Visit of Saint-Emilion, between History and Heritage

Saint-Émilion
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Evoking Saint-Emilion means immediately having in mind the delicious nectar produced on the land of this charming village... red wines with prestigious names, Grands Crus Classés promises of quality and incomparable capacity to aging. Beyond its wine-growing region, the village of Saint-Emilion is also rich in a concentration of exceptional heritage monuments and its many panoramas are a feast for the eyes ... Today we set off to discover its historical wonders, religious and even underground! Saint-Emilion has not finished surprising you.

Photos of the article © Guide Bordeaux Gironde


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A little history of this village classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site

    We will soon be offering you an article focusing on the wines of Saint-Emilion, let's wait, study its history through a walk in its steep alleys.

      Saint-Emilion is a village with many medieval remains. To explore it, we go for a walk in the company of Nathalie Lassegues-Henri, Speaker Guide who regularly organizes visits to Saint-Emilion. His presence is an invaluable added value to understand the religious issues, political and economic of the village! Only 35 kilometers from Bordeaux, Saint-Emilion is a perfect daily getaway even if you are on vacation in the metropolis.

      Follow Nathalie Lassegues-Henri on her professional Facebook page!


      Nathalie Lassegues-Henri Former Dominican Convent
      Nathalie opens the doors of Saint-Emilion to us!

      Flagship destination of the Gironde, Saint-Emilion has an extremely well documented Tourist Office , do not hesitate to go there to pick up a visit plan and for information on routes in strollers or for people with reduced mobility. The village being very steep, bring comfortable shoes. The city center is pedestrianized during the day, in summer and it's very pleasant!


      Saint-Emilion Tourist Office
      The Tourist Office is at the entrance to the collegiate cloister

      A bit of History, to contextualize our walk: According to legend, the history of Saint-Emilion began around 750, with the arrival of a hermit from Brittany: Emilien ( Aemilianus ). He settled in this place called Ascumbas, in a cave which became his hermitage. He is soon joined by disciples and he will evangelize the people. The water from the nearby spring would be miraculous: it would have restored sight to a blind woman who had come to be baptized. A miracle bringing notoriety to the village, it prospers: a local pilgrimage is organized, which will soon merge with that of Saint-Jacques de Compostelle. After the monk's death, his disciples continued his work of creating a religious edifice out of the block of rocky limestone. A real underground sanctuary begins to be established, which we can still trace today with the current catacombs, the Rotunda as well as the exceptional monolithic church whose construction dates from the beginning of the 12th century.


      The fountain of the square
      There are 2 wash houses in Saint-Emilion: the rock on which the village is built being porous and spongy, it is rich in water

      Follow the thematic walk in Saint-Emilion, with our partner Cirkwi (in fr)


      During the Middle Ages, the village developed around the cave, ramparts were added in the 13th century, but also doors and the King's Tower. At that time there were up to 2,500 intramural inhabitants (200 today for comparison…), it was the golden age of Saint-Emilion! The village widens and suburbs are grafted in the center. As in the whole region, the Hundred Years War passed through Saint-Emilion, which regularly changed its flag: English and French authorities competed for control of the city.


      Remains of the enclosure mut, in front of the collegiate church
      Remains of the enclosure mut, in front of the collegiate church

      From the end of the Hundred Years War to the Revolution, Saint-Emilion saw a great period of decline. The Wars of Religion in the 16th century brought the city to its knees. The beautiful medieval city is then only a small village, whose basement is transformed into Gruyere by the extraction of stone in quarries (from the 17th to the 19th century). It was only during the second half of the 18th century and then in the 19th century, thanks to viticulture, that the village and its territory will experience new prosperity.


      The Combe de la Barde
      The vineyard next to Saint-Emilion, the Combe de la Barde

      Today, Saint-Emilion is one of the most visited places in the Gironde, but also in Nouvelle-Aquitaine . It is a village which attracts by the notoriety of its great wines and visitors are often surprised to discover so many beauties there! Follow us for a virtual walk, a taste of how to prepare for your visit to Saint-Emilion.


      Panoramic view of Saint-Emilion
      Panoramic view of Saint-Emilion

      Visit the village of Saint-Emilion

      Accompanied by Nathalie, tour guide, we will visit the village of Saint-Emilion. Take good shoes and your camera, it's a trip back in time with many drops and panoramas as diverse as they are grandiose!

      Park your vehicle (several free car parks are available, the ones closest to the village are paying), we will start the visit by the Chemin des Fossés , in front of the Cardinal Palace. These are the ruins of a 12th century bourgeois house. The small detail is the running of the latrines (the toilets), which one notices well while descending into the grassy space which corresponds to the old ditches. Admire this beautiful facade and its twin bays.


      The Cardinal Palace The Cardinal Palace

      The Cardinal Palace


      Visit Saint-Emilion on a scooter! Château Gaubert offers you an electric scooter rental service, it is also an opportunity to discover their wines! Read our reportage article on Château Gaubert.


      We continue on the Chemin des ditches, the vines line the path on both sides. The village is on our right, we sometimes perceive views of the bell tower, in a breakthrough of vegetation. The ramparts were in the extension of the Cardinal Palace, they surrounded the village for about 1.5 km. Continue to Porte Brunet which is one of the city's 7 entry gates, today the last one standing ! Did you know that in the 12th century, you had to pay a tax to enter the village? Just before crossing the door, there is a panoramic table and a beautiful view of the Fongaban valley where a stream flows which once fed 5 mills!


      Panorama on the bell tower
      View of the bell tower from Chemin des Fossés
      Brunet gate Panorama of Porte Brunet
      Porte Brunet and its small esplanade to admire the panorama

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      Saint-Emilion intramural

      We enter the village towards the Cloître des Cordeliers (classified MH) on your right. This is where Crémant de Bordeaux is produced, in cellars 3km long to 17 meters underground, which can be visited on a guided tour. Stroll through the cloister with its peaceful atmosphere, which opens onto the old convent garden. The adjacent store on several floors is very designer and offers you a choice of products from the region. Turn around to admire a superb view of the Tour du Roy and the bell tower.


      Panorama in front of the Cloitre des Cordeliers
      Panorama in front of the Cloitre des Cordeliers

      Cordeliers cloister Cordeliers cloister

      Cordeliers Cloister Garden
      The Cordeliers Cloister and its garden
      Bell tower of the monolithic church Roy's Gate
      Tower of the bell tower of the monolithic church and Tour du Roy


      Visit Saint-Emilion and its surroundings by tuktuk with Tuk Tour Event's !


      The village is partly pedestrian in summer and during the day, you can stroll with pleasure in the shops, walking the alleys: do not forget to look up to admire the village houses with blond stones and the small details. architectural features such as the last half-timbered house in the village and the Porte de la Cadène. This door symbolically marks the separation between the upper town and the lower town.


      Cadene Gate Old hall
      The Porte de Cadène and the Old Hall

      We will reach the place of the Monolithic church, the heart of the village. It is also the market place and there is a hall, which was not only intended to house the stalls of the merchants of the rain. In 1199, Jean Sans Terre was the last son of Henri Plantagenêt (Henri II King of England) and Aliénor d'Aquitaine. He is the brother of Richard the Lionheart, you know him if you have ever seen Prince Jean in the Disney cartoon, Robin Hood ... he will authorize the constitution of a sort of municipal council, the Jurade, which offers privileges and independence to the inhabitants of the city, then of the surroundings, the Jurisdiction. In the 18th century, the Jurade meetings were held in this Town Hall above the Market Hall.

      On the Place de l'Eglise Monolithe, in summer, tables are set up outside for a drink or a meal. Look up and admire the Gothic portal, which is the entrance to the monolithic church. This being very fragile, it can only be discovered by guided tour, at the Tourist Office (every day, all year). The bell tower is an extension, it soars over 38 meters (you can climb it to admire the city at the end of more than 190 steps). It is a unique and very original visit, the church is carved into the limestone rock, it is the largest troglodyte church in Europe! It measures 39 m long, 20 wide and 12 meters under vault !!


      Monolithic church square
      Monolithic church square
      Entrance gate Entrance gate
      The engraved portal at the entrance to the monolithic church, which can only be visited with a guide

      The lower town and the outskirts

      Do not then miss a walk in the lower town of Saint-Emilion, to see the Grande Fontaine, which holds a special place in the history of Saint-Emilion since the water that feeds it comes from the same source as the one where the miracles took place… We go up by a small picturesque staircase in an escalette (sloping urban pedestrian passage) towards the Madeleine district, which was one of the suburbs adjoining the inner city. There is still the little chapel of the Madeleine. We continue on the rue des Douves, which as its name does not indicate, was a ditch (it was not filled with water like a moat). In the 18th century starts here a wonderful activity that led to the creation of more than 100km of underground tunnels on 3 to 4 floors under our feet ... It extract tons and tons of stone construction and backfill is a career ! Later, the galleries will experience a new life: as an aging cellar or to grow edible mushrooms.


      Rue de la Tourelle Saint EMilion
      The pretty rue de la Tourelle
      Escalette to the upper town View from this part of town
      Take the small escalette and go back up, to see this beautiful view of the city
      Madeleine plateau
      And a new perspective on the vineyards from the Madeleine plateau

      Going up the Rue des Douves, on your right is the Tour du Roy, a Romanesque square keep which was located inside the ramparts. Several hypotheses are put forward as to its reason for being during its construction at the beginning of the 13th century. It would appear that he is affiliated with the Jurade, which sat there. Its defensive look would only be a tribute to the construction of the homes of the lords, to highlight the civil power, right in front of the adjacent religious building: the steeple of the monolithic church! Today, it is a building still used by the (new) Jurade ( the wine brotherhood of the wines of Saint-Emilion ), which celebrates at its peak the Fête de la Fleur (in June) and the Ban des Vendanges (in September). You can go up there too, after a climb of more than 110 steps.


      Ru des DOuves

      Rue des Douves, the quarries on the left

      The Tour du Roy
      The Tour du Roy

      We arrive at the Place du clocher. It beautifully overlooks the city, from there you will appreciate a panorama of choice. For a few euros you can climb to the top of the bell tower and enjoy a 360 degree view . In this area of the village there are galleries, restaurants and shops, it is lively and joyful. The Tourist Office has its offices in the former refectory of the collegiate church. It is a very large complex, with a large cloister in the center, at the level of the religious community of the Augustins who occupied it from the 12th to the 18th century. Enter the cloister, the geographical and spiritual center of the collegiate church, where there are tombs from the 14th century on one of the walls. On the opposite walls, a magnificent contemporary fresco, very colorful, by the artist François Peltier, representing the apocalypse.


      The bell tower square
      Panorama from Place du Clocher
      Cloitre of the collegiate church
      Cloister of the Collegiate Church
      Apocalypse fresco Interior of the collegiate church
      The Apocalypse fresco and the interior of the Collegiate Church

      A visit to Saint-Emilion would not be complete without tasting the famous and delicious Macarons of Saint-Emilion . Made since 1620 (with the same recipe) by the nuns of the Convent of the Ursulines. Made every day, they are prepared with almonds and egg white, they are light and soft, a little crunchy… Do not hesitate to bring a box of them to your friends…


      © The Macarons of Saint-Emilion

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      Our visit to Saint-Emilion comes to an end, we recommend that you linger in its alleys, stroll through the pretty shops. Saint-Emilion can be explored all year round, although in the low season, fewer shops and restaurants are present, it is still a must-see when visiting Libournais! Do not hesitate to request a visit with a tour guide, or to join one of the visits of the Tourist Office, the only way to discover the monolithic church and a moment as fun as it is instructive to understand this unmissable medieval city.


      saint emilion in the middle ages To find out more about Saint-Emilion, we recommend the book Saint-Emilion au Moyen-Age (in fr), written by the guide, lecturer and historian, David Souny. You can find it at the Tourist Office shop or order it in any bookstore.



      Did you like our article? Find others on our Blog Guide Bordeaux Gironde . Follow us on the Bordeaux Gironde Guide Facebook page and on Instagram @guidebordeauxgironde



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