Destination Southwestern France:
Story and photos by Tom Weber
in the Gironde department of l'Hexagone's Dordogne Valley of the Aquitaine
region, Saint-Émilion may be famous for the grapes above, but
it's also equally known for its nearly 200 kilometers of galleries and
It was in one such cave that Émilion, a traveling
monk-confessor from Brittany, settled. There, far from the madding crowd,
he devoted his new life of solitude and prayer to the Almighty. Eventually
canonized by the Vatican, Émilion evangelized the local population
and created what went on to become a major monastic center that his
followers named after him.
The town of Saint-Émilion, with its fabulous
underground monuments, owes its birth and growth to the humble monk
and his earthly hermitage.
Among its many treasures, Saint-Émilion, a UNESCO
World Heritage site, boasts one of Europe's largest underground monolithic
churches, carved out of the limestone rock back in the 11th and 12th
centuries, and topped off aboveground by the impressive 53-meter tall
spired bell tower, the highest point in the area.
A rocky promontory, Saint-Émilion, with its narrow
cobblestoned tertres (steep walkways), is the epitome of southwestern
France's laid-back joie de vivre.
Having spent a few days meandering along the cobblestone
of Saint-Émilion, I found two outstanding eateries worthy of
your fork and appetite that I highly recommend.
Les Giron'dines - 5 Rue des Girondins - t. +37
05 5724-7772 Sitting at the top of the town where the streets
are relatively flat, Les Giron'dines sports a small terrace for outdoor
dining under huge umbrellas with rooftop views.
Everything on the menu is mouthwatering, creative and
so delicious. Make sure you cap your meal off with a slice of the house
dessert specialty: the rustic lemon meringue pie.
Best value for your euro is to order from the pre-determined
menu vice a la carte. For approximately 33€ (43 USD), you'll
be treated to a three-course dinner, with a wide selection to choose
from for each course. Sorry, wine, water and coffee are not included
in the menu price.
Amelia Canta - 2 Place l'Eglise Monolithe - t.
+33 05 5774 4803 At the bottom of the aforementioned steep tetres,
all merging into Saint-Émilion's main square, sits the lively
restaurant-brasserie-crèperie-bar, Amelia Canta. At first glance
you'll think you're at a tourist trap, but not to worry. Locals and
internationals collide, in a friendly way, at tables set outside along
the cobble and under the shimmering starlit sky (weather permitting)
and the town's iconic bell tower.
With a menu as vast as the Aquitaine, you're sure to
find something to satisfy your hunger. Highly recommended is one of
Amelia Canta's signature dishes, carré d'agneau rôtiIf
(roasted rack of lamb).
Like in other French eateries that I've sampled, your
best bet is to select from the Amelia Canta's rather large pre-determined
menu. For less than 23€ (30 USD), you can select from a variety
of choices to customize your appetizer, main course and dessert menu.
Je suis désolé, but wine, water and coffee are
not included in the menu price.
A visit to Saint-Émilion is not complete without
experiencing at least one private wine tasting at any number of world-class
local chateaus (wineries) or wine shops.
It is here in the Appellation Saint-Émilion where
mastering the grape was first introduced by those pesky Romans of Augustus
back in 27 BC. The legions of the empire felled the nearby Cumbris Forest
and created the first vineyards of Saint-Émilion by grafting
new varieties of grape that quickly and easily took root. Since the
Romans tamed the earth, local vintners haven't looked back.
Normally, there's an approximate 7€ (9 USD) per-person
charge for a wine tasting session, regardless of the vintages sampled,
which may or may not include a tour of the property's wine-making facilities
and cellars. Some chateaus and shops waive this fee if you purchase
bottles from them at the end of the session.
Here are two of the local chateaus that I visited and
tasted their coveted grand cru blends.
Chateau des Laudes - t. +33 06 1294 1598.
Four wines were put to the test with detailed explanations
of each along with a how-to primer on basic wine tasting by our expert
host. No tour was included with the tasting, but the fee was waived
when I carted off several bottles of their finest.
Chateau Cardinal Villemaurine - t. +33 05 5724
6440. Long on the tour, but short on the tasting; only one blend was
offered up to the gods this day.
The tour, quite detailed by the very knowledgeable guide,
took us through the in-house, wine-making process followed by a tour
of the centuries-old cellars down among the kilometers of underground
caverns that wind around the chateau and the adjoining vineyards above.
Although I purchased wine after the tour and tasting, the fee was not
If You Go
With a rich history, great sights, an abundance of gastronomy
on every corner and place (square), and award-winning wines for
tasting, what's not to like about it.
For complete tourist information, in English, visit
Office of Tourism website.
Saint-Émilion, a camera-ready medieval town that
was truly built from the [under] ground up.
Southwestern France: Domme and Beynac-et-Cazenac; Destination
Southwestern France: Sarlat-la-Canéda; The
Medieval Towns of Bruges, Leiden and Dijon; Thoughts
About Les Hommes Français; Provence;
Magnificent Cities of Champagne and Lorraine