Traveling the Romantic Back Roads of Saint-Émilion and Bordeaux’s Premium Vineyards
The brilliant sunshine of a southern France spring plays across vast, rolling fields of venerable grape vines. Row upon row march up and over the undulating landscape of the Dordogne Valley with military precision. Where the land is flat, their perfectly straight files disappear into distant trees or perhaps one of the many, age-old Châteaus dotting the horizon and hilltops. In the distance, an ancient steeple among a cluster of stone buildings rises out of the vineyards denoting a village.
Occasional signs along the road announce various Châteaus, inviting the traveler to taste their wines, have dinner or spend the night. It is impressive to see signs for some of the most famous wines in the world. Narrow lanes between the vines lead to the elegant facades of Château Ausone, Château Cheval Blanc, Château Figeac, Château Magdelaine, and Clos Fourtet, all members of the elite classification, Premiers Grands Crus Classés.
The town of Saint-Émilion, the center of the world famous Appellation Saint-Émilion Controlee and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, lies now only a few kilometers away. The Bell Tower of its ancient, monolithic church and the buildings surrounding it give no indication as to the scope and beauty of the town. For that, you must stop and explore it on foot.
Saint-Émilion is set within an enormous, natural amphitheater. Rows of grape vines mark the edge of town, disappearing into the distant horizon. At the foot of the sheer cliff lies a small, cafe-lined plaza. From this limestone cliff, the underground, Monolithic Church, the largest of its kind in France, was carved by generations of devoted Benedictine monks. Over 15,000 cubic yards of rock were quarried to create the huge interior spaces.
The massive doors to the Monolithic Church lie at the bottom of the cliff just off the plaza. Frequent tours explore the vast interior. Past the church, more wine stores provide tastings of the local vintages. Cocktail tables with bottles and glasses sit just outside the doors of the shops, allowing casual tastings of the regions full-bodied reds as you stroll.
A leisurely 10-15 minute walk brings you to the vines of Merlot and Cabernet Franc grapes abutting the town. From here, you can wander in all directions to your heart’s delight, toward wineries, châteaus and beyond.
Saint-Émilion is an architectural gem. Its timeless, medieval atmosphere transports you to a previous era. Here, you will find not only marvelous, southern French cuisine and exceptional wines, but also, a sense of quiet elegance and understated self-confidence that comes from centuries of culture and a world class reputation for excellence.
Stunning photos, Dennis, as always. I particularly loved how you captured the gardens. So when do you plan to create your “one man” show?
Sandy from San Diego
We took the Bordeaux / St. Emilllon trip in 2006. We’re going on the Backroads trip to Zion, Bryce, and the Grand Canyon with our two sons, aged 28 and 30. How would you compare the level, sp. the difficulty of the two trips?