Y'all, I love so many places, but France — man, you can never go wrong with France. The country gets a bad rap for snooty people, but I whole-heartedly believe it's because most of that comes from Paris, and c'mon, it's a big city — most big cities are like that! To me, the country is filled with super sweet people, and I think France is always a good idea — and it's not just because I really, really love pain au chocolat and macarons. Though that is a huge part of it.
Tyler's grandparents visited during a beautiful spring week that Tyler had off work, and I always put our guests to work traveling — no time to sit in Vicenza when there are adventures to be had! As we've come to travel more, I've come to appreciate small towns more and more, and I'm so, so glad we settled on going to Saint-Émilion. I knew I wanted to go to the Bordeaux region, after a million recommendations from my dear from Michal Turner, but I was a little nervous about staying out in the countryside in a town that is known as a "day trip" from Bordeaux.
However, I'm so happy that we spent most of our time in this absolutely breathtaking UNESCO World Heritage city (and not as much time in Bordeaux). It was so perfectly small town French, absolutely historic, incredibly clean, and it kept us plenty busy during our three nights there, which was very surprising to me. I loved Saint-Émilion so much, it had me singing Belle's intro song from "Beauty & the Beast" — even if it's not a provençal town, it's still a little town and a quiet village!
WHAT WE DID:
- Searched for antique shops along D936 — one of the big reasons we went to this region was because one of my dear friends, Michal, has a beautiful house full of beautiful things, and every time I ask her where she got something, 90% of the time she replies, "at a brocante in Bordeaux." Well, I love antique shopping, but doing it via airplane can propose some issues, so I packed my biggest, lightest suitcase for wine and swag. I didn't come home with a whole lot, but did get what I wanted most, which was a few gorgeous wine corkscrews made from a grapevine — and lots of wine. I had a little trouble at first, trying to figure out where to go, but we hopped on D936 right outside of Saint-Émilion after a tip from a girl at the local tourism office, and found many within a twenty-minute drive! If you're looking for antique shops, look for the words "brocante" or, of course, "antique." We had the most luck at a shop about 5 minutes from Saint-Émilion — just be wary of lunch closing times from 12:30-2:30/3.
- Enjoyed incredible views at our Airbnb — It seems like every new Airbnb we go to is our favorite, but I really think this one in Saint-Émilion is right up there with the best of them. An unassuming place from the outside, the inside has been renovated so thoughtfully to include all the natural and original floors, ceilings, fixtures and walls, but decorated with an exquisite Scandinavian touch by Danish owners Thomas and Anne. The Airbnb provided an incredible view of the vineyards of Saint-Émilion, also — I was so content simply sitting in the living room with the French doors open, reading. The garden was under renovation while we were visiting, so we got a considerable discount (plus it was the off-season), so I can't promise endless affordability once its done — but for the four of us, it was perfect and within our budget. Also, if you've never stayed in an Airbnb before, it's our favorite way to travel — try it yourself with this coupon for $21 off your first night. Also — I have to mention Ahmed, the incredibly sweet man who handled our needs while we were in Saint-Émilion (since this is Thomas & Anne's second home). He had such an amazing personality, and also runs a little hostel down the road from where we stayed, called Une Nuit à St Emilion, which was such a perfect location.
- Went to wineries, Grand Cru or no — We were a little sticker shocked when we first go to the Bordeaux region, because damn, there is some expensive wine there. I guess Italy just spoils us, because France always has slightly more expensive food and wine, and though their pastries are far superior (and I will shell out for some macaron), I'm still not sold that their wine is worth the extra money. However, we weren't going to just ~not~ visit some wineries in the epitome of wine country! The Saint-Émilion tourism office provided an amazing catalog of local wineries, with great info like if you need a reservation, how much their bottles run (the info I was most concerned with) and how much a tasting costs. The region is, of course, known for its wine, but its wineries also have unique features, like many of which store their wine in caves, and also that produce in cement-lined tanks called chais. We wanted to visit one family-owned winery and one winery with a cave, but only made it to Chateau la Remmonée, a newer brand that gave a fantastic free tour. We walked away with enough bottles that our suitcase would hold — yes, even some nicer bottles. If you visit any wineries — especially one with a cave! – but sure to mention it below.
- Ate our fill of canelé and the original macaron: Eating regionally is always super important to me when we travel, and it becomes increasingly important when there are sweets to be had. Saint-Émilion is actually credited with inventing the first macaron cookie — yeah, those super popular colorful cookies that everyone (including me) is obsessed with. However, these cookies look almost nothing like the modern version, with no filling and no colorful additions. However, they're still delicious and melt in your mouth — we grabbed a box from Fabrique de Macarons. And don't forget to grab some canelé — tiny bundt-shaped spongy cakes that you can find big or small!
MORE OF WHAT WE DID:
- Stocked up on French beauty products at the pharmacy: The French are known for their exquisite skin and that credit may be owed to their fantastic beauty products. There are hundreds of "must-have French beauty product" lists out there on the internet, so I took the things I wanted (moisturizers, mostly) and made a list from the most recommended products! The local pharmacy carried everything I wanted, and I walked out of there with Nuxe Huile Prodigieuse dry oil for face, hair and skin, Avène Eau Thermale Water Spray, Embryolisse Lait-Crème Concentré moisturizer and Caudalie Beauty Elixir facial spray and some super happy skin.
- Stopped for a drink at Les Cordeliers: One of my favorite places that we visited in Saint-Émilion was this totally cool museum/ruin/gift shop/bar toward the top of the city. Les Cordeliers is an old cloister that features the ruins of a monolithic church, and it's totally free to enter. The people who work there are incredibly sweet — some of the nicest we met on our trip — and they give tours of the wine cellars and church throughout the day — quite often during the peak season. The ruins have tables set about, with picnic benches in the garden, and there's a bar, so it's a great place to sit awhile with a nice glass and a charcuterie plate.
- Flew and then drove!: We got to Saint-Émilion by flying into the Bordeaux airport (via Brussels Airlines there and Easyjet back to Venice), renting a car and then driving out to the tiny town. However, once we got there, we didn't really need our car all that much except for antiquing and maybe seeing some of the wineries outside the city. There were so many wineries inside the town and the town was so small that we could've easily gone without a car. If you don't want to rent a car, I would recommend taking the train out to Saint-Émilion, as they have a train station in the city!
- Day tripped to Bordeaux: If you're going to the region to just go to Bordeaux, I would recommend venturing out into the countryside more. Although Bordeaux is a perfectly beautiful city, it paled in comparison to Saint-Émilion, especially when looking for wine. We stopped by on our way to the airport, as we had a late takeoff, and enjoyed the Marché du Capucins, which is a more Arab-type market (hello, Moroccan things!) where we were advised to get fresh raw oysters — something the region is known for. We also stopped by Les Puces de St. Michel, a flea market that was basically an open garage sale with the most random stuff being sold in a beautiful square. Of course, we also stopped by Le Miroir d'Eau, the reflective pool along the river, and watched the children play in the water. I definitely wish we had had time for La Cité du Vin — maybe next time!
Photos and text © Katie Currid, 2017. All rights reserved.