Monday, June 22, 2009

It smelled like it should have been flushed

After the late night of music it was well after 9 am when we woke this morning. We were the last ones down to breakfast (the luxury of travelling for a long time means you don't have to rush to fill your days!) and had our customary bread and conserves, croissant / pain de chocolat and coffee.

South African couple - Kim and Fanie are here without a car and had wanted to see St Emilion before they leave for the Isle of Man tomorrow, and we too had wanted to go back there, so we offered to take them with us today.

We finally get on the road just after 11 am. It is sunny and warm and promises to be a great day. There is quite a bit of traffic on the road towards Bordeaux so we do not get to St Emilion until a quarter to twelve. The town is a flurry of activity packing up after the Music Festival yesterday and there are a lot more tourists around than there were when we were here in February. We start at the Church, taking Kim and Fanie to see wall decorations that date back many hundreds of years. This church dates back to an 8th Century monastery and today, the cloisters which we have not seen before are open. They are worn with the passage of time, with just some repairs having been made - but not so much to have diminished the wear on the balance. You can still clearly see the remainder of walls highly decorated with paintings, and the hue original beams. And back inside the church, one of the chapels is bathed in warm light thrown through the stained glass window.

We make arrangements to meet again at the car later and we go our separate ways. Michael and I head back to the main square where we discover that for a miserly fee of €1 you can climb the 181 steps up the bell tower of the Monolithic Church. Michael dutifully pays his fee and taking the key, unlocks the tower, closing the door behind him. But wait, he comes straight back out again - once the door is closed, it is pitch dark and he cannot see enough to climb the spiral stairs. So back to the Tourist Office where they give him a torch! Back in he goes. Up those tight spiral stairs, complete with graffiti scratched into the sandstone walls dating back into the 1700's. At the top, above the belfry, he gets the photos of the most amazing roof-scape looking over St Emilion. It is a truly picturesque town, just as you would imagine that a tight hilly town set amongst the wine vines of Bordeaux should look.

We are a little peckish so stop at one of the restaurants on the terrace in front of the tower. Salads are the order of the day - mine a Chèvre chaud (warm goat cheese) and Michael's a gésier (gizzards) salad. They were both deliciously light and tasty - the perfect meals on a warm summer day. And it is not until we have almost finished or lunch that we realise that Kim and Fanie are sitting just a few tables away! So we discuss the possible plans for the afternoon and agree that we would all like to explore the underground monuments that are in a large part responsible for the listing of St Emilion on the UNESCO register for the last 10 years. So off I go to the Tourist Office to make the booking.

Michael and I then go to join the 'Small Train' tour of the wider town area and the various wine chateaux that surround it. We learn a little of the history of wine making in the area that began in the 3rd century and looked at the most amazing views over the Dordogne Valley - it is such a scenic part of the world!

Back in town we just have enough time to walk down the incredibly steep path (very gingerly I might add) and buy a bottle of water before our tour. Michael climbs the hill again to find Kim and Fanie ready to join us. We wait outside the lower doors for our guide, Virginia, to arrive with the rest of the tour group. As we are entering monuments that are in fact in private ownership, we are unable to take any photos. This is such a pity as what we see is so amazing.

We begin in the Hermitage, an underground cave that was enlarged from the natural cave in the 8th century by St Emilion, a former Benedictine monk who chose to become a hermit. He lived very simply and was later joined by some followers. Then it was into a small chapel where over the centuries after it had fallen into disuse, a cooper set up his shop. The soot from his fires covered the walls and it was just by chance in 1979 when the walls were being cleaned that the most amazing painted frescoes were found - preserved by the soot over hundreds of years. This chapel was one of the first in France to move from the Romanesque to the Gothic architecture. There are plenty of architectural mistakes visible, indicating that the builders were still learning the new style. Then we venture into the catacombs below the chapel before walking over uneven ground into the most amazing Monolithic Church - underground, dug out from sheer rock. It is 18 metres high 20 metres wide and 36 metres long. Who, in their right mind, thinks, ahh let us quarry this rock to build our town and oh, while we are at it, let's build an amazing underground church. What a space. What an experience. Sorry, we would love to show you, but no photos.

So, back up that ghastly hill. Time for a cool drink before we leave St Emilion. Mine is a Perrimint - perrier water with peppermint cordial - not really very sweet and oh so refreshing. As we leave St Emilion, I drive the route the little train took so we can show Kim and Fanie those views.

And if we thought the traffic coming over was bad, it was nothing on how thick it was going back. Oh course it is about 6 pm so this would be the commuter rush heading home after a day working in Libourne or Bordeaux. St Emilion is only 7 kms from Libourne and a bit over 30 from Bordeaux. But we are in no real hurry, so it certainly doesn't stress us. And there are obviously some who walk to a different pace - we pass a farmer with his horse and plough tending his vines - that is uncommon - even here in the middle of such a prolific wine producing area.

Close to Blaye there are a couple of monument churches we want to have a look at. The first is a 12th Century Roman church. It is in a small village called Turiac and while it is closed (well, it is after 7 pm!) but we can see ancient Latin lettering in the carving above the main doorway.

Then there is the church of Saint Laurent d' Arce, a Knights Templar church, can be seen from the main road as we drive to Blaye. We have wanted to stop and have a look ever since we first saw the sign in February and today we do. It is obviously an ancient church dating back many hundreds of years. But the grounds and hedges are immaculately kept and the church is in regular use. In fact they are undertaking a significant amount of work on it - installing new drainage around the perimeter of the building, re- building a low wall and re-installing a new awning (for the want of a better word) around thre sides of the church. It's obvious from the corbels in the walls that there was one there in times past. Amazing. It's now pushing 7:30 pm. The sun is still high in the sky, but the light is now thin. It's time to be thinking of dinner.

I drive past the Church of St Paul at Cars with its tesselated spire roof of glazed terracotta tiles. Kim and Fanie had admired it from afar when arriving the other day, but had not seen it close up. Les has recommended Restaurant Le Pierr'eau for dinner. We stopped briefly at Villa St Simon for jackets and to check directions after we could not find it ourselves, only to find that we were within a kilometre of the address. Mind you, Les' directions - go down the street and turn right about 1 km after the roundabout and it is just a few hundred metres along was way off! 3 km from the roundabout and 1.6 km from the turnoff!! The locals frequent this restaurant and so we knew that the food would need to be pretty good. And we are not disappointed.
Brochette de fruits de mer sauce à l'orange (Seafood kebab with orange sauce) Michael & Kim
Salade de chèvre chaud au miel et aux amandes (Warm goat cheese salad with honey & almonds) Maria and Fanie
Andouillette sausage (see here for explanation) Michael - and hence the title for today's blog!
Brochette de bœuf et le canard (Kebab of beef and duck) Kim and Fanie
Saumon grillé sauce à la crème au poivre rouge (Grilled salmon with cream sauce and red peppercorns) Maria
They were all delicious even if the smell of Michael's could have turned us all off our food (and along with everyone else in the restaurant!)
Fondant au chocolat avec crème glacée au chocolat (Chocolate fondant with chocolate ice cream) Michael
Poires pochées au vin rouge avec glace au chocolat (Pears poached in red wine with chocolate ice cream) Maria, Kim and Fanie
While we are eating dinner, the sun slowly sinks beneath the horizon casting the most beautiful light across the water, but it is not fully dark until 11 pm. We finaly finish with coffee and pay the bill to leave around 11:15 pm.

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