St. Emilion is a jurisdiction in the southwest of France, about 30 minutes outside of Bordeaux. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and boasts of having the oldest wine society in France. In fact, St. Emilion is one of the main red wine areas of Bordeaux. Specifically, St. Emilion mainly focuses on cultivating Cabernet Franc and Merlot. This medieval village is complete with picturesque roads, cobbled streets, and orange roofs that are sure to wow anyone who is looking to visit.
With regard to when is the best time to visit, you might want to pair your visit of the town with some wine tastings! I would skip weekends, as most chateaux are actually closed. January through April is quite cold, and there won’t be much to see in terms of beautiful green sprawling vines! The end of May is when CJ and I personally went, and it was absolutely glorious. In the morning it was a cool 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and it went up to 80 degrees on the most perfect, sunny day. Vinexpo, a big wine convention, is held every other year in Bordeaux in the middle of June, which is a time you want to avoid (unless you are in the wine business, of course!) In August, most of the chateaux staff leaves for vacation. Note that September and October are harvesting times, so it might be difficult to book a tour, as well as rainy!
St. Emilion has its own classification of wines, and the list is revamped (roughly) every 10 years. There are 18 chateaux classified as Premier Grand Cru Classe, 64 chateaux at the Grand Cru Classe level, and quite a lot of Grand Cru (unclassified wine in St. Emilion). The 18 can further be broken down into two classes: Premier Grand Cru Classe A (comprised of four chateaux) and Premier Grand Cru Classe B (made up of 14 chateaux). The four chateaux that take top billing are the best of the best, and unless you work in the wine industry, it is very hard to make an appointment for a tasting at one of these historic chateaux. However, there are still plenty more to choose from! CJ and I chose one chateau to visit from the Premier Grand Cru Classe B list and one chateau to visit from the Grand Cru Classe list. (Both were spectacular! More on that in separate posts on Chateau Soutard as well as Chateau la Gaffeliere!)
I would pick up some pastries the night before so that you can hop on a train/taxi early in the morning to get to your first wine tasting. Tastings are generally one-on-one, so it is important to be on time and make sure you do not pack your day with too many tastings. If you want, you can do three tastings, but I think four would be pushing it. After my first tasting I did in the morning (which was also a workshop that lasted three hours), I walked to the center of the village for lunch and some exploration. If you are looking for something simple, there is this little crepe place called Le Trouher, which has a balcony that overlooks the rest of the village. The owners are insanely friendly and sitting under the umbrella outside is so relaxing.
After lunch, I would schedule a second chateau for wine tasting. Then you can continue to walk around, perhaps squeeze in a third chateau visit, or you can take a walk to the train and make it back to Bordeaux in time for dinner (paired with more wine!)
A wine tasting could be around 20 euros per person, but a wine workshop like the one I did at Chateau Soutard could be upwards of 90 euros per person.
How to get there:
The train from the Bordeaux St. Jean station arrives at the St. Emilion station in 30 to 40 minutes, and it is a short walk (or moderate walk!) depending on whichever chateau you decide to visit. Tickets are about 10 euros per person.
An Uber or taxi from Bordeaux to St. Emilion will take about 45 minutes. This is the most expensive option, especially if you are taking an Uber and surge pricing is in full swing.
To buy your train tickets: https://www.trainline.eu/train-times/bordeaux-to-st-emilion
To book a wine tour (many individual chateaux also have their own websites for booking): http://winetourbooking.com/en/