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Saint-Emilion, Gironde

Noted as one of the most beautiful villages in France
Featured in: Towns & Villages Updated

Vineyards were planted around this old town in Roman times and whilst most people associate the name with the wine, the town itself is worth a visit for its ramparted old centre with interesting Romanesque churches and an incredible underground monolithic church.

The town and its surrounding vineyards sit on the UNESCO World Heritage list. When you enter the town itself you are immediately transported to a different world - one with lavish gated wineries, sumptuous chocolate shops and private bistros for tasting and selling wines. The streets are narrow and invite you into a labyrinth that takes you down steep alleyways towards to the central Place du Marche. The town offers an abundance of wine shops, chateaux caves, restaurants and boutiques selling jewellery, art, fashion and every type of wine accessory you can imagine.

This is certainly a popular tourist destination but you can always find a quiet corner to admire the views over to the Tour du Chateau du Roi or over the sprawling fields of vines that surround the town.

Worth knowing

On the outskirts of the Old Town you will the ruins of the 17th century convent of the Ursuline Sisters. The nuns however left us their legacy in the form of a secret recipe! Macaroons! The delicious small round cakes that are speciality of Saint-Emilion.

History & Culture in Saint Emilion

Going back to prehistoric times this town's history is a patchwork of Romanesque churches and ruins, narrow cobbled streets and vineyards. The vines were planted as far back as the 2nd century by the Romans, who were well known for their love of wine. 

The town itself is named after the monk Saint Emilion; a Breton monk who fled south to escape persecution by the Benedictine order during the 8th century. He settled in the area and acquired numerous followers who came to bear witness to the miracles he performed. With the growth in population and the strategic position of the town, it quickly acquired wealth, mainly through wine production. Various religious monuments were erected in the area, including the Saint-Emilion Monolithic Church.

Constructed in the early twelfth century, the church is partly subterranean; its three naves, with a small catacomb beneath, were dug into a rocky hillside. The bell tower stands 53 metres high and is a very obvious sight on the horizon. By the late twentieth century, however, the 3,000 ton weight of this tower had shifted far off its supports and was thus susceptible to collapse.

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Sights & Attractions in Saint Emilion

The most obvious and most spectacular of things to see in Saint Emilion is the church, the Eglise Monolithe. Carved out of the rocky hillside in the 11th & 12th centuries the church is now one of the biggest of its kind in Europe with underground chambers and catacombs to explore, plus a lot of stairs to climb to the top of the bell tower. Another obvious landmark on the horizon is the Keep of the Kings Castle - La Tour du Chateau du Roi. More steps to climb here but again the view is definitely worth it!

With the numerous vineyards and wineries having a presence both within and on the outskirts of the town a visit to one or more of these is a must.

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Events in Saint Emilion

The main events in Saint Emilion revolve around wine, the beginning of the Spring harvest during the Fete de Printemps and then the Ban des Vendanges in September. Then in the middle of the summer you can enjoy the Jazz Festival.

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Things to Do in Saint Emilion

As with all towns and villages around the Bordeaux area the many vineyards stretch out around you. A walk through these on a warm summer day is a delight. And then back to the town of Saint Emilion to enjoy a coffee in one of the pretty cobbled lanes. A meander around the town itself will be a historical journey as you pass by the public baths and the King's spring, the old gate and ramparts of the town, the ruins and remains of the town walls, the ruins of the cardinals palace and various other buildings of note and examples of medieval architecture.

And if you are not sick of climbing stairs in Saint Emilion then you will certainly need to try climbing the four 'Tertre' of the town. The word tertre is specific to Saint Emilion and is the name used for the steep pedestrian cobblestone streets. Tertre de la Tente, Tertre des Vaillants, Tertre de la Cadène and Tertre de la Porte Saint-Martin.

Having said that, this is wine country and you can't really visit St Emilion without doing a wine tour...

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Dining in Saint Emilion

The choice of restaurants in Saint-Emilion is quite outstanding, let alone the choice when you include the chateaux and wineries that surround this pretty town. From fine dining, to a terrace lunch in the sunshine, you can be sure that each dish and course will be accompanied by the finest of Saint-Emilion wine.

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Hotels in Saint Emilion

There are some wonderful hotels in saint-Emilion, each one offering charm, history and some sort of link to the vineyards and wineries of the region. If you are looking for luxury then try one of the central hotels, or for something a little more 'French', why not try a chateau on the outskirts of the town.

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How to get to Saint Emilion

Located in the Gironde, close to the border of the Dordogne, Saint Emilion is just 35km north-east of Bordeaux, between the towns of Libourne and Castillon-la-Bataille.

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Saint Emilion, Bordeaux

Map of the surrounding area