A Day Out In Saint Émilion
Updated: Mar 18, 2022
Things to do and places to see when visiting Saint Émilion.
Saint Émilion, approximately 40km east of Bordeaux and 60km west of Bergerac, is home to some of the finest red wine in the world. Along with award winning wines, Saint Émilion is full of gastronomic delights, home to Michelin Star Restaurants as well as ancient secret recipes and delicacies. What's more, the historical and picturesque village, its extensive vineyards, along with the special terroir (“a sense of place” - the climate, the soil, the terrain, and the tradition of wine making) has led to the region acquiring a UNESCO heritage status. Approximately a 20-minute drive from Cousserat, it is clear to see why our guests make sure to fit in a day trip when they are on holiday here.
On entering the medieval village through one of its seven gateways, you will be enchanted by the old French architecture and narrow cobbled streets. You can easily spend a full day just roaming around the village, soaking up the picture-postcard atmosphere, and people watching in the main square. However, we wish to share with you some places that we have enjoyed on our days out there so that you can get the most of your visit to Saint Émilion:
1) Soak up the historical charm
In the 8th Century a Benedictine monk named Aemilianus (Emilion) sought refuge in the area, which was previously named Ascumbas. He lived as a hermit in what is now part of the monolithic church and is said to have performed miracles on his followers. As more pilgrims came to the area, the monolithic church was carved and other religious buildings were erected, forming a community ruled by Saint Benedict.
To visit Aemilianus’s hermitage and to find out more about the Benedictine’s interesting story and how wine started to be produced in Saint Emilion, then we highly recommend joining one of the many tours led by the tourist office.
2) Visit The Monolithic Church
Stealing the Saint Émilion vista is the 68-metre-high Bell Tower of the Monolithic Church - if you can, it is well worth the climb to the top for some magnificent panoramic views!
Yet underneath this tower is where the real magic of the church is. From ancient Greek mono (single) and lithos (stone) the name is derived from the fact that the church was carved into one single limestone.
**To see the monolithic church inside, both the bell tower and Saint Emilion’s hermitage, then you need to get a ticket and join a tour led by the tourist office.
3) See Saint Émilion's King of Views
Another way to see the region's beautiful vistas is to climb the 118 steps of La Tour du Roy (The King’s Keep). At the time of writing, a ticket to go to the top is just 2 euros and you are provided with an information leaflet which tells you about its history. It also explains the Jurande ceremony which happens there every year to commence the wine harvest.
4) Eat a piece of history
By now you will have earned some calories, so why not indulge by sampling the macarons made using the best kept secret recipe! The story goes that Ursuline nuns who settled in Saint Émilion in 1680 used the locally harvested almonds as a way of supplementing their meat-free diet. These nuns were geniuses though - they developed a magical recipe using the almonds to make a sweet, delicious macaron. The recipe has been passed down through generations to a rare few and it is said that today, Nadia Fermigier is the only person that holds the original recipe. You can find these famous macarons at the shop on 9 rue Guadot, or at the cafe Au Parvis des Theas.
5) Taste the lesser-known wine of Saint Emilion
Obviously, Saint Émilion is known for its world-class red wine, but did you know that it is also home to the sparkling wine Les Cordeliers Crémant de Bordeaux?
Les Cordeliers (roughly meaning: bound 'lié' by rope 'corde') was the nickname for the brown robe and white rope wearing Franciscan monks who built a monastery and cloister (chambers) in Saint Émilion in the 13th century. It wasn’t until the 19th century when wine started to be made at the cloister. It was made using traditional methods and the fact that the cloisters were 20 metres underground meant that a consistent temperature was kept to ensure the perfect Bordeaux du Crémant.
You can visit Les Cordeliers cloisters for an interesting and informative tour, sip a drink sat amongst the beautiful monastery walls, or head to the amazing gift shop for some sparkling wine to take back to the gîte.
6) Visit a Château
Saint-Émilion has so many incredible Châteaux to visit and each has their own uniqueness - we think a whole other blog could be written about Saint Emilion Châteaux tours but here are a couple that we wish to highlight:
A tour that we often talk about is at the fabulous Château Guadet. Like many Saint Émilion locals, Château Guadet are proud of their history, having been passed down through generations since 1844. The owners are incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about their use of biodynamic processes to produce Grand Cru Classe wine and this passion really does make the tour come to life - highly recommended!
We also recommend a visit to the amazing Château Bernateau, who are also a family business and just as passionate about their high-tech production of biodynamic wine. On the tour you will learn about the inspiring modern technology used to make wine taste its very best without a big impact on the environment. We had an excellent wine tasting session after the tour there too!
** Please note - for most Saint Émilion Châteaux it is necessary to make a reservation for wine tasting. If you are staying with us and would like advice or assistance on this before your stay, then please contact us and we will be happy to help.
Saint Emilion Tourist Office also updates a daily list of 2-4 Châteaux that are open on that day without reservation, so you can always make use of these open Châteaux if you haven’t booked.
Dates for your diary:
Saint Émilion is lovely to visit in all seasons but here are some special dates for your diary (please refer to the Saint Emilion Tourism site for exact dates, times and ticketing information):
May - Open Doors (usually the first weekend in May). Châteaux will open their doors for visitors and there will be plenty of wine tasting events in the area.
July - Saint Emilion Jazz Festival which is celebrated in the open air of the medieval village.
September - Vendange Festivities. There is also a special Jurande ceremony at the King’s Keep to announce the start of the vendange (grape harvest).
October - Les Montgolfiades (Hot Air Balloon Festival). Even if you aren’t up in the air, this festival is really beautiful to see!
Et voilà! A perfect day in Saint Emilion!
There is still plenty more that we could talk about but if you have any other suggestions that you think visitors will like on their holiday, then please comment below: