Saint-Emilion sits proudly on a hill, surrounded by never-ending vineyards and chateaux. This blonde stoned beauty is possibly Bordeaux’s most famous town, and we found while the surrounding countryside was largely devoid of people and cars, it seemed Saint-Emilion was where everyone was concentrated. Yes, it is touristy, full, noisy – but perhaps only really in and around the main square. And the car parks. If you wander off down a cobbled side street, or climb some stairs up the hill suddenly you find yourself alone. And you can observe this beautiful town in peace and quiet.
Saint-Emilion is prime wine country, so you can expect a huge amount of wine shops. On every street, round every turn, there will be a wine shop. Or somewhere to do wine tasting. So that’s definitely something you should do. Whether you are buying or drinking, there is a huge amount of choice – from the Grand Crus to the Grand Cru Classé. Other than that wander up to the watch tower for sublime views of the town and its surroundings. Or take a look at some of its simple but charming churches.
Hostellerie de la Plaisance is Saint-Emilion’s Relais & Chateaux hotel. The place to stay (rooms from about £300) but it also hides the most stunning terrace with heavenly views. While very centrally located, just above the main square next to the church, it feels worlds apart from the heaving square below. If you can afford it, have lunch here. If not, have a ‘café au lait’ (or a glass of wine) and enjoy the views in relative peace. The service, coffee and complimentary chocolate biscuits are phenomenal.
As the town is so touristy, avoid most of the restaurants close to the square. Prices are high and the food tends to be OK (this is France after all), but you can certainly do better. Instead, wander a little further to Les Delices de Roy. It’s quieter here and the food (and prices) is good. But if you really want a bargain, and something a little more authentic, drive 9 minutes down the road to the river side town of Branne. While the town itself is nothing special, Cafe de Cuisine is worth the journey. You’re not really here for the setting – views from its shaded terrace are of a metal bridge over the Dordogne river and a road – but the food is simple and delicious. Classic French food, and 17 Euros for a three course menu scrawled on a blackboard. The service is brisk but friendly and we noticed lots of French here too. We had a chicken pate to start, followed by a light and zesty cod and cold cauliflower salad. The puddings may have been the best of all – my chocolate gateaux was everything you’d expect from a French pudding, and Rob’s lime panacotta with red fruit couli was delicious. Add a glass of Saint-Emilion Grand Cru for 5 Euros and you’re sorted.
Otherwise L’Atelier de Candale at Chateau de Candale (2km from Saint-Emilion) is also meant to be delicious, and very peaceful. They have a lunch menu for €15.
For more tips of the Bordeaux region, check out A weekend in the Medoc.
All photos mine, mostly from my Instagram.