After leaving Arcachon (you can read about my experience here) we headed to the very picturesque town of St Emilion in France, just east of Bordeaux. This, my friends, is true wine country. As soon as you leave the motorway, you drive through miles of vineyards interspersed with fields of corn. It is beautiful country and the chateaus are truly magnificent. Similar to our stay in Arcachon, we decided to book two nights before heading back to the UK.
Because this was the final leg of our French summer holiday, we (ok, *I*) decided we should stay somewhere really luxurious, so I booked us into a chateau right on the outskirts of St. Emilion called Le Pavillon Villemaurine. I had high expectations, and they were exceeded in every way.
The house is old and beautiful from the outside, and has its own vineyard in the back. We were upgraded to one of their larger rooms which was a really lovely surprise, and the room was a knock out. We had a HUGE super king size bed with large windows overlooking the vineyard, as well as a huge bathroom with an old roller tub, two sinks and a very large, very powerful shower.
The hotel itself was beautifully renovated and so comfortable. Every day the owner leaves a bottle of wine out for the guests to help themselves to in the evening which I thought was a really lovely touch. The breakfast unfortunately was very omni-heavy (it is France after all), but I made do with some bread, jam and fruit. The owners were just lovely too and so, so helpful. Especially in pointing us in the direction of a fantastic veggie-friendly restaurant (more on that below).
When we arrived in St Emilion it was lunchtime, so after dropping off our bags we headed into the town to see what we could find. We weren’t hopeful after our experience in Arcachon, but luckily we came across a few restaurants that offered more veg friendly dishes. I think this is due to the fact that St Emilion is a real tourist destination – we heard many American and English accents while we were there, as opposed to Arcachon which is a real French resort.
The restaurant we went to was Bar de la Poste right in the center of the town. It was fun sitting in the bustling square and watching tourists meander by. We ended up sharing a bowl of penne, salad, frites (of course) and a bottle of vegan (!) rose wine (owned by the Jolie-Pitts no less). It was really good after two days of surviving on cheeseless pizzas!
For dinner that first night we headed to Cafe Saigon which was recommended to us by the owner of the chateau. They are a Vietnamese restaurant (in case you couldn’t guess), and are happy to accommodate for vegans as long as you tell them ahead of time when you book. They don’t give you a choice though – they create the dishes for you so you find out what you’re eating when it comes out. For someone who ALWAYS chooses their meals before I even arrive at a restaurant, this was a challenge for me, but the food was incredible. Incredible. For starters we had these crispy fried courgette on top of a fresh Asian slaw type salad, and for mains we had a veggie noodle dish that was bursting with flavours. For dessert Andrew ordered the tapioca pudding which was warm perfection.
The next day we went for a drive and got back too late before our wine tour in order to have a proper lunch, so after searching frantically for somewhere to grab a bite to eat, we finally found a little “fast food” place. The only vegan things on the menu were bread and chips. So we made chip buttys with ketchup… it was probably the saddest lunch I’ve ever had.
Because we enjoyed our meal at Cafe Saigon so much, we booked in for the second night. There is only so much bread I can eat after all. For our starter they made us an Asian salad using green mango which is something I’ve never tried, but was so tasty.
For our mains we had a noodle veggie dish, but this time with a sort of curry broth that was so so so good. And a side of sriracha. I think the manager knows the way to my heart. For dessert Andrew had the mango sorbet that came in a fruit sauce, and I got the tapioca pudding. This is a big deal for me, as I don’t normally order desserts and if I do, they almost always have to be chocolate based. So that’s saying something.
The next day we had to leave for the airport, but I wanted to squeeze one more pizza in. So we headed to a pizzeria which is was recommended to us by the owner of the chateau. It’s a beautiful restaurant inside, but sitting outside next to the ancient bath is really special. This time, we both ordered our own pizza, split a salad and a side of frites. The pizzas were perfect – so thin and light and flaky and the veggies were delicious. I have no problem admitting that I finished my entire pizza by myself.
St Emilion is wine country, so a tour of the vineyards is a must if you visit. There are many, many different tours and tour operators to choose from, including one that drives you around in a tuk-tuk! We chose one that was €30 each through the tourism office, and visits two small, family-run vineyards. The tour was small – there were 8 people total – and the driver / tourguide was very knowledgeable and helpful. The wine tastings are always a treat as well. And the best part? I spoke to the owner of the first vineyard about the filtering process, and she said there are very strict rules governing St Emilion wines and they don’t use any fish or eggshells to filter. So that means all the wines we tried (and subsequently bought) were accidentally vegan! Result!
St Emilion is a great little town for sightseeing. There is a lot of history there, and you can either take a tour or just wander around yourself. I would suggest climbing the stairs of the King’s Keep to see panoramic views of the town and the surrounding vineyards. There is also an underground tour which we didn’t do, but sounds intriguing.
Our second day in St Emilion we went for a drive along the Dordogne which was just stunning. If you have a car, and time, this is a great way to spend a couple hours as you will see a really beautiful, rural part of France.
So there you have it! That is the final part of my three-part series of our French adventure. We had an incredible time everywhere we went, and met some lovely people along the way. I can’t wait to go back!
Be sure to check out my vlog about St Emilion below!