St Emilion is a magical place with its myriad of little cobbled streets that lead past its many historical monuments. Les Cordeliers is not as well-known as St Emilion’s famous monolithic church (hewn out of the creamy limestone by Benedictine monks over 300 years from 9th to 12th century) – but its been a favorite spot for locals for years and the odd visitor who happened to come upon these hidden cloisters ruins.
The locals know Les Cordeliers has an atmospheric romantic place on the grass amongst the ruins of the monks cloisters to enjoy a glass of fresh bubbly wine – it makes a change from the red wine that is so famous here. It overlooks the village’s ‘douves’ defensive moats (without the water) and out to the vineyards. And it goes exceptionally well with the local speciality – the St Emilion macarons – a recipe perfected by the Italian Ursaline nuns (another Roman Catholic order resident her in St Emilion).
White wine in such a famous red wine village? What an idea! Well since 1892 white fizzy wine has been aged here at ‘les Cordeliers ‘ in the underground caves of the 14th century Cordelier (another Roman Catholic order resident her in St Emilion) church having been made by white Sauvignon and Semillon grapes grown in the Entre Deux Mers, a white wine appellation just across the Dordogne River – a quarter of an hour or so away.
I remember celebrating my sister’s 25th birthday here, clinking our glasses to a fulfilled future life that lay ahead of us both. Who would have known that some 30 years later we’d have five children between us and lots of water (and wine under the bridge!) – and that this special place is now 10 minutes from my now home. Here is my latest addition, half French, half English (wasnt there a war in this area a few hundred years ago about just this?…)
Well its not as it was back then, ‘les Cordeliers’ have been renovated! The old Romanesque church which used to be closed is now a super gift shop and you can visit its underground caves where the wine is ageing (St Emilion is indeed a swiss cheese under its streets with 200km of tunnels which often interlink, dug into the limestone up until the 1800s on three levels for excavating the stone).
You can purchase a range of products to fill your picnic basket; such as cheese, charcuterie (saucisson), patés, foie gras tapenade of tomatoes, olives, artichokes, salads, tomatoes, bread, patisseries, ice cream – you pay for what you choose. To drink there is a choice of soft drinks, juices, iced teas, as well as local wine and of course the sparkling.
The ruins of the 14th century cloisters (where the monks used to hang out) – a series of arches in a grassy area are the same and so is the bubbly. How many celebrations have taken place here over the years over a glass of St Emilion’s Champagne, we cant tell but its great that more visitors can share this special place now.