June 24, 2017

ST EMILION, THE STREETS AND BUILDINGS.

St Emilion the buildings3

St Emilion is of course an old mediaeval town and as such is full of fascinating old buildings, some of which have obviously been through many incarnations between when they were built and the present day.

St Emilion the buildings

The interesting thing is how many of them are empty and in poor condition, almost falling down, in fact.  It seems odd that there are buildings in prime positon just left empty and unused, when all around have been converted into sophisticated shops, hotels and restaurants.  I imagine that the complex laws around property ownership and inheritance in France have a lot to do with it.

St Emilion the buildings4

Tumbledown dwellings rub shoulders with smart wine shops in its ancient, steep and cobbled streets.

St Emilion views

It seems strange to me that the large disused building on the right of the street has not already been transformed into a chic dwelling like the one further along, or a hotel.  Maybe it’s in the pipeline, who knows.

St Emilion the buildings6

The old lavoir is in the centre of the town.  Lavoirs performed a social as well as functional part of life in the days when the town’s women would meet while doing the laundry.  We take the plethora of modern means of communication for granted nowadays but not all that long ago the only way of finding out local news was to talk to each other in person.  We even take writing for granted but until the last century it’s unlikely that many of the inhabitants of the town would actually have been able to read and write.

St Emilion the buildings9

One of the biggest disused buildings is the old convent which sits at the top of a hill overlooking the town.  The grand gate and entrance is now overgrown with cultivated vines.

St Emilion the buildings9aSt Emilion the buildings9b

It occupies a huge area in a beautiful position and it would surely be ripe for conversion into a prestigious hotel, or maybe an official building.

St Emilion the buildings9c

It’s hard to imagine that an empty property like this would stay empty for so long in our part of the UK, where land is scarce and beautiful stone buildings command an enormous price for renovation or conversion.  Maybe the cost of the work makes it unviable, if the building has become so dilapidated that only the walls can be saved.  Or maybe there are religious reasons for leaving it empty.  Who knows – I certainly don’t but I’m sure there are people that do.

St Emilion the buildings9e

It was attracting plenty of attention from the tourists and was not too difficult to get into, if you were of a mind to climb in.  No health and safety precautions were in evidence anywhere to deter people from exploring inside.

St Emilion the buildings8St Emilion the buildings8a

The street signs were different to what we had seen elsewhere in France.  They were stylishly written and a red wine colour, maybe to reflect the town’s wine heritage, or possibly religious or regal connections.  Someone will know this too, I’m sure.

St Emilion the buildings9fSt Emilion the buildings9g

A lot of the buildings were adorned with stone carvings, worn and eroded over the centuries to the extent that it was hard to make out what they once depicted, or said about the building and its occupants. 

I took far too many pictures of the streets and buildings for just one post so there will be a second bite at the cherry shortly.  Then there will be a post about the doors and windows (a favourite of mine), one about the food and wine, one about the environs and then that will be it.  My St Emilion series could run and run but there must be an end to it before long!

Bon weekend !!

June 18, 2017

ST EMILION, THE VIEWS.

St Emilion sits high on a hill, overlooking beautiful countryside and vineyards.  There are magnificent views to be found looking out from within its walls and also into its own streets.  This is just a selection of my favourite photos.

St Emilion views2

Some of the streets are very narrow and steep.  Most are cobbled.

St Emilion views3

There are vineyards all around, as far as you can see.

St Emilion views5

There is also quite a lot of green space within the town’s walls.

St Emilion views6JPG

Some of this green space is occupied by unexpected inhabitants, who have one of the most lovely views over the vineyards.

St Emilion views7

I wonder how much they appreciate it.

St Emilion views8

There is a train which can take you from St Emilion to Bordeaux in only twenty minutes.  Parking at the station is free.  We intended to do this on our last day but when the weather forecast was for 35°C or even possibly hotter, we decided against it and thought we could save that trip for the future.

St Emilion views9a

Some of the street views were even more lovely at dusk.

St Emilion views9b

At the weekend these streets were heaving with people until dark.  In the middle of the week we had them almost to ourselves.

St Emilion views9e

With the fancy wine tasting shops closed for the night, the only tourists that lingered enjoyed the peace and quiet of the evening at one of the three bars in the town.  We ate here once.  It was ok, nothing to get excited about and much more expensive than the same meal would have cost in Touraine, probably 50% more.  The price of tourism I suppose.

St Emilion views9d

The rooftop views were enthralling at dusk.  Lights came on here and there, leaving me to wonder who lived inside the old buildings.

St Emilion views9c

It’s one of those towns where I would simply love to be able to step back in time and see how life was say a hundred years ago.  All over town there are reminders of the old ways, how things were done when it was really a working town, not just a tourist town.  I expect that in reality it would probably be pretty grim, the narrow streets dirty and dangerous.  Life was probably very hard for ordinary folk and pretty uncomfortable even for the better off.  Life expectancy would have been quite short.  Even so, just a glimpse would be nice.

St Emilion views9g

I’d love to know just some of the secrets that these old walls could tell.

St Emilion views9f

There was a beautiful tranquillity about the streets at nightfall.  No doubt it would have been a completely different scene a hundred years or more ago.

May 29, 2017

ST EMILION THE ROOFTOPS

rooftops7

St Emilion is a very photogenic town and I took hundreds of pictures.  I’ll post a selection of them in themes and one of my favourite themes is rooftops.

I’m not going to give a history of the town or its famous wine.  There are plenty of websites that will do that, much better than I can.  Pictures are more my thing and it’s such a hilly town that there are plenty of places from where you can get a beautiful view of its rooftops.

Click on a picture if you would like to enlarge it and see more detail.  Can you spot our gite in one of them?  As a clue it makes a partial appearance in three of them.

rooftops9

rooftops8


rooftops6

rooftops4

rooftops5

rooftops

rooftops2

rooftops3

May 25, 2017

ST EMILION–THE TOWN. IT’S ALL ABOUT THE WINE

St Emilion6

St Emilion is without a doubt a very pretty town, sitting on top of a hill, surrounded by vineyards and grand houses, known as château, or wine houses.  It’s an impressive sight as you approach from any side.  The vineyards come right up to the walls of the town.

 St Emilion3

When we arrived last Saturday, it was heaving with tourists.  We knew that there was free parking to be found on the outskirts of town but we didn’t know where it was so managed to find a space in one of the small car parks.  Once we had found the gite and met the owner, she took us in her car to show us where you can park for free.

St Emilion4

Its narrow streets are often very steep and all cobbled.  The buildings are tall and built of a lovely golden creamy stone.  It’s a photographer’s paradise, especially if, like me, you enjoy photographing buildings, especially doors, windows and roofs.  By Sunday evening most of the day tourists had gone home and on Monday morning the place was almost nobody around until luchtime.

St Emilion5

The first bane of a photographer’s life is, I’m sure, the motor car.  Luckily in St Emilion cars are not allowed to park on many of its streets because they are too narrow.  In most other places there is nearly always a car parked right in front of something really interesting that you want to take a picture of.

The second is a fairly modern annoyance, the wheelie bin.  Especially in towns like St Emilion where people are obliged to have one but have nowhere to put it except on the street by the front door.  Luckily, whilst you can’t usually move a car out of the way for taking a nice picture, you can move a wheelie bin.  Although it might get you some odd looks from passers by.

The third is people.  I went to Chenonceau with my friend in February, as it was one of the few châteaux open at that time of year and she was over for a holiday.  It was almost deserted and I could take lots of photos without another soul in the room.  Not only that, but the few people around were all dressed in very sombre clothes and covered up.  Seeing the place like that made me realise it was so much better than in the summer when people wear gaudy colours and can have, in some cases, way too much of themselves on show. 

If there had to be a fourth it would be sunlight, casting awkward shadows.  So I try my best to get a good car free, bin, people and shadow free shot of things but sometimes I get fed up waiting and just take the picture anyway.

St Emilion8

There seem to be more wine tasting shops than bars or cafés.  In the shops you would have a dégustation or taste a few sips of different wines, then buy bottles of the ones you preferred.  Some bars are more like this one, where you can buy and drink a glass of wine then buy a bottle if you like it.

St Emilion7[4]

This bar is just a bar and café.  We stopped for a drink here one afternoon and a couple of days later went out of town and in search of the wine maker.  That’s another approach that we favour.

St Emilion9

We attempted this street just once.  It’s very pretty but incredibly steep.  Wearing perfectly normal shoes, my foot slipped on the cobbles several times on the way down and I could see how dangerous it could be.  Lethal in the rain I imagine.  In the picture you can see a man standing precariously on the side of the road to take a picture.

St Emilion9a

This is what he is taking a picture of, a very pretty and romantic place to have your dinner.  As long as you don’t have one too many and fall down the hill afterwards.  I can imagine that if you fell just right you could actually roll all the way down to the bottom.

St Emilion9b

This was more our kind of thing.  We stopped here for a glass of wine and did buy a bottle of it for later.  We got chatting to an American couple, a mother and daughter from North Carolina, who were in town for two nights.  They were on their way to London via Paris, having come via Seville and Barcelona.  The mother was going home after London and the daughter was staying on to walk the Cotswolds Way.  They both had more energy than us for travelling!

St Emilion9c

Some of the streets are joined by steep flights of stone steps.  This is the one we use each day to get to where we have parked our car.

St Emilion9d

This is the alternative.  It’s a shorter route but I only did it once.  Way too steep for me.  We quickly concluded that to enjoy what St Emilion has to offer you should be fairly well heeled, in all respects.

St Emilion9e

See what I mean about the bins ?!

More soon!

May 22, 2017

ST EMILION–THE GITE.

One dreary afternoon in January we put the TV on and watched the first episode of James Martin’s newest series, called “James Martin’s French Adventure”.  We were in the UK, Nick was still recovering from his heart attack, we were both feeling slightly bruised and the weather was grim. 

St Emilion gite1a

I like James Martin, he has less of the pretentiousness of some other TV chefs, possibly due to being a Yorkshire lad, doesn’t mince his words or suffer fools and yet is passionate and particular about his cooking.  He does it right but not in such a way as us ordinary mortals couldn’t have a bash at it ourselves.

The first episode was filmed in St Emilion, where he apparently started his cooking career when only a teenager and barely tall enough to reach the worktops.  We enjoyed the programme so much that we booked a gite in St Emilion for a week and here we are.  I also bought the book from the series, which is delightful not just for having all the recipes but lots of photos of his trip around France which are gorgeous.

An interesting fact is that James is now the very proud owner of Keith Floyd’s old Citroen 2CV.  You can see it on the front cover of the book, with original dents, and his joy at owning it was positively tangible.

St Emilion gite

This is our gite.  It’s in the middle of the town, is a one up, one down little house without any outdoor space or parking but it serves our purpose very well.

St Emilion gite1

The view from the house is lovely.  St Emilion is without doubt a very pretty and fascinating old town.

St Emilion gite2

The gite is small but comfortable for two people.  It’s a beautifully renovated ancient town house and as far as we can tell it’s a kind of back-to-back with the house joining on behind being several floors up on the next street.  Maybe ours is built into the rock, it’s hard to tell.

St Emilion gite3

It is very tastefully decorated in a modern yet shabby chic kind of way.  As we get to know it we realise that it’s a little bit “style over substance” and as always we have found ourselves heading to the supermarket (in Libourne) for things we simply can’t manage without for a week.  Like a chopping board and a washing up bowl.  We also bought some small wine glasses.  There are plenty of wine glasses here but they are all huge.  I suspect that previous visitors have been more interested in eating out and tasting wine than cooking their dinner.  The oven looks like it has never been used.  There are no oven gloves.  We fancied boiled eggs for our dinner tonight but there are no egg cups.  Poached will have to do instead.

St Emilion gite4

The bedroom is light and airy and also very cool as the house only gets some sunshine from late afternoon.  The bed is very comfy.

St Emilion gite5

The bathroom is part of the bedroom, something we are used to from our own ensuite bathroom chez nous.  The difference here is that the loo does at least have a door on it, thank goodness.

St Emilion gite6

There is no soap dish, but plenty of hot water.

St Emilion gite7

The staircase is not for the faint hearted.  Very steep and narrow with no handrail.  We’re getting used to it.

More soon !!