By Julie Biniasz
A photographer’s dream – that is what this charming village is. A sommelier friend recommended that we visit this 12th century walled gem, and it did not disappoint. The town was originally a walled city, fortified with moats and ramparts, and steep inclines which made it difficult for attackers to access and exit.
The buildings and the streets are composed of limestone blocks which creates a beautiful continuity of color and texture. Winding streets slope and curve; then open up to plazas and courtyards making it a photographers dream. Best of all, there are some amazing wine shops and chateaus not too far away. The St. Emilion Tourist Office was very helpful and their website is a great resource to plan your trip: www.saint-emilion-tourisme.com.
The Monolithic church under the massive bell tower/look-out was built during the time of the Crusades. It is fascinating to see this church carved out of the mountain from solid stone – it is the largest monolithic church in Europe. It took 50 years to build this sacred place – more than a lifetime, in those medieval days. The church is eerily enchanting with its carving on the walls and yet it is evocative of faith and fear, contentment and unrest – well worth visiting if you can get yourself a tour.
Cordelier’s Cloister was a monastery for monks built in the 14th century after their original monastery outside the town walls was destroyed. What remains today are ruins that are quite beautiful and very romantic. Just wander the grounds and wind your way through the standing arches. Take a photo of the ivy covered window and watch the local artists paint their palettes with this setting. At times there is even the occasional opera here, Robert Le Diable.
The Saint Emilion wines originate from the limestone plateaus in the area which add to the ‘terroir’. Some of the best ‘Grand Cru’ wine in the world is produced in three of the wineries that we visited. Laure from La Grande Cave de Saint-Emilion, www.vinstemilion.com presented a large selection of wines from the area and introduced us to some of the local wineries such as Chateau Soutard, Chateau de Pressac, Convent de Jacobins, and Chateau Faugeres.
Chateau Soutard, www.Chateau-Soutard.com is elegant and classy and dates back more than 5 centuries. From the moment you turn down the long tree-lined drive to the front of the entrance, it will capture your soul. It’s one of the oldest vineyards in the area and yet the chateau has a more current charm about it as it was renovated in the last few years along with some additions. The courtyard is the perfect place to sit back and enjoy the sunshine as you taste their delectable Grand Cru wines.
Chateau Faugeres winery, www.chateau-faugeres.com was one of the most state of the art wine making facilities in a very modern structure. The property was acquired by Silvia Denz in 2005 – a perfume designer, lover of wines and owner of Lalique. Monseuir Denz commissioned the international architect Mario Botta to designer the winery we see today. What’s very notable is the Chateau Faugere’s vines are cultivated by means of natural, sustainable viticulture, with the most modern equipment that we have seen in any winery. Anna Sophie represented the winery and gave us a state-of-the-art tour with some of Faugeres finest wine tastings!
Convents des Jacobin has been around since the thirteenth century, started with the Franciscan monks. Today it is owned by its 3rd owner, Joinurd Bordes family for over a century. The wine is lovely and if you’re lucky you can meet Madame Bordes and have a tour of the couvent. She is a charming elderly lady with sparkling blue eyes and a passionate spirit. We had the opportunity to tour the famous wine caves at her couvent and understand a little more of the history.
Places to Stay:
Au Logis des Remparts, www.logisdesremparts.com
Chateau Grand Barrail, www.grand-barrail.com
Hostellerie de Plaisance, www.hostelleriedeplaisance.com
Places to Dine:
Logis de la Cadene, www.logisdelacadene.com
Le Tertre, www.restaurant-le-tertre.com