While in Bordeaux, I happened to have a completely free evening one day. By then, the streets of Bordeaux were getting pretty familiar and I felt the urge to go and explore the area a bit further now that I had the chance. Based on a few articles I had read about the area, I knew I had two options – Travel west to the coastal city of Arcachon or east to the historical city of Saint-Émilion. Both cities could be reached by train in less than an hour. Even though both seemed like amazing destinations, as I was travelling in October and it was clear that since I could only visit one, I had to choose between the two. Taking into account the time of the year, it was an easy choice – vineyards over beaches it would be and so I headed to Saint-Émilion.
I had read a few articles about the city in advance and in nearly all of them it was stated that you would need a full day for the visit. When I told people that I’d be heading to the city late in the afternoon, I was told by everyone that I’d end up running out of time – big time. It would not be worth the effort, they said. But, as a stubborn spirit, I did what I often do and did not pay attention to the opinions of others. I had decided that even a short visit would be better than no visit at all and so I took off. Even at the railway station I was faced with disbelieving clerk at the ticket office when I said I’d like to have the return ticket for the same evening. But after explaining that this is all I have and going there on another day would not be an option, I got my tickets and hopped on the train.
Saint-Émilion is some 35 minutes away from Bordeaux. The trains depart from Gare St Jean station every 1-2 hours and the trip costs 9,50 € one way. The ride is an easy one, passing through beautiful scenery. When travelling by train, it is worth noticing that there is no ticket sales in Saint-Émilion station, so it is advisable to get a return ticket from Bordeaux.
When arriving to Saint-Émilion, there is no doubt about the role of the significance of the area as a wine producer. The vineyards expand around the station further than the eye can see. The railway station is located about a kilometer from the city. The 15 minute walk to the hilltop city center takes you along a peaceful road with some beautiful views over the vineyards. As I approach the city, there is barely no traffic on the road and the warm October sun lightens the walls of the historical city. There is no doubt that the city that awaits ahead is beautiful.
When walking along the narrow cobblestone streets in the city, you get a glimpse of a constantly changing but beautiful scenery around each street corner. Sometimes you see a lovely little alley framed with beautiful buildings, sometimes a square full of restaurants or even the majestic church that dominates the skyline. Walking along the streets of this lovely city simply makes you feel like the luckiest person in the world for finding you way in to this charming town..
The city is small, even so small that you can easily walk around the center in half an hour. Despite the size, be prepared to have some spare time and you most likely want to stop in almost every street corner to admire the constantly changing views over the city and you do not want to pass these without having a look at what the streets and alleys have to offer. Also, as the centre is built on a shape of an amphitheatre, the outer skirts of the center provide the best views over the city center, here they truly are so gorgeous that you can easily spend a lot of time just admiring the views opening over the vineyards.
The biggest attractions in the city are the 12th century monolith church that is famous for its underground parts. The church and its underground sections have limited access and can only be visited on a 45 minute tours that can be booked in the tourist office right next to the church. Also, different winery and vineyard tours are popular ways to spend time in the city. There is a variety of different tours from full day tours to short walking tours that can be done on your own, so there is plenty to choose from. Unfortunately as my time was limited, I did not have time to explore the church nor the wineries, but at least I got view the church from outside and managed to do a short walk around the vineyards next to the city center.
It is true that a short visit in the city is not enough for getting to know all the little details, but I was still more than happy that, despite all the warnings of other people, I decided to go. The few hours I had were enough to let me have a peaceful walk in and around the city center, enough for having time to admire the views and to enjoy the atmosphere. I actually even had enough time to have a lovely dinner in a restaurant and to try out the products of a local winery. So even though the tour in the wineries did not fit in to my itinerary, at least I got to taste the results of the local production before it was time to head back to Bordeaux.
Would I have liked to have more time in Saint-Émilion? For sure. Would it have been wiser to skip the trip because I had only a few hours? Definately not. Even if I only had 1-2 hours to spend in the lovely city, I’d still say it is really worth the effort if you are in Bordaux.