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Saint Emilion June 2020 by France Off the Beaten Path
Just a little over a week into phase 2 of de-confinement here in France, and with my mask and camera gear in tow, I loaded up my car and left home south of Bordeaux early Tuesday morning to spend the day exploring in and around the village of Saint Emilion. This beautifully maintained golden stone village steeped in history, sprinkled with troglodyte dwellings, and dominated by rolling hills of vineyards, offers a plethora of experiences for tourists. During our 6-day Bordeaux tours, we dedicate an entire day to discovering Saint Emilion with our guests. We begin our day with a guided tour of the village and monolithic church and then head into the vineyards walking winery to winery indulging in wine tasting while learning about the distinguished Merlot dominated wines of this town located on the right bank of the Dordogne River. We top off our experience with a mid-afternoon lunch at a local wine estate. We sip famous wines while overlooking the village and surrounding countryside. It’s one of our guests’ favorite experiences thanks to the variety it offers. There is something for everyone here. From early spring, the tourists begin to arrive. The historical monuments, cafes, restaurants, souvenir shops, and wine boutiques bustle with patrons. With a local population around 2,000, the medieval town of Saint Emilion welcomes over a million visitors annually. By mid-June, the village is typically alive and flourishing. However, 2020 is going to be a very different year for Saint Emilion. As I arrive in the town, I sense the change in atmosphere. It’s a warm, sunny morning, and the cobblestone streets are empty.
As I wander through the streets, the shops are open, but there are no tourists to serve. The restaurants are well prepared, signs posted that masks are required, tables positioned one meter apart from one another, and employees masked. I cross paths with a couple of town employees and a cyclist. Three hours into my visit, the tourist office is still closed, and only a handful of cars arrive for the typical noon lunch rush. My experience is surreal as if I’m walking through an abandoned science-fiction movie set. My heart breaks for Saint Emilion and our entire tourism industry, which has been severely hit by COVID-19. I decide that cheerier measures are needed, so I opt to head to the vineyards of Pomerol, where I finish my afternoon photographing the countryside and savoring my traditional baguette sandwich amidst the vines. My return home afterwards is sobering.
In 2020 I celebrate 26 years operating tours exclusively in my adopted country of France.
In 2020 I celebrate 26 years operating tours exclusively in my adopted country of France. And while this tourism season may not come to fruition, as usual, my team and I look to 2021 more than ever with great hope to welcome travelers back to France to share the beauty of Saint Emilion and to bring back the liveliness once present in this beautiful place. Brighter days lie ahead!
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