Saturday, 23 August 2014

Saint-Emilion, at the heart of French country life!

Welcome back, readers! So glad you dropped by for another taste of French country life. Today, I invite you to join me on a short trip, just 50 minutes from our village, to the beautiful medieval town of Saint-Emilion. Before we arrive, I thought it might be helpful to give you a quick potted history of this amazing place, at the heart of one of the most famous wine producing regions in the world.

Entrance to L'Eglise Monolithe
As the guide books tell us, the first human settlements around Saint-Emilion can be traced back to between 35,000 and 10,000 BC. It wasn't until the Roman occupation began in 27 BC, however, that the first vines were planted around the town. Christian monasteries and churches began to appear at the beginning of the 7th century, as the region was on the pilgrims' route to Santiago de Compostela and from the 11th century onwards the region experienced great prosperity. During the course of the Hundred Years War, Saint-Emilion changed hands many times between the English and French, finally becoming permanently French in 1453. The town remained fortified until the end of the 18th century when the fortifications were dismantled, all of which had an adverse effect on the vineyards. It was not until 1853 that Saint-Emilion started to recover due to the success of the vineyards, which now produced wine recognised across the world as exceptional.

Driving through the valley towards Saint-Emilion, we get our first glimpse of the town clinging to the hillside overlooking the vineyards. One writer describes it, as being built with solid ochre limestone extracted from the kilometres of local underground galleries, the result being a medieval village whose subtle harmony of warm colours, varies in shade with the intensity of light as the day progresses. It is interesting to note at this point that Saint-Emilion is a 'World Heritage Site', famous for its catacombs under the town and resplendent in its position high above the Dordogne Valley.

Steep cobbled streets of St Emilion
As visitors we can discover the amazing 'Eglise Monolithe', whose impressive belfry peaks 133 metres above the roofs of Saint-Emilion. Below, hewn into the rock, this troglodyte chapel is the oldest building in the village, housing the burial place of Saint Emilion himself, the monk after whom the town is named, whose followers began producing wine here commercially in the 8th century. Exploring the steep winding, cobbled streets, known locally as tertres, we will discover fascinating houses, Romanesque remains and amongst the many wine outlets offering tastings, there are art galleries and craft shops galore.

Our trip to Saint-Emilion would not be complete, however, without mentioning the wine industry. Much of the local wine is produced at the many Chateaux surrounding the town. The majority of these will offer wine tasting and guided tours of the vineyards providing the visitor with a fascinating glimpse into the world of viticulture. You will discover the main grape varieties of the region to be Merlot, Cabernet Franc and a sprinkling of Cabernet Sauvignon. I won't go any further into the actual wines produced, in this post, but for those with an interest in wine who wish to know more, I recommend checking out ;

Chateau Canon St Emilion
As we take our leave of this magical place, I would add for those wishing to discover Saint-Emilion for themselves, the town boasts a wide selection of restaurants and hotels offering wonderful hospitality to the traveller.

Well, readers, I hope I have whetted your appetite for this beautiful historical town, that has a very special place in my heart. Someday soon, you too may watch the sunset over the Dordogne Valley and from within the ramparts of  Saint-Emilion, raise a toast to some of the best wine in the world!

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