If you’re a wine lover you should definitely pay a visit to the beautiful Saint-Émilion. But secretly this village is more than a prestigious wine region close to Bordeaux. It is also a lovely medieval town perched on top of a hill, between castles and vineyards.
Saint-Émilion has 70 kilometers of underground passages and an underground church and the best crus mature in this limestone corridor, such as: Ausone, Cheval Blanc, Angélus, Figeac, Canon la Gaffelière and Clos Fourtet. Since 1999, the vineyards, the surrounding area and the town of Saint-Emilion have been listed as a cultural heritage by UNESCO.
To the east of Bordeaux, on the right bank of the Dordogne River, are the areas of Saint-Émilion, Pomerol, Fronsac, Côtes de Francs and Côtes de Castillon. The collective name for these areas is the Libournais. This comes from the most important city in the area: the port city of Libourne. However, the informal wine capital of this region is Saint-Émilion.
To visit Saint-Émilion, you pass one of the seven gates. These gates are left over from the medieval walls around the city. In the city are narrow streets with beautiful historic buildings, cafes, boutiques, shops and restaurants. In the middle is a central square with cozy terraces. Apart from this year with Covid-19, more than two million tourists come to visit the city every year. They come for the beautiful place and for the wine that is internationally known and famous.
Originally the name of Saint-Emilion was “Ascumbas”, but that changed in the 8th century after a Breton monk named Émilion settled around that time in Ascumbas. There are many caves in that region, Emilion lived in one of those caves. Before that he would have been in the service of a count as a monk. He had access to the kitchen and regularly secretly took bread for the poor. One day he was caught and were asked by the count what he was keeping under his coat. Émilion said it was a piece of wood. When he had to show it, it turned out that the bread had indeed turned into wood. Because of this legend, the monk became very popular, and the name of the town of Ascumbas was changed to Saint-Émilion. The cave in which he lived became a popular destination for pilgrims.
Saint-Émilion has grown over the centuries into a prosperous economic town. It became a trading center for wine, grain and other goods. This prosperity is nowadays still visible in the many monuments that the place has.
One of the most impressive buildings in Saint-Émilion is the “Monolithic Church”, a medieval church with a striking bell tower. This is largely underground. The church has been named Église Monolithe because it is made from a single piece of rock, a so-called monolith. The clock tower was added later. This church building is one of the largest churches of its kind in Europe.
Another striking sight in Saint-Émilion is the “Cordeliers Monastery“. It is a beautiful building that is preserved as a historical monument. After entering the monastery, you first descend 17 meters down to the underground cellars. From there, guided tours are given of the underground catacombs. During this guided tour you will learn about the traditional preparation of the “Crémant de Bordeaux”, the sparkling wine of the Cordeliers that has been produced since the 19th century.
The combination of world-famous vineyards and beautiful architecture makes Saint-Émilion one of the most beautiful places in the Bordeaux region to visit.
You can also visit the surrounding vineyards from Saint-Émilion, such as Pomerol, Sauternes and Margaux. You can do this by buses and a tourist train or by renting a bike or motorcycle with sidecar. – Ask at the Office de Tourisme of Saint-Émilion about the Pass’Escapades, a fun way to discover the famous sites.
For more information about Saint-Émilion click here.