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Day 7 - May 13, 2012 - Bordeaux – St Emilion 

By Chris Harbard, Ornithologist

Co-ordinates: N 44º 50', W 00º 34'
Weather: Sunny with a cool breeze
Air Temperature: 18ºC 64ºF
Wind: 15-25 kph
Pressure 1022


I woke early and as I entered The Restaurant for breakfast, the sun was shining in. At 7am there were joggers running along the fabulous promenade that borders the river at Bordeaux. We disembarked at 8.15 into a cool breeze for our morning at the mediaeval town of St Emilion. The journey took about 45 minutes during which our guide, Veronique, talked about the Bordeaux region and its wine growing, explaining why it is so good and detailing which particular grape varieties are used around St Emilion. We parked at the outskirts of this charming town and slowly walked around to where the cobbled streets began to narrow and lead downwards into the oldest parts of the town. From a high vantage point we looked down across the red, brown and white tiled roofs and golden sandstone walls of the buildings below. In the bright sunshine the muted colours seemed ageless and this view had probably been the same for centuries and I was delighted to hear and see Common Redstarts singing from the rooftops while Swifts screamed and wheeled overhead.

I joined the group in the Tourist Information Centre where there was a chance to buy some souvenirs from the town. Then we visited the cloisters before making our way to a small lane that descended steeply past ancient stone walls as well as some of brick and wood. We were then shown through locked doors into a private area of the town that included some subterranean treasures. First climbing down into a small area cut into the stone that included the dark, cool chambers where St Emilion once lived. His seating area is said to provide fecundity to barren women. Then into another deep and cavernous area which was originally catacombs where bones were stored when the cemeteries were full, and then into another area which revealed itself as a “cathedral' in the rocks”, quite extraordinary, with high carved ceilings.

As I emerged into the daylight, it seemed much warmer outside and we had some free time for a coffee and a bit of shopping before returning to the coach. We bade farewell to St Emilion and travelled a short distance to reach a chateau with its accompanying vineyards. Here we were treated to an explanation of just how wine growing works and were escorted into a world of stainless steel and oak as we learned just how modern wine-making takes place. This culminated in a wine-tasting, and while the dry, oaky wines were not exactly to my taste many really enjoyed learning about how variances in the summer weather can affect each year's vintage.

Soon it was time to board the coach and head back to Bordeaux again, where we had to allow her to sail away on the high tide. The scenery as we sailed down the Garonne River was fabulous in the sunshine and the seemingly omnipresent Black Kites sailed lazily above the trees. I prepared myself for another afternoon's trivia quiz at teatime, and once again nearly failed to stump the teams, with the winners only getting one question wrong.

Then Imogen thrilled us with her tale of the Black Death and its incredible impact as nearly two-thirds of Europe perished in the 14th century. After this, The Theatre filled once again for the Recap & Briefing, which this time included a briefing on the use of Zodiacs, which we will be using tomorrow. Juan told us about our trip to Quberon and then Imogen gave us a foretaste of the incredible megalithic stones at Carnac, our tour for tomorrow. Gordon told us about the French Revolution and the Girondins, and then it was time for dinner, followed by a well-deserved sleep. 

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