The case for Saint-Emilion

In yesterday’s posting, I described the seafood lunch that my wife Jan and I enjoyed on Sunday (two days ago) at L’Huitrier-Pie in the beautiful town of Saint-Émilion, one of the planet’s 981 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Today I’ll share some photos from our recent trip, as well as from our visit in the autumn of 2009, and suggest a few reasons why you should stop in Saint-Émilion if you’re ever in southwest France.

Let’s start with a few basics. A good place to begin would be the vineyards on the slopes that surround Saint-Émilion, because the commitment to grapes and wine is what the town is all about. Here’s a photo that I took on Sunday of vineyards stretching over the hills around Saint-Émilion:

Some of the vineyards surrounding the town.

Some of the vineyards surrounding the town.

And here’s another view, showing how beautifully the vineyards are kept:

Row upon row of carefully tended vines.

Row upon row of carefully tended vines.

Saint-Émilion is in the département of the Gironde (named for the river). It lies about 35 kilometres northeast of the city of Bordeaux, and it’s considered one of the Bordeaux region’s chief wine-producing areas. It sits on a steep limestone hill, and its cobbled streets are lined with restaurants, shops, attractive houses and châteaux: all good reasons to visit.

This is how UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee described Saint-Émilion in December 1999, when it named the town a World Heritage Site:

[Quote.] Jurisdiction of Saint-Emilion (C iii, iv). Viticulture was introduced to this fertile region of Aquitaine by the Romans, and intensified in the Middle Ages. The Saint-Emilion area benefited from its location on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela. Many churches, monasteries, and hospices were built there from the 11th century onwards. It was granted the special status of a jurisdiction during the period of English rule in the 12th century. It is an exceptional landscape devoted entirely to wine-growing, with many fine historic monuments in its towns and villages. [End quote.]

One of the best known wines from Saint-Émilion is Cheval Noir, or Black Horse. Walking past a rather grand house on Sunday, we saw this statue of a horse, and I had to walk onto the property for a closer look — and to take this photo. I don’t know for certain, but it sure looks like the horse on the wine bottles.

A black horse statue near hills of vines -- the Cheval Noir?

A black horse statue near hills of vines — the Cheval Noir?

Now let’s head into the town itself. It turned out that, by chance, Jan and I had picked a bad weekend to visit, because most of the rest of the population of France was in town, and parking was virtually impossible. Saturday had featured the Nuit du Patrimoine, or Heritage Night, which we were told is a huge festival with all kinds of events, including a massive fireworks show — and so it’s a major attraction. And on Sunday, there was to be a grand ceremony to mark the official start of the 2013 grape harvest. So the streets leading into town looked like this:

Cars are parked on every bit of the roads leading into town.

Cars are parked on every bit of the roads leading into town.

We were parked so far out of the town that we were technically in the next village, La Gaffelière (which, as it turns out, is home to Château la Gaffelière, a premier Grand Cru Classé de Saint-Émilion).

When we finally made our way into town, we were starting to worry about being late for our 1 p.m. restaurant reservation. But we made it in time, walking up this street to reach L’Huitrier-Pie (note the town’s immense cathedral looming in the background):

Looking up one of Saint-Émilion's quaint streets.

Looking up one of Saint-Émilion’s quaint streets.

On our first visit, in the autumn of 2009, we actually spent more time wandering the steep, cobbled streets. Here am I at the top of the town, near the cathedral, with a view over the rooftops below:

Here I am, at the top of the town, in the fall of 2009.

Here I am, at the top of the town, in the fall of 2009.

We found lots of shops to visit, and of course the most numerous seemed to be wine shops like this one:

One of many wine stores in Saint-Émilion.

One of many wine stores in Saint-Émilion.

There are some occasional nods to English-speaking tourists, like this sign outside a wine shop that says “English spoken … with a french accent!!”

A sign welcoming English-speaking visitors.

A sign welcoming English-speaking visitors.

But it’s not all about wine. Here’s my wife Jan on that 2009 visit, standing outside a lovely shop that specializes in macarons, those delicious light treats. On the right-hand side of the photo you can see the cobbled street heading up the hill, and get some sense of how steep the walking can be.

Outside a specialty store in Saint-Émilion.

Outside a specialty store in Saint-Émilion.

As we were leaving L’Huitrier-Pie this past Sunday, following our lunch, we came across this little restaurant, Le Bistro des Vignobles, or Bistro of the Vineyards, and thought it looked tempting.

A bistro in Saint-Émilion.

A bistro in Saint-Émilion.

Let’s see: Nouvelle cuisine. Wine bar. Tapas. Wines “from here and elsewhere.” Clearly, there are some more good reasons for us to visit Saint-Émilion again this fall.

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This entry was posted in Flora and fauna, French food, Life in southwest France, Restaurants in France, Tourist attractions, Travels in and out of France, Wine and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The case for Saint-Emilion

  1. Paul says:

    Just discovered your trip to St. Emilion, and I enjoyed it almost as much as if I’d gone myself. Of course, I would have spent more time having a degustation of the vin rouge …

  2. loren24250 says:

    Thanks Paul! We were more or less out of time for wine tastings, but I’m sure we’ll head back and spend a night, so we don’t have to face the drive back home. Cheers!

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