestled among the iconic vineyards of Saint Emilion, La Pignarderie is a charming guesthouse with just five rooms. Each room is individually decorated with antiques and luxurious bed linens. The hotel has a lush garden, a wine cellar, dinner service with a private chef, a swimming pool, and a wellness facility with a massage menu and a jacuzzi.
Chateau Coutet is a fifth-generation, family-owned wine dynasty that started in 1855. Adrien Coutet and his father, Adrian, now operate the vineyards and they still use the traditional family methods (which involve not spraying pesticides on the grapes). They offer tours of the vineyards and wine tastings. Prices start at less than 20 euros per bottle.
Just a 10-minute walk from the town of Saint Emilion is Chateau Soutard, a classic 18th-century chateau and vineyard. Chateau Soutard offers other activities besides wine tastings of their Grand crus, including a wine blending workshop, bicycle rides through the vineyards, cellar visits, and gourmet picnics.
Pro Tip: The town of Saint Emilion has large cobblestones and is also very hilly, so wear rubber bottom shoes or sneakers. For more inspiration, consider