June 27, 2017

ST EMILION, THE STREETS AND BUILDINGS, part two.

So here we go with another selection from the huge number of photos I took during our stay in St Emilion.  It is a lovely town, although maybe a bit too touristy for us but frankly I would rather be there, surrounded by the well heeled and beautiful than in places where people shuffle about looking down at heel and miserable. 

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I would highly recommend a visit to St Emilion for everyone.  (Unless you have no head for heights and difficulty walking.)  These two views are from the top of the town looking down on the main square.  It’s one of those wonderful places where you can hear the faint hum of voices as you approach along the narrow streets.  The sound of people enjoying themselves, watching the world go by, maybe having a nice meal and a very nice glass or two of wine.

The sound reminded me of the square in Chinon, or Place Plumereau in Tours, two other good places for a bit of people watching.

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This building overlooks that square.  I can’t remember what it was or how old it was and we never got to look inside it, which we would have liked.  St Emilion is full of buildings that we would have loved to get to see inside.

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This is another apparently empty and unused building.  We thought it was probably an old warehouse because there were grooves in the stones around the upper windows where decades of hoisting goods up and in the window had worn away the stone.

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At the bottom end of town stands this curious little tower.  Maybe it was part of a gateway or entrance at one time.  Left as it is, looking like a lookout tower, it’s not difficult to imagine that its purpose was for keeping watch over the vineyards, or possibly animals, but it could have been for some other use entirely.

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This beautiful building appeared empty and unused but there were notices outside indicating that renovation and redevelopment work was about to start.  I was pleased about that and although I don’t know what it was going to become, I would like to go back one day and see how it has worked out.  It’s another building that I would have loved to get inside.

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There were apparently no such plans for these two buildings, not far from each other, one a house and the other a shop and apartment.  Both were in prime positions close to the centre of town and I couldn’t help but wonder how they had come to be empty and neglected.  It would be so good to get hold of such places and breathe new life into them. 

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These were both very much occupied, the sounds and smells of lunch emerging from the open windows.  A lot of houses seemed not to be permanent residences, but holiday gites or guest houses.  I wonder what St Emilion is like in say November or February, when the summer visitors have left.  I hope it’s the kind of town that still has a trickle of visitors all year round.  Some places are completely lifeless for half the year if a high proportion of the dwellings are just holiday accommodation.

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One last picture of a “typical” street at dusk.  Not there are any two streets even vaguely the same.  It would be hard to get lost in St Emilion as it’s not that big a town and all the streets are so different that remembering landmarks to find your way around is very easy.  We didn’t feel threatened or uncomfortable anywhere.  The traffic is awkward in places because the streets were built for horses and carts, not cars, vans and lorries.  You have to watch your step as vehicles pick their way through streets where tourists walk in the middle of the road but getting around is easy.

June 24, 2017

ST EMILION, THE STREETS AND BUILDINGS.

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St Emilion is of course an old mediaeval town and as such is full of fascinating old buildings, some of which have obviously been through many incarnations between when they were built and the present day.

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The interesting thing is how many of them are empty and in poor condition, almost falling down, in fact.  It seems odd that there are buildings in prime positon just left empty and unused, when all around have been converted into sophisticated shops, hotels and restaurants.  I imagine that the complex laws around property ownership and inheritance in France have a lot to do with it.

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Tumbledown dwellings rub shoulders with smart wine shops in its ancient, steep and cobbled streets.

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It seems strange to me that the large disused building on the right of the street has not already been transformed into a chic dwelling like the one further along, or a hotel.  Maybe it’s in the pipeline, who knows.

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The old lavoir is in the centre of the town.  Lavoirs performed a social as well as functional part of life in the days when the town’s women would meet while doing the laundry.  We take the plethora of modern means of communication for granted nowadays but not all that long ago the only way of finding out local news was to talk to each other in person.  We even take writing for granted but until the last century it’s unlikely that many of the inhabitants of the town would actually have been able to read and write.

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One of the biggest disused buildings is the old convent which sits at the top of a hill overlooking the town.  The grand gate and entrance is now overgrown with cultivated vines.

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It occupies a huge area in a beautiful position and it would surely be ripe for conversion into a prestigious hotel, or maybe an official building.

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It’s hard to imagine that an empty property like this would stay empty for so long in our part of the UK, where land is scarce and beautiful stone buildings command an enormous price for renovation or conversion.  Maybe the cost of the work makes it unviable, if the building has become so dilapidated that only the walls can be saved.  Or maybe there are religious reasons for leaving it empty.  Who knows – I certainly don’t but I’m sure there are people that do.

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It was attracting plenty of attention from the tourists and was not too difficult to get into, if you were of a mind to climb in.  No health and safety precautions were in evidence anywhere to deter people from exploring inside.

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The street signs were different to what we had seen elsewhere in France.  They were stylishly written and a red wine colour, maybe to reflect the town’s wine heritage, or possibly religious or regal connections.  Someone will know this too, I’m sure.

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A lot of the buildings were adorned with stone carvings, worn and eroded over the centuries to the extent that it was hard to make out what they once depicted, or said about the building and its occupants. 

I took far too many pictures of the streets and buildings for just one post so there will be a second bite at the cherry shortly.  Then there will be a post about the doors and windows (a favourite of mine), one about the food and wine, one about the environs and then that will be it.  My St Emilion series could run and run but there must be an end to it before long!

Bon weekend !!

June 18, 2017

ST EMILION, THE VIEWS.

St Emilion sits high on a hill, overlooking beautiful countryside and vineyards.  There are magnificent views to be found looking out from within its walls and also into its own streets.  This is just a selection of my favourite photos.

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Some of the streets are very narrow and steep.  Most are cobbled.

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There are vineyards all around, as far as you can see.

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There is also quite a lot of green space within the town’s walls.

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Some of this green space is occupied by unexpected inhabitants, who have one of the most lovely views over the vineyards.

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I wonder how much they appreciate it.

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There is a train which can take you from St Emilion to Bordeaux in only twenty minutes.  Parking at the station is free.  We intended to do this on our last day but when the weather forecast was for 35°C or even possibly hotter, we decided against it and thought we could save that trip for the future.

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Some of the street views were even more lovely at dusk.

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At the weekend these streets were heaving with people until dark.  In the middle of the week we had them almost to ourselves.

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With the fancy wine tasting shops closed for the night, the only tourists that lingered enjoyed the peace and quiet of the evening at one of the three bars in the town.  We ate here once.  It was ok, nothing to get excited about and much more expensive than the same meal would have cost in Touraine, probably 50% more.  The price of tourism I suppose.

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The rooftop views were enthralling at dusk.  Lights came on here and there, leaving me to wonder who lived inside the old buildings.

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It’s one of those towns where I would simply love to be able to step back in time and see how life was say a hundred years ago.  All over town there are reminders of the old ways, how things were done when it was really a working town, not just a tourist town.  I expect that in reality it would probably be pretty grim, the narrow streets dirty and dangerous.  Life was probably very hard for ordinary folk and pretty uncomfortable even for the better off.  Life expectancy would have been quite short.  Even so, just a glimpse would be nice.

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I’d love to know just some of the secrets that these old walls could tell.

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There was a beautiful tranquillity about the streets at nightfall.  No doubt it would have been a completely different scene a hundred years or more ago.

May 29, 2017

ST EMILION THE ROOFTOPS

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St Emilion is a very photogenic town and I took hundreds of pictures.  I’ll post a selection of them in themes and one of my favourite themes is rooftops.

I’m not going to give a history of the town or its famous wine.  There are plenty of websites that will do that, much better than I can.  Pictures are more my thing and it’s such a hilly town that there are plenty of places from where you can get a beautiful view of its rooftops.

Click on a picture if you would like to enlarge it and see more detail.  Can you spot our gite in one of them?  As a clue it makes a partial appearance in three of them.

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May 25, 2017

ST EMILION–THE TOWN. IT’S ALL ABOUT THE WINE

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St Emilion is without a doubt a very pretty town, sitting on top of a hill, surrounded by vineyards and grand houses, known as château, or wine houses.  It’s an impressive sight as you approach from any side.  The vineyards come right up to the walls of the town.

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When we arrived last Saturday, it was heaving with tourists.  We knew that there was free parking to be found on the outskirts of town but we didn’t know where it was so managed to find a space in one of the small car parks.  Once we had found the gite and met the owner, she took us in her car to show us where you can park for free.

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Its narrow streets are often very steep and all cobbled.  The buildings are tall and built of a lovely golden creamy stone.  It’s a photographer’s paradise, especially if, like me, you enjoy photographing buildings, especially doors, windows and roofs.  By Sunday evening most of the day tourists had gone home and on Monday morning the place was almost nobody around until luchtime.

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The first bane of a photographer’s life is, I’m sure, the motor car.  Luckily in St Emilion cars are not allowed to park on many of its streets because they are too narrow.  In most other places there is nearly always a car parked right in front of something really interesting that you want to take a picture of.

The second is a fairly modern annoyance, the wheelie bin.  Especially in towns like St Emilion where people are obliged to have one but have nowhere to put it except on the street by the front door.  Luckily, whilst you can’t usually move a car out of the way for taking a nice picture, you can move a wheelie bin.  Although it might get you some odd looks from passers by.

The third is people.  I went to Chenonceau with my friend in February, as it was one of the few châteaux open at that time of year and she was over for a holiday.  It was almost deserted and I could take lots of photos without another soul in the room.  Not only that, but the few people around were all dressed in very sombre clothes and covered up.  Seeing the place like that made me realise it was so much better than in the summer when people wear gaudy colours and can have, in some cases, way too much of themselves on show. 

If there had to be a fourth it would be sunlight, casting awkward shadows.  So I try my best to get a good car free, bin, people and shadow free shot of things but sometimes I get fed up waiting and just take the picture anyway.

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There seem to be more wine tasting shops than bars or cafés.  In the shops you would have a dégustation or taste a few sips of different wines, then buy bottles of the ones you preferred.  Some bars are more like this one, where you can buy and drink a glass of wine then buy a bottle if you like it.

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This bar is just a bar and café.  We stopped for a drink here one afternoon and a couple of days later went out of town and in search of the wine maker.  That’s another approach that we favour.

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We attempted this street just once.  It’s very pretty but incredibly steep.  Wearing perfectly normal shoes, my foot slipped on the cobbles several times on the way down and I could see how dangerous it could be.  Lethal in the rain I imagine.  In the picture you can see a man standing precariously on the side of the road to take a picture.

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This is what he is taking a picture of, a very pretty and romantic place to have your dinner.  As long as you don’t have one too many and fall down the hill afterwards.  I can imagine that if you fell just right you could actually roll all the way down to the bottom.

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This was more our kind of thing.  We stopped here for a glass of wine and did buy a bottle of it for later.  We got chatting to an American couple, a mother and daughter from North Carolina, who were in town for two nights.  They were on their way to London via Paris, having come via Seville and Barcelona.  The mother was going home after London and the daughter was staying on to walk the Cotswolds Way.  They both had more energy than us for travelling!

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Some of the streets are joined by steep flights of stone steps.  This is the one we use each day to get to where we have parked our car.

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This is the alternative.  It’s a shorter route but I only did it once.  Way too steep for me.  We quickly concluded that to enjoy what St Emilion has to offer you should be fairly well heeled, in all respects.

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See what I mean about the bins ?!

More soon!