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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
See what I mean about the bins ?!