Explore Saint Emilion with your kids. You might think a medieval village famous for wine and kids don’t go together but the Saint Emilion tourist office have you sorted. They have fantastic treasure hunts that allow you to explore Saint Emilion with kids in a fun way.
Trip Planning for Europe
Our main focus for our Europe camping trip started as Spain and Portugal. Two countries we haven’t travelled in before with the exception of Barcelona and Mallorca. The problem with us and trip planning, is we always add places in. It isn’t so far to here… And if we go there, then it’s only another 3 hours to this place that I’ve always wanted to go…
This is how Spain and Portugal became France, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Switzerland. I tried to squeeze Croatia in but Paul drew the line at that!
It’s a long way to Spain from Calais, France, so the first thing was to find somewhere in France to break the journey. We’ve camped in France a few times and we really like it, looking at our giant Europe map this seemed the perfect opportunity to visit Bordeaux. Some last minute campsite searching found the Yelloh Village at Saint Emilion. A child’s heaven this gorgeous campsite was just a 5 minute drive from Saint Emilion, and surrounded for miles by picturesque vineyards producing some of the world’s best wine.
We stayed for 5 days and explored every inch of Saint Emilion. Of course we tried our share of local wine but there was also a lot to do with kids in Saint Emilion including plenty of history. The town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We’ve decided they have the best tourist office we’ve been to. I think it is easy to pass by the tourist office these days, assuming the internet can tell you everything you need to know. We do hours of trip research and I’ve concluded that the best tips come from a wide variety of sources. Lonely Planet and other guide books, trip advisor, blogs (like this!), friends and family, and some really random places, (I chose one destination for Portugal after seeing it on the Eurovision Song Contest!). But there is still value in a tourist office if you get a good one, they can give you all the inside tips. Like the key to the door to get up the bell tower for the best views in town.
Saint Emilion Bell Tower
After 3 days of driving we spent our first Sunday chilling at the campsite. The next day we headed to the tourist office, just to quickly pick up a town map. 15 minutes later I came away with treasure hunts for the kids, and a key to a secret door, to access the bell tower. The tower is part of the Monolithic Church, it is 63 metres high, built between the 12th and 15th Century. Climbing the 196 steps to the top isn’t easy, they get very narrow in parts, but the views at the top are breath taking, over the village and on a clear day, miles of vineyards as far as you can see. You can also see the town’s other tower known as the Kings Keep.
There are just 4 keys, access is limited to a small number of people at any time. It costs about 2-3 Euros per person. To access the tower, go across the square from the tourist office to the bell tower, below it is a staircase, at the bottom of the stairs is the door, you open it and then lock yourself in and start climbing. It adds extra excitement and mystery to take out your key and open the ancient door to gain access.
Explore Saint Emilion with Treasure Hunts
The bell tower was also the starting point for the kids treasure hunts, with three themes to choose from: Heritage, Gastronomy and Nature. The heritage theme was about Knights and Medieval times, no boring history here! The treasure hunts are available for ages from 3 to 15 years. L and S were doing different levels on the same theme. The hunt takes 1-2 hours depending on how many stops you make and is free. We did the nature hunt and enjoyed it so much we did Gastronomy and Heritage the following day. Some of the places are repeated but with different questions, by the third one we did skip a couple of destinations and just did the new places, but we’d seen all the places we had wanted to visit in Saint Emilion as well as others we didn’t know about.
Some of the highlight stops were…
Les Cordeliers Cloister
At this 14th Century Cloister and gardens you can visit the underground cellars and taste the sparkling wine that has been made here since 1892. If you don’t feel like doing a tour you can still buy a glass of wine and enjoy it in the gardens. There are a variety of snacks available and you can build a little picnic basket to take to a shady spot. L and S didn’t argue when I suggested that at this point in the treasure hunt it was time for refreshment.
Saint Emilion Macarons
Another popular refreshment was to sample the famous local Macarons. These are different to the pastel coloured cookies, sandwiched together, that we know as Macarons. Made simply with egg whites, sugar, and almond flour these are light, slightly chewy, cookies. History says they were invented by nuns in the late 1700s and the recipe has been passed down the generations. They were delicious and we had some every day! There are several shops in St Emilion selling them and claiming to have the original. The gastronomy treasure hunt takes you past at least one!
Monolithic Church Saint Emilion
The treasure hunt visits the Monolithic Church, the largest of its kind in Europe. Monolithic means ‘single stone’, its name refers to a structure carved into the limestone rock, that still forms a single block. The Church was carved in the 12th Century and a guided tour is well worth a visit. L and S enjoyed visiting the Hermit’s cave and the catacombs.
We don’t tour every church or cathedral we come across, because, well, there are a lot! But this one was well worth taking the time to see inside. We also had an engineering lesson as we saw their efforts to battle against the water constantly running through the limestone rock and undermining the strength of the pillars.
If you are planning to visit be sure to check the time of the tour in your preferred language, we took a French tour as we’d missed the English one but they did provide some written information. You can’t take pictures from inside the church.
Wash Houses of Saint Emilion
There are numerous wells and fountains in Saint Emilion and the nature of the limestone means water abounds. Two wash houses were built in the 19th Century where women brought their laundry to rinse with the plentiful supply of clear water.
The large wash house is covered, this was for the women of the wealthy houses to be covered in bad weather. The smaller wash house is not covered. Today they are pretty, and cool, water features to stop at. The big wash house is on Rue de la Grande Fontaine, at the foot of the King’s Keep. A few meters away, in a recess of the Rue de la Petite Fontaine, you’ll find the second wash house.
The treasure hunts also took us to: The Market Hall, The Ursuline’s Convent, The Collegiate Church and its Cloister, The Kings Keep, and The Gate and House de la Cadene (the only timbered house in Saint Emilion, with a façade dating from the 16th Century).
The treasure hunts are free. Although you pass by places that may require an entry fee, you don’t need to go into them to complete the hunt. At the end of the hunt we returned with our completed clues and the kids received a small present at the tourist office.
Wine Tasting in Bordeaux (with kids)
In the town are plenty of wine shops where you can taste and purchase local wines. Throughout the region there are hundreds of wine Chateau to visit , most by appointment. We found a bit of pre-planning is required, something that we aren’t very good at! But during our visit we manged to visit two Chateau. And tried plenty of wine from the local shops.
Saint-Emilion Tourist Vineyard Train
One afternoon we took the tourist vineyard train. We thought it would be something the kids would enjoy. We chose the option that included a stop at a Chateau for a tour and wine tasting. In fact the train trip was quite boring. It was nice to see areas outside the town that we hadn’t visited, but the commentary didn’t add any value. The stop for a tour was fun for the kids because of the novelty of a visit to the underground cellar, but the guide wasn’t engaging. We wished we had spent our time, and money, on a visit to a different Chateau instead.
On another day we stopped at Chateau Ambe Tour Pourret, hoping to have one of their picnic lunches. We were disappointed to find advance bookings were necessary. Then a stroke of luck. One couple had not turned up for their lunch, would we like to take it instead? Within minutes we found ourselves in their shady courtyard, the table set, wine poured and a selection of goodies arriving.
There was so much food we took some away, even though it was a picnic for 2 and there were 4 of us. We were really impressed with this Chateau. So many places have a reputation for being strict about advance bookings, but we turned up out of the blue (with children!) and they did their utmost to accommodate us. I look forward to returning, with a booking, to do their tour and tasting.
The key thing if you want to explore Saint Emilion is to do some prior research and have a plan. I suggest you check the times of the visits and tours you want to do. To avoid disappointment consider making some bookings, especially in the high season.
Our next stop is San Sebastian, Spain!