St. Emilion, France Travel Diary
Updated: Sep 2, 2019
Today I'm sharing a bit about my visit to St. Emilion, France. We took a day trip to the small village, about 40 minutes by train from Bordeaux, during our time in Bordeaux in May.
St. Emilion is a dream day trip if you’re planning to visit Bordeaux. If you're a wine lover, know that it was founded by monks and is well known for its centuries old vines. We spent the better part of a day there and came back to the city in time to have a whole evening. The train ride was comfortable and speedy. The town is a beautiful window into the past and into French countryside living.
The train station is about a mile from town, and we really enjoyed the scenic walk there early in the morning. Our path was filled with views of low grape vines and featured splashes of poppies blooming everywhere throughout the landscape. There were fields of them and then there were the handfuls that bloomed in between rows of grape vines. They’re so beautiful up close, with their impossibly wide, floppy petals set on too-thin stems. We also passed by a clutch of large and brilliant calla lilies growing in a roadside ditch. Is this what the French countryside is? Luxurious, wild flora? Be still my heart.
Take the train from Gare de Bordeaux St. Jean. Tickets are available ahead of time so you might want to book them before you leave home. If you're staying near the old town, consider taking an inexpensive Uber to the train station. It was kind of a long walk from our AirBnB so we took a cab on the way there. We walked back from the station when we returned but we were rather tired by the time we got back to the room. The neighborhood around the station is definitely less touristy and a little bit gritty. I'm glad that we saw that part of Bordeaux but next time I'd save myself the time and energy and take an Uber back to the AirBnB.
The Tourist Office:
Make the Tourist Office in St. Emilion your first stop. We wouldn't have typically thought to do this but I'd read this tip repeatedly in my research. They can help you book English speaking tours of nearby wineries and give you information on return trains and places to eat. If you want to climb the bell tower of the monolithic church, they provide the key in exchange for an ID for you to let yourself in and out.
We arrived in town before the tourist office opened so were the first in line and got our customary vertical climb in for the day early on. This tower isn’t too taxing and I’d suggest it for the 360 degree view of the town. The morning fog made the place feel all the more quaint, quiet, and dreamy.
Below, a view from the top of the tower, overlooking the village square.
St. Emilion wine:
The producers take such tremendous pride in their wine, their vines, their land, and their process that goes back generations. It’s amazing going to any family winery and taking even the standard tour. You know the content you’re hearing has been repeated many times over but you can still sense the pride and passion behind their rehearsed delivery, particularly when they called out what makes their terrior special, what makes their product unique.
The Tourist Office website lists all of the local wineries, including whether they offer tours in English and how to book time for a visit. There are so many wineries that we were completely overwhelmed and decided not to try to go crazy reading about each place. We ended up not pre-booking a winery visit, but it all turned out okay!
You can really make this trip what you wish. There are SO many wineries within walking distance and a short drive away that you could spend days in the village and surrounding parts with a packed schedule of winery tours and tastings. We chose a more leisurely and laid back approach and spent much of the day wandering around the small town.
It was still a bit too early in the day after we finished climbing the bell tower, which only took about 20 minutes total including the 15 minutes we spent at the top. Most businesses hadn't opened up for the day, so we went for a crepe and an espresso in the village square and sat in the cool open air until the quiet broke and we saw more people ambling about.
Throughout the day, we walked basically every street in St. Emilion. We noticed that everyone who had a backyard had a couple of vines growing for personal use. Even small yards had two or three vines going; the locals are all-in for their wine heritage.
We booked a very inexpensive, no-frills little excursion for the mid-afternoon. We filed into the trolley pictured below and were driven around the countryside around the village for plenty of sunshine, poppies, vines, and those light sandstone colored buildings. As part of the tour, there's a stop at a local winery for a tour of the cellars and a tasting. I'd recommend this as an activity just because it was so easy. We were able to book that morning for the same day, and it allowed us to visit a winery without stressing about making a choice.
The weather. We encountered beautiful sunny weather with not a chance of rain in the forecast, which was lucky because some of the streets are very steep. Many of them are paved with worn (read: slippery when wet) stone and there were few railings to be found. My husband was mostly fine in his sneakers but my leather sandals didn't have enough tread for me to feel confident walking some of the streets even in dry weather.
Below, you'll see me hanging on for dear life as I walk down one such street. There's a gap in the handrail ahead and I'm 4 out of 10 concerned that I'll wipe out before making it to the next stretch.
As we'd found in Bordeaux, St. Emilion restaurants seem to only serve one seating for each meal. Around lunch time, the streets absolutely clear. As such, it would be a good idea to look into where you want to dine ahead of time. We ate at a random restaurant with a backyard that was able to accommodate us. The food was good, if not super memorable, and the wine was local. A solid meal eaten al fresco with local, young wine was all we really needed though, and we came away with a fond memory from this lunch.
Day trips make your anchor point feel like home quickly. We went to La Bieristerie by Port Cailhau for charcuterie and beer when we returned to the city, and we were so happy to be back in that familiar square relaxing with snacks and beer.
More pictures from our day trip below.