This post is also available in: French
You wish to visit the medieval village and the wineries of Saint Emilion ? You would like to discover this magnificent fortress but don’t know where to start ?
You are in the right place and you can be sure I will tell you everything I know about Saint Emilion. That way, you will get to the best places and feel at ease in this charming historical village.
First Saint Emilion was classified as a Patrimony for the World Heritage by Unesco in 1999 so it means that it is a protected site for the future generations. Imagine yourself feeling the history while strolling in the typical streets kept exactly like they were in 16th century for example.
For my part, I started to visit the area nearly 15 years ago and have been there for wine tours as a private driver or for cycling tours with clients in the middle of the most famous vineyards.
I always enjoy coming back to this magical place and it is to me the first appellation to discover in Bordeaux wine region. There is a concentration of all the best we have in gastronomy, wine making, history and the landscape is just gorgeous.
You can explore fortresses, visit underground wine cellars and even churches that were dug in the lime stone under the village. You can stroll around the typical streets filled with small shops selling local products or traditional restaurants.
This will take you back to middle ages as the feeling is really medieval with all the limestone houses, castles and narrow streets.
While walking, you will surely enjoy the smell of macaroon cooking (specialty of the village with a recipe from the nuns dating back from the 15th century) and there is nothing easier then finding a cosy place to seat at a table and enjoy a great duck breast with french fries, homemade salads with the best products of the markets around and a good glass of wine.
You can be sure I will tell you everything I know here so you will be able to go straight to the essentials and fully enjoy your stay in Saint Emilion.
Let’s go to Visit and Taste the Best of Saint Emilion !!
How to visit Saint Emilion :
You will quickly understand that the village is divided in two parts : the higher one that was originally the religious part, and the lower one, just down the hill that you will have to climb many times to discover the whole village. Down was where the people were living.
I always start my visits by the upper area because it is much more convenient to park, except sometimes in summer, but in July and August, it is overcrowded everywhere.
If you do the tour with me, I will let you the chance to go down the village only once and I can drive around to pick you up down so you will not have to go back up the hill, this could be comfortable during a warm day of wine tasting !..
When you arrive on the main parking square in the high part, you can not miss the huge “Collegiate church” which size could be surprising for a small village of only 600 inhabitants. Walk in the church and you will see that she was constructed in a Roman architecture but with the time was transformed in Gothic.
Visit Saint Emilion : Collegiate church of Saint Emilion
After the entrance on the right, you will find a small door opened on marvelous cloister with a garden. You can cross it to enjoy the serenity of this holly place and take the exit on the opposite. Then you will be on “Place des créneaux” (battlements place) that is heart of the upper part and where you can admire the most magnificent view on the village, either from the balcony or from the top of the bell tower if you are courageous enough to climb up the 196 steps. Get the key at the tourism office on the place to open the door, this is a must and the view from the top is speechless !
Map of the village, click to download.
Up there you will be able to see whole appellation of Saint Emilion but also the neighbor appellation of Pomerol and the city of Libourne !
Giving the key back at the tourism office, you can directly book one of the most special visits :
Underground Saint Emilion .
You will discover the cave where the monk Aemilian settled to found the village and the biggest Underground church of Europe ! (Monolithic church means dug directly in the limestone).
Impressive and so historical, you can not miss this when you visit Saint Emilion because you have to know that there are more than 200 kilometers of underground galeries and cellars under and around the village ! They were created between the 13th to the 18th centuries so as to extract the precious limestone and build all nice castles of the region and the city of Bordeaux.
Visit costs 9€ per person.
One of the most typical streets is the “Tertre de la Tente” and you will have to take it if you want to go from the upper part to the lower part pf the village. This one is my favorite but be careful it could be very sleepy while raining and I also advise you to use comfortable shoes to walk in the village.
Two of the nicest restaurants and some wonderful little souvenirs and macaroons shops are located in this street, do not hesitate to try their specialties.
If you prefer an easier way to get down the village and visit Saint Emilion, it is safer to go around and walk through one of the fortress gates called “La Cadene” that means the chain in ancient local language “Gascon”. The chain was here to protect the entrance and you will also see the oldest house of the village, built in the beginning of the 16th century. Walking down this street, you will find a lot wine merchants and traditional arts shops of the region.
Walking around, you will obviously see the “King’s Tower”, strong dungeon of 32 meters height. This monument was used alternately as a fortress, jail, city hall but also court ! and you can visit it easily after climbing another 118 stairs …
Is is nowadays a place full of meanings for Saint Emilion because every year, “La Jurade” (syndicate of all Chateau owners and winemakers) is processing and climbing to the top during a wonderful ceremony so as to declare the Harvest season and celebrate the new vintage. A holly moment !
The visit will cost you 2€ per person.
Finally, the last unmissable spot is of course a religious place: Le Cloitre des Cordeliers
Magical spot where you can rest for a while, eat at the beautiful restaurant or have a picnic in the middle of this newly renovated cloister. You can also visit their impressive underground caves and taste their specialty : Le Crémant des Cordeliers, sparkling wine produced here since centuries.
After that, if you still have time and energy, you have two nice ancient “lavoir” (wash houses) in the lower part (their fresh water from the springs is a good thing to appreciate during the hot days) and finally, la porte Brunet which is another entrance of the village when it was fortified and the ancient market.
I think gave you all the important informations you need to visit Saint Emilion and have a wonderful time in this special village. I invite you to have look at my articles on the best hotels and restaurants for more informations.
Please, feel free to get in touch with us if ou have any questions.
We hope to see you soon in Bordeaux Wine Region