Saint-Émilion in Aquitaine is the oldest wine area in the Bordeaux region and is a pretty medieval town with magnificent underground catacombs.
The town of Saint-Émilion has a long history dating back to the 8th century when Émilion, a monk from Vannes, made his hermitage in the area and his reputation as a generous man who could perform miracles attracted many disciples. The monks who came and settled here made this a major monastic centre and began the production of the wines for which the town is famous today.
As Saint-Émilion grew, the town was mined and the medieval architecture of the town, as well as many of the nearby châteaux are built from the stone including the bell tower, the keep and the castle. The mines left something beautiful behind them - a warren of catacombs stretching for 200km and the largest monolthic church in Europe, carved out of the rock underground.
Inside the catacombs you'll also find the Underground Pottery Museum showcasing ceramics from 20 centuries of Aquitaine's history as well as an exhibit of contemporary ceramics - some of which are for sale. Don't miss a tour of this magical underground world!
Up above ground, the appelation's renowned and robust red wine is grown and made in the vineyards and châteaux scattered amongst the hills and valleys. Tours and wine tastings are available - why not walk with a to a Grand Cru winery just a few minutes walk from the town where you'll tour the vines, vat room and barrel cellar before trying some of the excellent wine? Some châteaux even offer tours of their underground cellars in the catacombs.
If you're feeling more energetic perhaps you'd like to cycle or hike your way between vineyards and explore this wonderful area in more depth? The diversity of geology around Saint-Émilion is unique with limestone, clay-limestone, gravel and sandy soils that produce ripe, healthy merlot grapes and create exceptional wines.
The winegrowers are proud of their produce and the Jurade de Saint-Émilion, a brotherhood of winegrowers who work as ambassadors for the appelation's wines, have improved their recognition worldwide. The brotherhood were once a group of winegrowers who were given economic, political and legal rights by the English and who became the town's administrators between a Royal Charter in 1199, giving the English privileges to the wine before anyone else, and the French Revolution in 1789.
Today, they set up the Fête de Printemps (Spring Festival) in July and the Ban des Vendanges (Vintage Festival) in September every year where they parade in their traditional crimson robes.
If you're a beginner, then find out more about wine at the Maison du Vin de Saint-Émilion and L'Ecole du Vin de Saint-Émilion which both offer introductory courses in wine tasting and oenology in English. After that, why not get creative at B-Winemaker where you can blend your own wine and create its label before taking it home!
Stock up on fine Saint-Émilion wines from the town's wine merchants and explore the art galleries, and antiques and handicrafts shops for something truly unique as a souvenir. Don't forget a visit to the bakers to try the macaroons - soft but crunchy biscuits that are Saint-Émilion's second most famous product! Traditional terroir cusine is available as well as fine restaurants with gourmet dining and, of course, some fantastic wine bars.
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