In the heart of southwestern French wine country, in the midst of vineyards that seem to go on for miles, you’ll find little towns known for their prestigious wines. One of the most revered of these wine towns is Saint-Émilion, a medieval village nestled in the hills of the libournais region. It’s the perfect destination for a day trip from Bordeaux if you are looking to escape the big city, taste some boujie wine, and meander the streets of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Traveling to Saint-Émilion
Getting to Saint-Émilion by train only takes about 30 minutes from Bordeaux Saint-Jean ,and you can book same day tickets for less than 10€! Make sure you snag a window seat on the train so you can admire the fields of grapes on your way to wine tasting. Keep in mind that the town center is about a 20 minute walk from the Saint-Émilion station. If coming by car, you can also visit some wineries a little further from the village.
History of Saint-Émilion
Saint-Émilion bears its name from a Breton monk who, in the 8th century, became a hermit and settled in the area . Later in the 12th century, A Monolithic church was built in his honor, carved out of the cave where he dwelled. What’s even more amazing about this town, is that the vineyards have been there since prehistoric times! We’re talking somewhere between 35,000 to 10,000 B.C. here… Perhaps the same tribes that painted the walls of the Lascaux cave passed through the libournais and foraged the wild grapes. Winemaking didn’t begin until tens of thousands of years later, however. You can learn more about the history of Saint-Émilion on the website of Les Vins de Saint-Émilion.
Les Grands Crus Classés de Saint-Émilion
So, what makes the wines of Saint-Émilion so prestigious? Well, as we’ve learned, wine has been cultivated in this little corner of the world for a couple millennia, so you’d think they’ve mastered the art of vinification by now. The concept of “Grand Cru“ emerged in the 18th century with the Enlightenment period, denoting the best wines with strict production regulations. For example, during a visit to a local winery, our guide explained that in the region, irrigation was not permitted due to the high percentage of clay in the soil.
Saint-Émilion is best known for its bold red wines, which are made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot grapes, and have notes of red fruits and velvety tannins. Don’t take my word for it though, book a tour and tasting and let the experts imbue you with tidbits about the celebrated cépages!
Booking a Wine Tour in Saint-Émilion
Speaking of winery tours, I was able to find and book a tour on the website Rue des Vignerons. I was able to see which wineries were in Saint-Émilion itself or outside the city, and what kind of wine they produced, such as organic, biodynamic, sustainable, etc. The average prices for bottles of wine were also listed, which I found helpful because I didn’t want to taste a wine and end up loving it, but not be able to afford a bottle! You definitely aren’t expected to purchase a bottle of wine after the tour, however!
My boyfriend and I ended up choosing a tour at the Couvent des Jacobins, Grand Cru Classé which is a family owned winery housed in an old convent. The tour was 25€ which included a guided visit of the wine cellars, vineyards, and a tasting of two wines paired with dark chocolate or cheese. Since the vines weren’t directly by the convent, we got to ride in a tuk-tuk for a few minutes to reach the fields. Our guide was kind and informative and told us all about the production of the wine, the history of the domaine, and thoughtfully answered any questions we had.
Another unique winery you can visit in town is the Cloître des Cordeliers, which specializes in sparkling wine; no, not Champagne, but Crémant. Here, you can purchase souvenirs in the large gift shop, take a tour of the cellars, or simply enjoy a glass of bubbly out on the cloister’s terrace.
If you aren’t a oenophile, you can still try some of the specialties of Saint-Émilion like the macaron à l’ancienne, a chewy, more humble version of the famous French cookie. Or, you can sample some foie gras, if you aren’t a vegetarian like me! Wine is honestly the main attraction here, but if you enjoy history and wandering around picturesque villages, it’s worth the trip.
Thank you so much for reading and make sure to follow the blog for more adventures in France!
À la prochaine,