My Guide to St. Emilion and Surrounds
Its summer, finally, and high time to head to the countryside. St. Emilion is a must see medieval village, a Unesco World Heritage site found in the Bordeaux region of France in the Southwestern part of the country. Its also about 15 minutes away from our home in the region.. While we know it as a famous wine town, it got its start more than a thousand years ago for religious regions. Saint Emilion, was a monk who literally holed up in the caves of the place as a hermit and was known to cure people and conduct miracles. Before long monasteries were erected near-by and a church was built underground in the limestone caves of this growing village. Consult with the St. Emilion tourist office, they are a very efficient guide to St. Emilion and can book your tours of the underground church and other key sites.
Wine was made going back to Roman times in this area starting actually in 56 BC, meaning they’ve had 2000 years to get it right and they DO, and then some. Naturally wine tastings can be had at many chateaux, consult with the tourist office to set up tours. We love le Clos Fourtet with its miles of underground cellars and Clos Jacobins right in town as well as the very new and chic Chateau Soutard. Further afield, Chateau de la Riviere in Fronsac is another wonderful place to visit for wine tasting, mainly for the spectacular looking cellars and Chateau as the wine is far inferior I think to the three previous ones.
Chateau Grand Barrail near St. Emilion has a spa for swimming, facials, massages etc. It’s the fancy place to stay just outside of town but not as fancy as the Relais and Chateaux La Plaisance. If you’ve got a lot of money to spend, look into those options.
If you are with friends or have a family look into a villa rental near St. Emilion, we rent ours out but of course there are many in the area to choose from. Plus there are always gites, b n b’s and more affordable hotels and inns. Chateau Franc Grace Dieu, which is a wine producing Chateau and a lovely place to stay would be my choice close to town.
Dining in St. Emilion gives you a myriad of choices.
Chai Pascal is wonderful on a Sunday or on off hours, or if you need wi-fi for working and a light meal or snack. Excellent wines are served here.
Chateau Troplong just outside of St. Emilion is a gorgeous gastronomic restaurant smack dab in the middle of a vineyard, crazy to think its such an unusual thing to have an excellent resto in a vineyard but it is. That’s what makes Troplong so special.
Les Giron’Dines is another of my favorites. They have a charming terrace and elegant French food with a modern twist. Reservations are a good idea.
L’Envers du Décor 11, rue du Clocher is a well known joint open all year with a lovely terrace in summer and a great wine list yet it’s still nice and casual.
La Plaisance is the posh, extravagant restaurant in the very center of St. Emilion. Reservations are a must, its terribly expensive due to its 1 Michelin star.
L’Huiterie Pie is also very nice, specializing in seafood and in the far part of town.
Le Logis de la Cadene, is traditional French with a Provençal feel on a very steep street with a beautiful terrace. Its also a small hotel.
Something fun to do in Libourne during the summer which is about 10 minutes away from St. Emilion is to go to Chez Rossi, which is a Guiguette and eat outside (on a nice day) while listening to old fashioned French music. From Wednesday to Sunday you’ll enjoy an affordable simple French meal, dance to the music and on weekends they often have a flea market as well. This unique and special combo is something you’ll only find in France.
Haven’t had enough wine? Then head to Sauternes, which is a nice day trip for sweet wine tasting. We like Chateau Haut Bergeron, family owned and operated for 5 generations. Tours are just in French. 2009 is scrumptious and a real value compared with their neighbor Chateau Y’quem.
In the Southwestern region (and all over France) if you see a sign on the road for a vide-grenier, a brocante or a marché nocturne take note, these are fun events to join. A Vide-Grenier is basically a big group garage sale and many fun keepsakes can be found at cheap prices and often a good outdoor lunch is available. Same for Brocantes, except here you’ll find even nicer items – not from people’s houses rather, collectors selling their wares and prices will be higher. A Marché Nocturne is what it sounds like, a night market – these affairs are often dinners outdoors as well as markets. You’ll sit at long tables and pick whatever food you want for a small fee and then get to know your neighbors and practice your French – people are very friendly!
While in the area going to the beach one day is a must do in summer and then end your day tasting oysters in Cap Ferret. We like the beach just west of Lege-Cap Ferret. You can rent surf boards there and there are several small snack bars on the beach.
Think wine country is just for adults, think again. You can visit a local cheese farm to taste and buy and if you phone ahead they’ll show you around. Chevrerie des Cornes Brunes is a small goat cheese producer in Pessac-sur-Dordogne, this can be a fun thing to do with with small children who always get a kick out of goats. Of course there is kayaking down the Dordogne river which will keep the family cool and happy in the hotter months of summer. The river is one of the cleanest in France making the impromptu dip that much more refreshing.
On Sundays most villages in the area including nearby Gensac & Castillon-la-Bataille will have oyster farmers who set up tents and sell their wares at about 50 cents an oyster. They’ll even open them for you if you bring a Tupperware to put them in.
Bergerac, which is about ½ hour to the East, is a medieval town with a beautiful historic center and a gorgeous market. Make sure you find and walk to the oldest part of town. There is a Le Fooding approved restaurant near the covered market called La Table du Marche. Search for Habit 24, a cool thrift shop run by nuns.
There is enough to do in St. Emilion and surrounds for months, so when booking your trip try to take as much time as the boss allows.
Our home in the region, which still has weeks for rent in June, September and October of this year.
Les Girondines 5, rue des Girondins 05 57 24 77 Reservations needed.
Chez Pascal 37 rue Guadet St. Emilion 05 57 24 52 45. No need to reserve.
Le Logis de la Cadene 3 place du Marché au Boix 05 57 24 71 40 Call ahead.
Note: The photo on our home page slide show was taken by Tom Palladio at ThePalladianTraveler site.