A Girl's Guide to Saint-Émilion, France
a day trip from Bordeaux
july 10, 2018
If Bordeaux is the wine capital of France, then Saint-Emilion is the capital of the wine capital of France. This small town and sub-region of the Bordeaux winelands exports some of the finest and most famous reds in the world. So when one of my loveliest friends and fellow vinophiles came to visit my homebase in Bordeaux, I knew we had to make the trek to this mecca of wine.
Conversely, Chloe and I first cemented our friendship amongst some of the most underrated vineyards of the world, in Stellenbosch, South Africa (click here to read the Travel Guide). We later toasted over fermented grapes wherever we managed to cross paths, including Chicago, Washington D.C., Romania, London, and Athens. When it comes to wine tasting, us connoisseurs consider four factors: appearance, aroma, taste, and the company with whom we raise our glasses. And in Saint-Emilion, I was amongst the best of company: Chloe and her younger brother, as we celebrated his high school graduation. Consequently, we noted and received comments on the youth of our party. The Bordeaux region tends to attract more tourists celebrating middle-aged birthdays, decades of marriage, and the occasional honeymoon. But, no matter, vinophilia is timeless and so is friendship, so off we went to delight our young palates with aged wines.
As we disembarked for Saint-Emilion, this trio was undeterred by the light rain and unyielding clouds, so characteristic of the transition from late spring to early summer in the Gironde region of France. In fact, the drops on the window from our train compartment created the kind snug environment that has prompted countless nights-in with a warm meal and a bottle of red, yet we were happy to see them evaporate before our final stop.
The 40 minute train ride from Gare de Bordeaux Saint-Jean to Gare de Saint-Emilion is €18 round trip. One can purchase tickets online or at the station.
Gare de Saint-Emilion is about 20 minutes on foot from the town center. One may also arrange a taxi or tuk-tuk, yet the walk through vineyards and lilac fields pass quickly on level ground.
We began our trip by strolling through the historic town center, which is very old and very French and very much everything you could imagine from a medieval village turned wine capital. There are gothic churches, countless wine bars/shops, Michelin restaurants, quaint boutiques, and Roman Ruins. But after a quick zip through, we were ready for what we came for: VIN VIN VIN.
Saint-Emilion has over 800 wine growers and producers, making it a humble task to pick just a couple to visit on our short day trip. If you have the time, definitely stay for a few days and maximize all there is to drink! Yet, we left fairly satisfied with our little taste of Saint-Emilion (pun intended).
First we ventured to Chateau Ambe Tour Pourret, an additional 15 minute walk from the town center (again, tuk tuk and taxis are available). The modest chateau and estate (5 hectares) dates back to 1811. The viticulture includes organic growing Cabernet Franc and Merlot grapes on a terroir of old sand and clay. They also sell a variety of wines from sister estates in the region, offering greater diversity.
We were particularly drawn to this estate for their wine and lunch pairing, which included a generous cheese board, salads, coffee, and a healthy pour of three wines, set in an adorable courtyard overlooking the vineyards. At €16 per person, we found this to be a great value.
Buzzed from the wine and thoroughly satiated with cheese, we ambled back to town where we stopped for a quick scoop of ice cream before meeting out Tuk Tuk tour.
This company offers a variety of tour activities - we opted for one that gave us a quick spin around town and then took us into the underground caves and aging cellars used by monks for several centuries, finishing with a tasting of bubbly at the Les Cordeliers Winery (€20 per person). The tuk tuk ride itself was quite fun and informative, as our guide gave us a brief history of the town and showed us an amazing lookout above the city. The aging cellars were interesting and a bit spooky, but the sweet ending was of course a glass of sparkling rose in the 14th century cloisters and gardens of the winery.
We would have loved to stay for dinner, and even over night in town, but Chloe and her bro had but a brief 36 hours to visit. We made our way back to the train and then home to freshen up before cracking open another bottle of Bordeaux over dinner. I’ll be looking forward to the next santé with these two, but until then, who wants to come visit in my soon-to-be home, known as the “Cradle of Wine”: Georgia?!