In October I had the privilege of touring Saint-Émilion and the vineyards surrounding it. Saint-Émilion is a medieval city located near Bordeaux, France. The amount of history behind this village is enormous. Meanwhile, large parts of the city’s history remain mysterious to visitors and scholars alike. Saint-Émilion has been a UNESCO world heritage site since 1999! The architecture of Saint-Émilion is unique even for the area it is located in. You will never visit anywhere like it!
First I will give you the 8 reasons you should visit Saint-Émilion by guided-tour. Second, I will describe my tour of the village and the chateau tour. So, let’s dive right in.
8 reasons Saint-Émilion is better experienced by guided tour:
- Only a tour-guide can take you underground & into the largest monolithic church in Europe
- The village is ancient, and only a tour can reveal all of the history in an interesting light
- Recently scholars have launched projects to recover Saint-Émilion’s mysterious history, and tour guides are up to date about the recent findings.
- The tour guides from the area have dedicated their lives to sharing their passions for the place. As a result, this passion makes the tour fascinating and engaging.
- Going on a tour from Bordeaux will take you on roads lined with vineyards and famous Chateaux. Including the place where the 100 years war officially ended!
- If you have questions, you will have direct access to an expert
- Tours still allow “free time” to explore the city and shops on your own. So you can have both experiences!
- Tours include wine tastings at places only accessible by vehicle. Therefore, if you are traveling to Saint-Émilion by train, you couldn’t see the country-side or go on a vineyard tour! (Plus, there is the added ease of a tour already being set up for you in your language).
Departing from Bordeaux, it is only a 45 minute ride to Saint-Émilion. An educational ride at that. After exiting the interstate, we drove through scenic single lane roads and small villages, typical of the French region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine. Living in the Medoc last year as an au pair, I got to ride through vineyards like this every day. The view from the bus offered a fresh reminder of the way the rows of vines show off their perfect symmetry, especially after harvest.
Arriving in Saint-Émilion means parking outside the fortified walls from medieval times. This is the first reminder of the centuries of warfare that these walls have withstood. Outside there is also the reminder of a 12th century Dominican monastery! At the beginning of the 100 Years War, the monks who lived here moved inside the walls of the village. After, the monastery was deliberately destroyed and only one wall was left majestically standing among the vines surrounding Saint-Émilion.
There is a tour for every interest and budget:
During the tour, one walks through beautifully steep streets paved with cobblestones until you reach the top of the monolith church Saint-Émilion. The view from atop Saint-Émilion was painted before it was built, bien sûr! You see burning orange roofs, steep winding allies, a large square spilling picturesque cafes, spires of medieval fortifications, and rolling hills covered by vineyards surrounding the village.
Going Underground Saint-Émilion
After twisting through tiny streets, it is time to head underground. The Église monolithe de Saint-Émilion is the largest underground church in Europe! The underground sites of Saint-Émilion can only be seen on a tour, as I have mentioned. Once we were inside the first set of doors, many tourists who were not on our tour tried to open the doors that our tour guide locked behind us. So, this is just one of the many allures of taking a tour of the village.
You will have no idea of the size when standing outside, it just seems like one of the many hill sides of the village. However, carved straight out of limestone in the hillside, stands an awe inspiring feat of construction. Hense, is hardly believable that anyone in in the 11th century could create such a huge underground area.
Inside the Église monolithe de Saint-Émilion, there are no pictures allowed to be taken. Consequently, you must take a tour to experience the mysteries and history that lie beneath Saint-Émilion.
With free time on the tour, I recommend snacking on some local cuisine. Before taking a tour of a close by chateau and vineyard, check out some wine shops! They also have international shipping if you are low on space.
The Best Part… The Wine Tasting
There are 131 Chateaux in the the Saint-Émilion area! My tour involved Chateau Bernateau. The tour and tasting of Chateau Bernateau is fantastically unique. As it is a 100% certified organic vineyard that is also classified in the Saint-Émilion grand cru class! However, every tour visits different chateaux of the area. Finally, after the tour, tasting wine makes for a great end to any tour of Saint-Émilion.
So basically, you really ought to tour Saint-Émilion! The village is one of the most beautiful places in driving distance of Bordeaux. Plus, there are great views, delicious wines, a unique cuisine, and an interesting history.
I was a guest on this tour by the Bordeaux Tourism and Conventions office. All opinions are completely my own. I am not writing on behalf of anyone but me! Thank you, Bordeaux, for hosting the student traveler!