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St Emilion debts force landmark sale

Saint Emilion is being forced to sell off local landmarks in order to pay off massive debts.

Les Cordeliers: up for grabs? (image: Les hobbies de Cathy)

The medieval town, which attracts over a million visitors per year, counts only 2,000 local taxpayers among its permanent citizens and has debts four times the size of comparably-sized communes in the region.

According to figures from the regional public accountant, the Chambre Régionale des Comptes, its debts amount to €2,744 per inhabitant.

The town hall is now looking to sell some of its most prestigious monuments, including the Site des Cordeliers, which is occupied by a private company making a sparkling crémant wine, but is located inside a classified historical monument.

Bernard Lauret, Saint Emilion’s mayor, issued a statement confirming that while the city had reduced the deficit by 21.6% over the past year, some monuments need to be sold to ensure the survival of others.

The fact that Saint Emilion has UNESCO World Heritage status further complicates matters.

Les Cordeliers is an historic monument, and the local Historical and Archaeological Society held up the sale in July, asking for guarantees that the site would remain open to the public. The conditions of sale suggest this will be the case, but a second objection has now lodged.

Decanter.com understands that the major shareholder in Les Cordeliers, Jean-Paul Calès of Calès Technologies, is in the process of purchasing the site, which he currently rents.

Calès confirmed that he intends to maintain its current use. ‘It is in our interest to keep Les Cordeliers open, welcoming and in a good state of repair, as we are a commercial company,’ he told Decanter.com.

‘The UNESCO status is of course an honour,’ said Lauret, explaining the sale. ‘But there is a cost to the extra tourists it brings… and we have year-round restoration works, from archaeological digs to strengthening of stone walls and foundations.’

The sale of the town’s Chateau Badette, sold at auction for €2.4m in 2010, is still caught up in a dispute at the European Court of Justice.

Written by Jane Anson in Bordeaux

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