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A medieval village-turned-small town surrounded by fields of vineyards, Saint-Émilion is renowned for its full-bodied reds, well-preserved streets and fine gastronomy. The village sits on a hill top surveying the fields that have brought it renown and is named after a Benedictine monk who escaped here in the 8th century. The town soon became a pilgrimage hub and its visitors and its wine brought wealth and prosperity. Today, its cobbled streets and surrounding vineyards are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the maze of narrow laneways are overrun with wine shops, local boutiques and gourmet restaurants.

For me, this is one of the best places for a countryside getaway in France. It’s a quaint, pretty town and I like that most of the vineyards here are small and owned by families.

France specialist Leanne

Things to do in Saint-Émilion

Monolithic Church

Over three centuries this medieval church and its subterranean chambers were dug out from the limestone plateau in order to cater for the increasing number of pilgrims arriving in Saint-Émilion. Today, the church is the largest of its kind in Europe with a large proportion of its rooms below ground. A guided tour takes you through the Gothic portal and into the catacombs and labyrinth of tunnels below the church, said to mark the spot where Saint-Émilion lived out his final years. You can also climb the 196 steps up the bell tower for sweeping views over the town and vineyards.

Église Collégiale

Built between the 12th and 15th centuries, the collegiate church of Saint-Émilion displays a mixture of Romanesque and Gothic styles and is still in use today as the parish church. Its scale, however, indicates just how important the religious community here was in medieval times and its position at the top of the village would have been a constant reminder to all to abide by canon law. Inside, stained glass windows and fading frescoes decorate the serene nave, while the medieval cloisters are regularly used to host cultural events and the former refectory now houses the tourist office.

Lunch with sweeping views of the Dordogne Valley

Along with its reputation for fine wines, Saint-Émilion is known for its three Michelin-starred restaurants. Fine food is easy to find here and even if you opt for a humble café, you’re likely to be treated to a variety of local produce expertly cooked and presented. Best of all, however, are the views. Its hill-top perch means that you can enjoy sweeping views of the Dordogne Valley from all over the town, and there are many cafés and restaurants placed to make the most of the vistas. It’s easy to dine well and linger long over leisurely meals with a scenic backdrop.

Shopping for regional produce or linens

Unsurprisingly for such a popular place, Saint-Émilion has a large number of shops selling local produce.  Small, independent retailers line the streets and sell everything from wine and soaps to bed linen, chic housewares and fine art. As you wander about, look out for the bakeries selling spongy little canelé pastries with their rum and vanilla custard filling encased in a caramelized crust. Many of the shops are housed in buildings hundreds of years old, and a leisurely afternoon browsing the shops is a good way of seeing the interiors of the more humble medieval townhouses that line the streets.

Wine tasting in one of the many shops or nearby vineyards

Although wine has been produced in the area since Roman times, it was followers of Saint-Émilion that began to grow grapes here on a commercial scale. Today, the town is littered with wine shops and most have a board outside inviting you in to try the wine of the day. The region’s complex geology and unusual microclimate make it ideal for winemaking and the wines produced here are diverse. Many chateaux surrounding the town also welcome visitors and offer tastings, or you can visit the Cloître des Cordeliers within the town, a winery based in the ruined cloisters of a 14th-century Franciscan monastery.

Best time to visit Saint-Émilion

May and June are good times to visit Saint-Émilion as the weather is warm and dry and there are fewer visitors than in the height of summer. During July and August the town can get very busy, especially during the jazz festival in July. September and October is also particularly good for visits with a vintage festival in September and special harvest markets.

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Audley Travel Country Specialist Samantha

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Map of Saint-Émilion

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