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Destination Southwestern France:
Story and photos by Tom Weber

Saint-Emilion, Gironde, southwestern France

ocated 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 grottoes underground.

flowers on the side of a road in Saint-Emilion

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.

street scene in Saint-Emilion

bee on a flower, Saint-Emilion

steep cobblestoned walkway, Saint-Emilion

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.

Recommended Dining

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.

chilled wine at the Les Giron'dines, Saint-Emilion

lemon meringue pie at the Les Giron'dines, Saint-Emilion

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.

roasted rack of lamb at the Amelia Canta,Saint-Emilion

fish dish at the Amelia Canta, Saint-Emilion

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.

Wine Tasting

winery at Saint-Emilion

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.

local wine, Saint-Emilion

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.

row of wine bottles at a winery, Saint-Emilion

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.

row of wine bottles for wine-tasting, Chateau des Laudes , Saint-Emilion

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.

lone wine offered for tasting at the Chateau Cardinal Villemaurine, Saint-Emilion

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 waived.

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 the Saint-Émilion Office of Tourism website.

Saint-Émilion, a camera-ready medieval town that was truly built from the [under] ground up.

Related Articles:
Destination 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; The Magnificent Cities of Champagne and Lorraine

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Let Tom know what you think about his traveling adventure.

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Feedback for Destination Bosnia: Inside Sarajevo's Tunnel of Hope

Spent time in Sarajevo in the fall of 1973…beer was excellent!

--- David

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Hi Tom,

I must say, you're photographs are always amazing. They are top notch. You bring so much class to Traveling Boy. It's photographs like yours that make me want to go out and do my own traveling. Please don't get tired of sending us your amazing adventures. It's such a delight for the soul.

--- Raoul, Whittier, CA

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Hi Tom:

I'm also an American living in Italy. I've read with interest your blog and articles. I'd like to speak with you regarding residency and citizenship for Americans in Italy as you do seem to have a great deal of knowledge on all of these subjects. Would it be possible to give you a call on the phone? If so, please let me know how to reach you. If not, I can ask my questions via email.

Thank you!

--- David

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Hey Tom – Wow! Love those photos – they are so super that they make me A) Want to start eating NOW. B) Go there myself. C) See all that pristine beauty that looks so restful and peaceful. Great story, superb pix!!! Bravo!!

--- John, Los Angeles, CA

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Feedback for Destination Southwestern France: Saint-Émilion

Good job, Tom, and timely info. St. Émilion is in the list of places Jim Hayes and I will visit in September 2014. If we get the chance, we will exploit your experience to enhance the trip!

--- Bobby Harper, Dameron, MD

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Feedback for Vicenza Walks – Monte Berico

I lived in Vicenza for 4 years in the U.S. ARMY from 1963 to 1967. A wonderful place to explore. Palladio’s works are amazing. Have been back twice since and find new places to visit. My favorite is MONTE BERICO where I have some wonderful photos of my family.

--- Dr. Albert Pizzi, Hanover, MA

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I liked the new TB particularly the Vicenza article that took me back as a youth when we lived in Naples and travelled up there for a baseball tourney (U.S. Military Bases dependent schools played each other.)

Took me back to the plaza.

--- Bill

Feedback for A Canterbury Trail (Sutri)

Very interesting note. I have wedroned which route the early pre-Christian and Christian pilgrims travelled to Rome from England. Is it still possible to travel the Francigena trail?

--- Pawel

You can find out more info on walking tours of Via Francigena at this site: Thanks for stopping by and commenting..


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Good article, enjoyed reading it. Saved your recommended sights for future use.

--- Dardenne Prairie, MO

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You're going to be great at this Tom. Congrats.

--- Donna Vissa -Montreal

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