Monday, 4 November 2013


Whilst I was staying in Bordeaux I went on a little day trip to the nearby medieval town Saint-Émilion. For anybody else planning on doing this I would advise to not book one of the tours that run from Bordeaux, which are pretty steep at around €80. Instead, you can catch a local bus (I can't remember the number, sorry. Just ask in the Bordeaux tourist office) which runs twice a day each way in peak season. Then once you are there you have the freedom to wander around the town as you like, or you can choose from a selection of tours at tourist office in the town itself. 

In 8C AD the town's population was still sufficiently small enough for a monk named Émilion to take up residence there in a hermitage carved into the rock. It was the monks who followed him that started the commercial production of wines from here, which the now UNESCO town became known for. If you choose to go on the monuments tour (which I highly recommend!) you will be taken to this hermitage. It is a very small cross-shaped cave which had restoration and extension work during the 17C. Inside there is Émilion's stone 'armchair' which was cut into the rock, and a small spring runs through near to the entrance. According to legend, this spring was originally located much further downhill, but miraculously moved in order to provide the hermit with some comfort!

Above from the hermitage is the Holy Trinity Chapel which dates to the 13C. The picture below is of the decorated vaulted ceiling. You're also taken to see this on the monuments tour.

External bell tower belonging to the
underground monolithic church. 

During the medieval period of the town (exact dating is unknown) a monolithic church was dug into the rock. At 38 metres long and 20 metres wide, it is the largest one of its kind in Europe. The picture to the right shows the 14C entrance which was made to replace an earlier more narrow one; you can also see the three story bell tower. The picture below is a close-up of the church's tympanum of the Last Judgement and the Resurrection of the Dead.
On the monuments tour you enter first through the catacombs, and then proceed through to the main church. I believe that the only way to visit the inside of the church, catacombs, and the hermitage is on the monuments tour which you book at the tourist office. The only downside was that no photographs were allowed. The inside of the church was really impressive. There are a few remnants of surviving frescos, and a wonderful low relief of what appeared to be a man, some sort of dragon, and a musician. It was well worth the visit! 

This is the Cadène Arch. It dates to the 13C and is located on the Rue de la Cadène. It was designed in order to monitor people moving from the different sections of the town. It also creates the perfect opportunity to have a little break from the trek up the massively steep hill by taking a photo or two!

This beautiful timbered house adjoins the other side of the arch, and dates to the early 16C.
This is another of Saint-Émilion's steep hills! I was told that the stones for some of the cobbled medieval streets arrived as a result of the wine trade with England. Wine was shipped over to Cornwall and then the barrels were weighted down for the return journey by pebbles and stones from the beaches. 

The Great Wall, not looking so great in my rather pitiful photo; apologies! It is the remains of a 13C Dominican convent.

Remnants of the 12C Cardinal's Palace

I don't rally feel like I've captured the true charm of Saint-Émilion in these pictures. It was just the most spectacular place to visit! I felt like I was surrounded by history in every step that I took around the winding cobbled streets. As I said at the start of the post, if you are visiting the area I strongly recommend taking the time out to visit this completely beautiful town.

Monday, 21 October 2013


The first stop on my travels this Summer was Bordeaux in Southern France. Here are some photos of a few of the medieval places that I visited whilst I was here:

Porte Calihau
This beautiful gateway to the city was constructed in the late 15C and dedicated to King Charles VII after his victory at Fornovo di Taro in 1495. It became the traditional point of entry for the King and other prestigious people. 

It has two floors which you can enter. The first floor is free and contains a small display about the history of the gate. I believe there is a very small fee to pay to enter the second floor (I may be wrong as it's been a while since I was here, but I think this could have been why I didn't go up there!) but I heard that there is a nice view from up here. The photo below left shows the join where the old town walls used to be.

From the display on the first floor

St. André's Cathedral

The original church was consecrated by Pope Urban II in 1096 when he came here to preach for the First Crusade. However, only a small section of this church remains. It was in this first large church that Eleanor of Aquitaine married Louis VII of France in 1137. 

The main entrance (The Royal Door)
The tympanum of the Royal Door

Renaissance bas-relief of the 'Descent into the Underworld', possibly including Pluto and Persephone.
La Grosse Cloche

This was added in the 15C to the remains of the 13C fortified gate of St. Eloi. It became established as a symbol of the city, and is still on the city's coat of arms. The entrance was also once known as the Porte Sainte-James due to the steady stream of pilgrims who passed through en route to Santiago de Compostela. According to locals when the golden lion atop it faces the river she is thirsty, and you should expect rain!

Musée d'Aquitaine

The Museum of Aquitaine houses objects and documents from the history of Bordeaux and Aquitaine. Definitely worth a visit if you're in Bordeaux.

Take a look at:

Monday, 12 August 2013

Fontevraud Abbey

Hello everyone! On my way from Poitiers to Paris I decided to detour and stay overnight in Saumur, then catch the bus from there to Fontevraud Abbey (for anyone planning on doing this, the bus departs from the Saumur train station bus/coach stops. It's called agglobus ligne 1B and runs 2-3 times per day in the Summer both ways). Saumur itself looks like a lovely town and has its own chateaux, but unfortunately I've not had the time to explore that too.

The main reason I came was to visit Fontevraud Abbey ... and it was more than worth it! It was absolutely beautiful. Walking around, even though there were plenty of tourists about, it still had an air of calm about the place. 

The site was founded in 1101 by Robert d'Arbrissel with an aim of creating an idealised religious community; somewhere that men, women, the wealthy, the poor, nobles, or outcasts, could come together in a community with a unified dedication to God. 

It's perhaps best known now however, for housing the effigies of Eleanor of Aquitaine, her son Richard the Lionheart, and second husband Henry II of England.  It is nestled in a peaceful nook of the Loire valley in France at a meeting point of both Eleanor and Henry's lands. Both had connections with Fontevraud during their lives. Henry's aunt was the abbey's second abbess (Matilda of Anjou), and Eleanor retired there during the final years of her life and eventually took vows to become a nun. 

Here are some photographs of this gorgeous place:

The cobbled pathway to the main entrance 

The entrance

Some decorative features 

Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II of England

Richard the Lionheart and Isabella of Angoulême (wife of King John of England)

The remains of a fresco of Raymond VII, Count of Toulouse (grandson to Eleanor and Henry)

This wonderful section used to be the kitchens