GETTING THERE: Flights to Paris start at about $900 for late August, leaving from Baltimore with a stop in Boston (American Airlines, on Travelocity). Nonstops from Dulles start at about $1,050. From Paris, you can fly or take the train to Saint-Emilion. The city is about 24 miles from the Bordeaux-Merignac airport; Air France offers direct flights from Paris for about $100 round trip. By train, Saint-Emilion is less than five miles from the train station in Libourne. The French national railroad, SNCF, provides high-speed service from Paris (about 3 hours 10 minutes) to Libourne. First-class tickets can be purchased online (www.voyages-sncf.com) for about $50 one way.
GETTING AROUND: A car is advisable for exploring the region. Saint-Emilion and the surrounding wine appellation have about 80 miles of hiking and bike trails through the vines. Find trail maps or rent bicycles (about $17 per day) at the tourist office (see below).
WHEN TO GO: Spring through fall. A program of concerts with wine tastings at chateaux called "Les Grandes Heures de Saint-Emilion" runs on select days in April, June, October and December. (Tickets are available at the tourist office.) For a bit of folklore, visit on the third Sunday in September (this year, Sept. 18), when members of the Jurade, an 800-year-old administrative society, don their famed red robes and publicly proclaim the date of the new harvest. Similarly, every third Sunday in June, there's a spring celebration with the Jurade passing its "judgment of the new wine."
WHERE TO STAY: The deluxe hotel with panoramic views next to the clock tower in the heart of Saint-Emilion is the Hostellerie de Plaisance (Place de Clocher, 011-33- 557-550-755, www.hostellerie-plaisance.com), with 14 rooms running from about $155 to $525 per night. For an upscale stay outside of town in a prestigious wine chateau, consider Le Relais du Chateau Franc Mayne (011-33-557-246-261, www.chateau-francmayne.com in French), housed in a 16th-century farmhouse. Five rooms run from about $174 to $240 a night, with breakfast an additional $13 per person.
The best bargains are in small chateaux with bed-and-breakfast rooms, such as Chateau Monlot (Saint-Hippolyte, 011- 33-557-74-4947, www.belair-monlot.com), where doubles run about $94 to $113, including breakfast. A few minutes outside the Saint-Emilion vineyards (recommended for those who speak some French) is a precious address for real country charm: Chateau de Lescaneaut (Saint- Magne-de-Castillon, 011-33-557-40- 21-08), with doubles at about $67, including breakfast.
WHERE TO EAT: Saint-Emilion specializes in small romantic restaurants with tables for two serving rich southwestern French cuisine. Try the intimate dining room Les Epicuriens (27 Rue Guadet), with prix-fixe menus at about $34, or the vine-covered terrace at Logis de la Cadene (3 Place du Marche au Bois), with meals about $30.
The most festive place in town is L'Envers du Decor (11 Rue de Clocher), the wine bar and courtyard restaurant run by the iconoclastic owner of Chateau Soutard; about $30 per person, plus wine, at dinner. Sit on the spectacular plaza in front of Saint- Emilion's famous cave church at Amelia- Canta (Place de l'Eglise Monolithe) for a full-course dinner (about $30).
ON THE WINE TRAIL: The Saint-Emilion tourist office lists 89 chateaux with cellars open to the public, almost always free. In most cases, appointments are necessary, and it's best to call a day or two in advance.
Every Monday through Saturday afternoon, the tourist office organizes group tours in French and English of a wine chateau with a tasting; about $11, with transportation by bus included. Guides are available by appointment from the tourist office to lead group tours of wine chateaux; the cost of visiting two chateaux is about $170 for the group.
Introductory wine-tasting courses are available daily from two "wine schools" in the village. Vignobles et Chateaux (4 Rue du Clocher, 011-33-557-74-44-29, www.vignobleschateaux.fr/fr in French) offers a 90-minute course in English daily at 3 p.m. for about $24 per person. The Maison du Vin de Saint-Emilion (Place Pierre Meyrat, 011-33-557-55-50-55, www.vins-saint-emilion.com) has a one-hour French-English course every day at 11 a.m., mid-July through mid-September.
INFORMATION: Saint-Emilion's excellent Office of Tourism (Place des Creneaux, 011-33-557-55-28-28, www.saint-emilion-tourisme.com) offers free guidebooks as well as regular tours of Saint-Emilion's historic monuments (otherwise closed to the public), including the monolithic cave church and catacombs for about $7. Also: Maison de la France, the French government tourist office, 514-288-1904, www.franceguide.com.
-- Robert V. Camuto