Saint-Émilion: vineyard of marathons and miracles

A sporting event in the first vineyard World Heritage Site

The next Les Vins Km de Saint-Émilion race, with its subtle play on words (vins for vingt), will take place next March 26, 2023. This unique sporting event, created in 2016, is run by the Rotary Club Libourne Saint-Émilion and is sponsored by renowned international athletes.  It is the only race of its kind to be held in a vineyard such as Saint-Émilion, the first to be declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in December 1999, in recognition of its “cultural landscape”.

Les Vins Km de Saint-Émilion

Every year in March, hundreds of athletes run along original and rugged nature trails in the heart of the Saint-Émilion vineyards, with stops, refreshments, and tastings in many of the appellation’s prestigious châteaux.

Participants can register for any of the following four options:

  • 42 km marathon
  • 23 km race
  • 12 km race
  • 12 km walk

This original sporting modality, in addition to rewarding the athletes’ performance, values the heritage and promotes the culture and activity of the area but, above all, has altruistic purposes. The funds raised are used to collaborate with research into brain diseases and, recently, to participate in research to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Saint-Émilion HeritageSaint-Émilion Wine Tourism

The inscription as a UNESCO World Heritage Site includes approximately 5,000 hectares of vineyards spread over the eight communes of the Jurisdiction of Saint-Émilion, itself part of the Bordeaux region.

Such a distinction is a source of great pride and challenge for the winegrowers of this terroir in the Dordogne river basin, dotted with Romanesque churches, mills and dovecotes, which was part of one of the roads to Santiago de Compostela. They welcome thousands of visitors who come to admire not only an exceptional natural heritage, but also the valuable historical and architectural heritage of the medieval town of Saint-Émilion, with its monolithic church, its subway quarries, its cobblestone streets, and its many religious monuments.

The Bordeaux wine-growing region

The cultural landscape of Saint-Émilion is part of the Bordeaux wine region, which is the second largest wine-producing region in France after Languedoc-Roussillon. The Bordeaux region has thousands of wineries and hundreds of stunning chateaux. The region, which takes its name from its main city, Bordeaux, has a very heterogeneous soil composition and numerous microclimates.

There are two major sub-regions: the left bank (of the Garonne River), which includes wine-growing areas such as Graves and Médoc dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon (with its well-known sub-appellations of Margaux, St.-Julien, Pauillac and St.-Estèphe), and the right bank, where the Merlot and Cabernet Franc varieties prevail, and to a lesser extent, Cabernet Sauvignon. This is where the Saint-Émilion appellation is located, in addition to those of Pomerol and Fronsac. This right bank gathers about 10 appellations. In general, it produces strong, concentrated wines, with soft tannins and characterized by the personality brought by the Merlot variety.

Classification of Saint-Émilion wines

The plantations of the jurisdiction of Saint-Émilion represent 6% of the total vineyards of Bordeaux. As already noted, the dominant grape is Merlot, which varies between 50% and 80% in the wine blend, followed by Cabernet Franc. Although the Saint-Émilion vineyards have their origins in the 2nd century BC in Roman times, the wines of Saint-Émilion were not included in the Bordeaux classification of 1855. Its first formal classification was made in 1955 and, unlike that of the previous century, it is regularly revised.

The two existing Appellations d’Origine Contrôlée are: Saint-Émilion and Saint-Émilion Grand Cru.

Saint-Émilion: wine tourism, pilgrimages, and miracles

Because of its remarkable characteristics, the region is undoubtedly an ideal destination for wine tourism, for experts and even for athletes.

Saint-Émilion Wine Tourism

But as if this “pilgrimage” were not enough, thousands of people also flock to the place with the illusion of being favored by the miracles of the patron saint after whom the village is named. Of Breton origin and famous for his miracles, Saint Emilion left his homeland in the 8th century to dedicate himself to the hermit life. After becoming a monk, he settled in Ascumbas, the ancient name of the town of Saint-Émilion. Together with some Benedictine disciples, he evangelized the population and thus began to create the monastic town to which the faithful gave their name a few centuries later.

It is believed that the saint died in 767. His hermitage is a grotto located in the heart of the village, a few steps from the monolithic church where his relics were preserved before mysteriously disappearing. In this cave is his meditation seat, today known as the “chair of Fertility”, for, according to legend, a woman who longs to have a child need only sit there and pray to Saint Emilion to become pregnant within the year.

The Saint-Émilion Tourist Office receives many birth announcements from women who achieved motherhood after visiting the site and each year publishes the names of “Emilion’s babies”, as they are affectionately called.

Reasons to visit Saint-Émilion

The cultural landscape of Saint-Émilion is the harmonious result of the work of man and nature. Throughout more than 2000 years of history dedicated to the cultivation of vines, the inhabitants of Saint-Émilion have shaped a place where, as we have seen, wines of excellence abound surrounded by natural, cultural, historical, religious, architectural, and even sporting riches. In short, an incomparable place for wine tourism.

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