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Médoc or St. Emilion? How To Choose the Best Bordeaux Day Trip

Medoc or St. Emilion? There are so many excellent places to visit and taste wine in the Bordeaux region of France. Find out the pros and cons of wine tasting in Medoc. Learn about what to do in St. Emilion.
Médoc or St. Emilion? If you want to learn about wine, you can't go wrong with either option. With 3 days in Bordeaux, we had the luxury of time to do both. 

But what if you only have time for a one day trip from Bordeaux? Should you spend the day tasting Bordeaux wine in Médoc or exploring the UNESCO heritage village of St. Emilion

Read on to learn more about our experience visiting Médoc and Saint Émilion so you can decide for yourself which way to go.

Medoc Wine: Chateau Margaux

Bordeaux to Médoc in a Day

It's only in the last decade or so that Bordeaux wineries have opened up their doors to the public. It takes about an hour by car to go from Bordeaux to Médoc. 

The Médoc wine region, part of the Bordeaux Left Bank, is not well served by public transportation so your best option is to take an organized tour. We booked a full day tour of 1855 classified châteaux of Médoc through the Winerist

Our Médoc wine tour was not cheap at 115 EUR per person at the time of writing. The day trip from Bordeaux included 3 fine wine experiences tasting at renowned châteaux plus van transportation and a guide.

We spent the day with about 8 other wine enthusiasts touring Médoc AOC (appellation d'origine contrôlée) in the Bordeaux Wine Region. What sub-regions are included in Médoc AOC?
  • Saint-Estephe
  • Pauillac
  • Saint-Julien
  • Margaux
  • Haut-Medoc
  • Sauternes
  • Barsac 
Translating from a map to 'real life', each Médoc sub-region is a small town or village featuring a number of châteaux.

We have always found the labels on French wines to be quite confusing. We learned one very important tip on our Médoc wine tasting tour. 

The highest quality wine from any château is named after that château. All the other wines have different and often more creative names. 

The second or third wines from a given château are also very good but often don't need to be aged as long as a first quality wine.

You may be wondering what grape varieties you'll find in the Médoc area. Cabernet Sauvignon is most popular but Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carmenere are also allowed to be cultivated and blended into Médoc wines.  

Château Lagrange

Bordeaux to Medoc: The barrel room at Chateau LagrangeMedoc wineries: Chateau Lagrange
Wine making in Bordeaux has a rich tradition and has been regulated for over a century. In 1855, Napoleon III undertook a classification of the best wines in Bordeaux across five levels or crus. 

The Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855 even today determines a wine's quality and often the price and there have been very few changes in the ratings since 1855 (most notably, the Cru Bourgeois designation in 2003, 2009, and 2010). 

We started our day trip from Bordeaux at Château Lagrange ranked with the third growths (troisièmes crus) in the 1855 classification. 

Visit Médoc not just for the wines but for the amazing French photo opportunities. We were taken for a walk around the grounds and then down into the wine cellar. 

We learned that while Lagrange has a rich history, the château is now owned by Suntory, a Japanese liquor distributor. Médoc is mainly known for red wines but Château Lagrange has started to bring white Bordeaux wines to market to align with the palates of the Japanese market.

Lunch in Pauillac at Le Saint Martin

Medoc Wine Tour: Lunch in Pauillac
Our next stop was in Pauillac where we had an hour and a half for lunch. There are a number of restaurants spilling out onto the sidewalk overlooking the Gironde River. 

We sampled a 3 course menu of the day at Le Saint Martin along with a carafe of Bordeaux wine (of course!). Highlights included a country pate, a salad with baked brie and an ile flottante for dessert. 

Château Lafon-Rochet

Medoc Wine: Chateau Lafon-Rochet
Our first stop of the afternoon was at Château Lafon-Rochet, a quatrièmes crus (fourth growth classified producer) in St.-Estèphe. We got the obligatory tour of the grounds and wine-making process. 

We visited Bordeaux in early October and were just in time to catch the tail end of the harvest at Château Lafon-Rochet.
Medoc wine: Barrel room at Chateau Lafon-RochetMedoc wineries: the grounds of Chateau Lafon-Rochet
Château Lafon-Rochet features a small historic chapel and large green space overlooking the rolling vines. Not a bad place to sip and savor some of Bordeaux's finest wines.

Château Prieuré Lichine

Bordeaux to Medoc: Château Prieuré Lichine
Our final wine tastings of the day took place at Château Prieuré Lichine, another quatrième cru. The grounds of Château Prieuré Lichine were truly lovely and featured ivy climbing the walls of the château burning in bright Autumn colors. 

A variety of heavy metal plates were displayed on the walls from antique stoves and added to the charm and history of the place. We concluded our tour with tastes of three Bordeaux wines in a modern tasting room.
Medoc wineries: Antique stoves at Château Prieuré LichineMedoc wine tasting: Medoc France: wine glasses at Château Prieuré Lichine

Photo Stops at the Wine Giants of Médoc France

The Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855 is no joke and determines the price points and exclusivity of various wine producers in Médoc. Our Bordeaux wine tour included tasting experiences at troisièmes and quatrièmes crus. 

We had to satisfy ourselves with photo ops at premiers crus (first growth producers) like Château Lafite Rothschild. The opulence of the châteaux seemed to increase in proportion with their rating in the 1855 classification. 

We didn't have time to stop at another premiers crus owned by a different branch of the same family: Château Mouton-Rothschild.
Bordeaux to Medoc: Château Lafite Rothschild
We were lucky enough to be able to pull into the parking lot and poke our cameras through the fence at Château Margaux (another premier cru). Our tour guide lives in Margaux and happened to know the security guard.
Medoc wineries: Château MargauxMedoc wine: Château Cos d'Estournel
Even deuxièmes crus were quite impressive. We stopped to photograph Château Cos d'Estournel which had sadly suffered from a recent fire.

Why Choose Médoc?

Choose Médoc for your day trip from Bordeaux if you want to learn more about Bordeaux wine including samples of the good stuff in an organized tour. 

Take the opportunity to get a close-up look at some of the premier châteaux in the Bordeaux Region.

SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Looking for other great wine regions to explore in France? Drive this Loire Valley itinerary and get great wine and see some of the most amazing chateaux in the world. For a shorter trip, take the train from Paris to Reims and taste champagne for a day.

Bordeaux to St. Emilion by Train

The Bordeaux to St. Emilion route is well served by public transportation and round trip train tickets costs less than 20 EUR. Saint Emilion should be well-known to you if you are a wine lover. 

Where is St-Emilion? St. Émilion AOC is part of the Bordeaux Right Bank, about a one hour journey time from Bordeaux City by train making it an easy day trip by rail. 

TER offers direct train services from Bordeaux to St. Emilion that run approximately every hour. The last train that returns from St. Emilion to Bordeaux departs between 7 pm and 9 pm depending on the day of the week. 

I recommend that you check Google Maps to verify the train times. Read on to find out what to do in St. Emilion and why you should choose this UNESCO world heritage site for a day trip from Bordeaux. 

Walk through Vineyards from the Train Station to St. Emilion Town

What to see in St. Emilion: vineyards
The St. Emilion train station is located about 20 minutes on foot from St. Emilion village. Take the opportunity to marvel at the châteaux on the hillside and the rolling vineyards in every direction. 

Such an idyllic landscape. What varietals might we be looking at? Saint Emilion wines are typically blends of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon. 

There is less of a focus on Cabernet Sauvignon in St. Emilion than there is in Medoc due to the distinct differences in terroir.

Climb Uphill and Experience the Views from Château du Roy

Things to do in Saint-Emilion: climb Chateau du Roy
Upon arrival in the village of St. Emilion, make your way uphill to enjoy the views from towering Château du Roy. 

The views from the base of the tower are stunning in and of themselves but for just a few euro, you can buy a ticket to climb the tower for even better views over UNESCO heritage certified St. Emilion.
Panorama of UNESCO World Heritage Rated Saint Emilion France

Lunch at L'Antre Deux Verres

Bordeaux to St. Emilion by train: lunch at L'Antre Deux Verres
You'll certainly find great food in St. Emilion. We ate on the terrace at L'Antre Deux Verres soaking in the sun over a two course lunch with a glass of white Bordeaux wine. 

Wander the Cobbled Streets of St. Emilion

Things to do in St. Emilion: walk the cobbled streetsBordeaux to St. Emilion by train: macarons de St. Emilion
St. Emilion features narrow, cobbled streets that almost cling to the hillside. Spend some time getting lost and browsing the shops of this classic Bordeaux wine village.

Sample Macarons de St. Emilion

St. Emilion even has its own style of macaron. Seek out Macarons de St. Emilion. Look for a red-striped awning advertising Fabrique de Macarons

Macarons de St. Emilion are served in boxes with the cookies baked onto thin sheets of cardboard. Macarons de St. Emilion are soft and delicate with a hint of coconut flavor.
Bordeaux to St. Emilion: fabrique de macarons

Explore Eglise Collégiale 

Take some time to explore inside Eglise Collégiale including the interior courtyard. Built in the 12th century, the church simply oozes with history. 

Descend to the Cellars and Take a Self-Guided Tour of Clos des Manuts

Things to do in St. Emilion: Eglise CollégialeSt. Emilion wineries to visit: Clos des Manuts
At the edge of St. Emilion, you'll discover a series of wineries. We popped into Clos des Manuts Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. 

We visited St. Emilion on a hot day in October and welcomed the opportunity to descend into the cool cellars for a self-guided wine tour. 

Clos des Manuts featured thousands of bottles and barrels. Once more, we felt as if we'd stepped back in time when we went below ground.

SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Looking for other ideas for places to visit in France? Have you thought about:

Keep Your Eyes Open for St. Emilion's Petite and Grande Fontaine

St. Emilion Points of Interest: Petite and Grande Fontaine
Another factor contributing to St. Emilion's ambiance are the fountains. Keep an eye out for the petite and grande fontaine as you explore the streets and imagine the local inhabitants visiting to get their water and a bit of local gossip throughout the centuries.

Why Choose St. Emilion?

Choose St. Emilion for your day trip from Bordeaux if you are on a budget. The round trip train ticket to travel from Bordeaux to St. Emilion costs less than 20 EUR. 

St. Emilion is also a good choice if you are short on time. A full day is required for a Médoc wine tour but you can safely visit St. Emilion in half a day. 

St. Emilion is also a good choice if you are interested in the deeper history of the region.

Médoc or St. Emilion: The Pros and Cons 

Depending on your interests, Médoc or St. Emilion may be the better choice for a day trip from Bordeaux. Médoc vs St. Emilion? Here are my picks on a number of different dimensions.
  • Wine Tasting: Médoc
  • Great Food: Both Médoc and St. Emilion
  • History: St. Emilion (dates back to the 12th Century)
  • Photo Ops: Both Médoc and St. Emilion
  • Cost: St. Emilion
  • Ease of Transportation: St. Emilion (accessible by train)
  • Short on Time: St. Emilion (half-day trip is possible)
  • Shopping: St. Emilion
Choose Médoc is you are not budget constrained and mainly interested in wine tasting. 

Choose St. Emilion if you are short on time with a wider range of interests. 

If you can squeeze in both like we did, I definitely recommend Médoc and St. Emilion as day trips from Bordeaux.

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Bordeaux Day Trips: Medoc vs. St. EmilionBordeaux Day Trips: Medoc or St. Emilion

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Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog: Médoc or St. Emilion? How To Choose the Best Bordeaux Day Trip
Médoc or St. Emilion? How To Choose the Best Bordeaux Day Trip
Medoc or St. Emilion? There are so many excellent places to visit and taste wine in the Bordeaux region of France. Find out the pros and cons of wine tasting in Medoc. Learn about what to do in St. Emilion.
Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog