Saint-Emilion is known worldwide thanks to its wines but also to the inscription of its Jurisdiction on the World Heritage List by the UNESCO for its cultural landscapes in 1999!
The Community of the Grand Saint-Emilionnais is a total of 22 villages combining wine and architectural heritage in the immediate proximity of the Dordogne river, a natural resource also recognised by UNESCO.
Saint-Emilion is an authentic open-air museum, dating back to the legend of a humble hermit. A village full of history, perched on a rocky headland. Saint-Emilion and its vineyards draw their originality from the limestone that offers an exceptional soil to grow vines. Man adapted himself to this beautiful hilly landscape that gave its harmony to local architecture and colours: illuminated by the ochre light, the stones tell their tale, absorbing us into the past.
Emilion, the founding monk of the world-famous city
In the VIIIth Century, the Breton monk from Vannes called Emilion, chose to take his retirement in a natural cave close to the village of Ascumbas (the old name for the town now known as Saint-Emilion). This compassionate man left his native Brittany to take himself away from society and to devote his life to prayer.
Through his miracles and his generosity his name became well-known far beyond the valleys of the Dordogne and numerous disciples would come and join him. Emilion first evangelised the population, creating a large monasterial city which his followers would later name after him. It is presumed that Emilion died on the 6th January in the year 767, after having spent the last 17 years of his life in his hermitage, around which the town of Saint-Emilion and its exceptional troglodytic structures were built.
Famous for its charm and character, the medieval village welcomes almost one million tourists each year coming from all four corners of the world. Its 17 historic monuments, of which 11 are listed buildings, represent the diverse heritage made up of religious, defensive and civil architecture. Among these, the underground church is internationally renowned. The tertres and escalettes (steep streets), the narrow medieval paved streets and steep slopes are authentic and unique to the village. They come together to provide visitors with the chance to discover the hidden charms of the picturesque village and have a unique experience.
The Monolithic church and its bell tower
Built between the 12th and 15th centuries and strengthened 2 centuries later, the bell tower is Saint-Emilion’s highest point and soars over the city. Climbing its 196 steps may be a challenge but the exquisite view from the top is definitely worthwhile. It’s accessible all year round.
Hidden under the tower, the dazzling monolithic church was entirely carved out from one and only stone at the beginning of the 12th century. Its huge proportions make it Europe’s widest monolithic church. Tourist office guided tours only.
Text by Saint-Émilion Tourisme.
Photos by Asgeir Pedersen, Spots France, except where indicated.