A few weeks back my wife Muriel, my father-in-law Michel and I hopped onto our respective bikes with the sole aim of departing from Sai...


A few weeks back my wife Muriel, my father-in-law Michel and I hopped onto our respective bikes with the sole aim of departing from Saint-Aubin-de-Médoc, cycling up the right bank of the Gironde estuary as far as Royan, and then returning to base back down the left bank. We were all set for four full days and 285 kilometres of cycling. And this is how it went!

Immediately heading north, the suburban landscape north of Bordeaux segued with ease into the rolling, sprawling plains of the Médoc winegrowing territory and we were soon admiring several of the area’s most renowned châteaux. Some, such as Château Sénéjac, seemed to be the archetypal mansion house and grounds. Others were more surprising. Take Château d’Arsac, where the owner has positioned extravagant and outsize works of modern art in amongst the vines, and the unconventional shoebox-like Château Tour de Besson. Then there’s the sheer scale of the spectacular Château Cantenac-Brown which we stopped to admire just short of hitting the legendary village of Margaux, where we alighted for photos and pleasantries in front of the mythical Château Margaux, before viewing its brand new winery building. 

Modern art in the grounds of Château d'Arsac.
Cycling up to Château Margaux.
We continued to make steady headway northwards to Lamarque and had a little time to kill before reaching the ferry port proper, where we were due to catch a ferry ‘cross the Gironde. We viewed a restored windmill (moulin de Malescasse), cycled past the tall steeple of Saint-Seurin church topped off by its unusual panoramic viewing platform, and made a short detour to explore a curious ghost railway station.

The story goes that in the latter years of the 19th century, plans were drawn up for a railway line to connect nearby Moulis (and the established Bordeaux-Le Verdon line) with the port in Lamarque, to facilitate the transport of goods to the water’s edge. Much of the infrastructure was built in the mid-1880s to accommodate the line, including level crossings and stops in Cussac and Lamarque. But, for “administrative reasons” (according to the information panel which retraces the story), the plans were scrapped 20 years later, the tracks were never laid and the rail link was never to be.

Lamarque's ghost railway station.
The estuary-side building we visited was therefore what should have become the “gare maritime” and was to serve as the link between rail and water. Today, the two-storey building lies virtually in ruins although it possibly serves as a makeshift workshop and meeting point for fisherfolk who spend their days on the nearby "carrelet" fishing huts, wooden fishing huts which have been built on stilts and which are very much characteristic of the Gironde estuary waterfront. Their main implement is a square-shaped pulley-operated net (or “filet carré”) which has given the humble shacks their name.

We finally made it to the port and embarked on the Sébastien-Vauban ferry which connects Lamarque and Blaye, a State-run service which has been operational since 1934. This latest boat entered service in 2014 and its name is an apt reference to the 17th-century military architect and engineer who dreamt up the fortifications built either side of the estuary as well as on an island, that combined to form the so-called “verrou de l’Estuaire” (the bolt of the Gironde estuary) to protect the area from foreign invaders. On the left bank, this took the shape of the extensive Fort Médoc. Mid-estuary a more minimalist structure was built on Île-Pâté. Meanwhile, we were about to alight in Blaye, a mid-sized town which is arguably best-known for its large-scale citadel.   

The ferry that connects Lamarque and Blaye.
It was market day down by the waterfront in Blaye, making for far too many food options for three hungry cyclists, although we did eventually manage to narrow things down to three radically different combinations of takeaway dishes and desserts. From there we trekked up to the citadel, the tall stone walls of which encase what is almost a self-contained village in its own right, encompassing pre-existing edifices including the 12th-century Château des Rudel, the 13th-century Porte de Liverneuf and the 15th-century Tour de l’Eguilette. We followed the course of the perimeter walls, taking in the view over the estuary, uncovering a tiny vineyard and even entering the municipal campsite, which must be an oddball spot to pitch a tent for a night or two. 

A campsite plot within the perimeter walls of Blaye citadel!
That, however, was not our plan as we still had a full afternoon of cycling ahead of us. We progressed north of Blaye, taking in notable winegrowing establishments such as Château Segonzac, whose substantial water tower wouldn’t look out of place in New York. And, as we gradually moved inland, we made a point of making a couple of diversions to see a couple of tiny ports – Port de Bernu and Port de la Belle-Étoile – which are basically rudimentary outlets onto the estuary, each with a handful of boats tied up.

Port de Bernu.
The landscape was changing, the vineyards mixing and matching with crops of rapeseed and the occasional roaming animal; we spotted herons, snakes, sheep and even a few cows just as, in the distance, the distinctive shape of the Blayais nuclear power station drew into view. We entered the neighbouring town, Braud-et-Saint-Louis, welcomed by advertisements announcing upcoming asparagus-themed festivities (Fête de l’Asperge du Blayais) in nearby Étauliers, and the heart-warming sight of one of Gironde’s two surviving Tournesol swimming pools.


These sunflower-shaped prefabricated structures mushroomed throughout France during the 1970s and early 1980s as part of a nationwide plan known as “1000 piscines” (1,000 swimming pools) aimed at making swimming accessible to the masses. The target figure of 1,000 ultimately proved to be overly ambitious, but between 600 and 700 establishments did come to be built. Various designs were rolled out, with poetic names such as “Plein-Ciel”, “Plein-Soleil” and “Caneton”, but the most distinctive and memorable was surely the UFO-like polyester “Tournesol”, the dome of which comprised sections that were mobile, running on a rail system and making it possible to open the roof 60° either way. This resulted in the Tournesol’s most notable feature: the ability to be instantly transformed, whenever the weather permitted it, from an indoor pool into an outdoor pool.

Of France’s 183 Tournesol pools, four were located throughout Gironde. The ones built in Lesparre-Médoc and Saint-Médard-en-Jalles have been demolished, while the Braud-et-Saint-Louis and Cestas pools survive to date, and long may they continue to welcome bathers to their eminently affordable prefab facilities.

From there we continued to press still further inland, passing under the A10 motorway and entering the département of Charente-Maritime. The flat terrain had suddenly become far hillier, making for a steady freewheeling downhill section followed by a painfully steep uphill section that took us into our first port of call, Mirambeau, the sort of small French town where most commercial activity has been shifted out of the centre to identikit business units that lie on the outskirts. Mirambeau boasts two landmark châteaux, one of which (Château de Mirambeau) proved to be out of sight and the other (Château Cotard) out of bounds. We instead opted to make do with a quiet meal in our hotel and settled down for the night. 

Gironde Estuary cycle tour day 1 mapped out.
> Check back shortly to read about our ride from Mirambeau to Royan!

Once again, Invisible Bordeaux has delivered a "listicle" to the good people of easyJet Traveller magazine, and you can read ...


Once again, Invisible Bordeaux has delivered a "listicle" to the good people of easyJet Traveller magazine, and you can read the article on board the airline's entire fleet of aircraft as they criss-cross Europe throughout the month of August 2018. 

This latest article compiles a number of places in Bordeaux which would form the perfect setting for scenes from a classic French movie. Where then should you go to act out the boulangerie scene or to do some serious café terrace people-watching? Where is the best neighbourhood for some clothes shop fitting room action, a shady car park encounter, or a romantic stroll on a bridge? 

All the answers can be found in the article!

> Read the full article here!
> The August issue of easyJet Traveller can be viewed in its entirety here.

We have travelled some 20 kilometres to the north-east of Bordeaux to view one of the most spectacular bridges in the area: the iron wo...

We have travelled some 20 kilometres to the north-east of Bordeaux to view one of the most spectacular bridges in the area: the iron wonder that is Pont de Cubzac, which spans the width of the Dordogne river between Saint-Vincent-de-Paul and Cubzac-les-Ponts. 

In some ways, this is the third incarnation of the bridge, whose history goes all the way back to 1836 and the completion of a grand and ambitiously-proportioned suspension bridge, the deck of which was supported by cables that stretched over six pairs of 26-metre-tall pylons. However, in March 1869, a violent storm seriously damaged one of the columns and parts of the deck began tilting precariously. Fearing the bridge would collapse, authorities chose to move fast and the bridge was demolished in full, although it was decided to retain the sturdy viaducts connecting the bridge with dry land on either bank of the river.

The way things were, source: Wikipedia.
The original suspension bridge design as featured on structurae.info.
Between 1879 and 1883, the second generation truss bridge was built, to the designs of renowned engineer Gustave Eiffel (whose other achievements in the area include a now-disused railway bridge in Bordeaux, and Sainte-Cécile observatory tower in Arcachon), in conjunction with chief engineer Émile Nouguier. Eiffel opted for a distinctive cantilever system of horizontal metal beams, carrying eight decks supported by nine sets of columns, making for a total span measuring 553 metres (1,545 metres when incorporating the connecting viaducts). 

Over the ensuing years, the bridge was not only a fixture on the landscape but a precious means of crossing the river; Pont de Cubzac’s strategic geographical significance eventually resulted in its partial destruction by the Germans during the Second World War. But once the War was over, the bridge was soon rebuilt and the third incarnation was complete in 1947. Symbolically, it was the work of Gustave Eiffel’s grandson, Jacques Eiffel.  

The bridge as it looks today, viewed from Cubzac-les-Ponts. Note the A10 motorway and LGV railway bridges in the distance.
Throughout the second half of the 20th century, the narrow bridge formed the backdrop to many a memorable traffic jam, particularly during summer months when it had to funnel dense holidaymaker traffic on the busy Route Nationale 10. Things finally improved when the A10 motorway bridge opened in 1974, providing an easier and faster means of crossing the river.

Various sections of the bridge.
Finally, throughout 2016 and 2017, as part of an extensive renovation campaign, the bridge was widened through the addition of a deck for pedestrians and bikes along the southern flank. This eagerly-anticipated enhancement has been unanimously saluted by walkers and cyclists, as well as by drivers behind the wheels of their cars, who no longer have to skirt around bikes or shave past pedestrians on the narrow pavements which were previously in use. 

To get a feel of the inner workings of the bridge, I arranged to meet Mike Foster, arguably the most famous Australian in Gironde and the founder of the excellent Bordeaux Expats website. Mike, who works as a freelance digital communications specialist, lives with his family in nearby Saint-André-de-Cubzac. We meet up on the waterfront in Cubzac, which Mike explains is an ideal location for picnics and quality family downtime. 

Under the bridge downtown, I could not get enough (courtesy Red Hot Chili Peppers).
Together we venture under the bridge to admire the tall, cathedral-like underbelly of the 19th-century viaduct section which, as well as featuring some very old graffiti carved into the stonework, is surely one of the most photogenic spots in the whole of Gironde!

Under the bridge downtown, I gave my life away (courtesy Red Hot Chili Peppers).
We then edge our way along to some poorly-maintained steps up to road level and onto the bridge proper, and view its impressive array of commemorative historical plaques.  Bizarrely, at the point where the iron structure begins, the coat of arms of the city of Paris sits proudly in between inscriptions marking the 1946-1948 reconstruction. Mike and I are a little surprised by this sight of an emblem which is some 522 kilometres out of position. 

Mike Foster, who performs his own stunts, inspecting just some of the many commemorative plaques and the Parisian coat of arms. 
We make our way across the bridge along the new footway, observing from afar the virtual twin iron railway bridge that lies a few hundred metres downstream, which was completed just after the original Eiffel crossing in 1886. Looking the other way we can see the busy A10 motorway bridge and the new LGV high-speed train railway bridge. Four generations of bridges across the Dordogne are within eyeshot, and the name of Cubzac-les-Ponts seems more relevant than ever! We pass a new information panel summarizing the history of the bridge and view large red circles and a green triangle to guide boats navigating on the Dordogne. 

Big, triangular navigation marker.
Finishing up on the Saint-Vincent-de-Paul side of the bridge, we admire another plaque, this time commemorating the ceremonial inauguration of the renovated bridge in April 2018. We then look back through the bridge. Here, though, the first arch is topped off by the dates 1879 and 1883, in line with the original Eiffel construction, positioned either side of the crest of Bordeaux

"Lilia sola regunt lunam unda castra leonem"... or "the lilies alone reign over the moon, the waves, the fortress and the lion". See this previous Invisible Bordeaux article about the city's coat of arms for the full story!
Mike and I note the new benches that have been installed to enable people to take time out to sit and enjoy the view, and during our time there we see cyclists, laid-back ramblers and serious Nordic walkers darting past, complete with go-faster batons. My Australian travelling companion then points out the original pavements, which strike me as being strangely inhospitable and a touch hair-raising compared with the genteel delights of the new walkway.

The now-disused narrow pavements.
Heading back to our starting point in Cubzac-les-Ponts we trade observations about how pleasant the bridge has now become, cross-referencing with the surprising and contrasting decision to remove the cycle paths from Bordeaux’s Pont François-Mitterrand to make way for an extra car lane, thus forcing cyclists who previously commuted daily across the bridge to make a seven or eight-kilometre detour either way to complete their trips. But, over on Pont de Cubzac, the right balance does appear to have been struck, and this impressive iron child of the 19th century is most definitely battle-ready for 21st-century usages!


> Locate it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Pont de Cubzac, Cubzac-les-Ponts.
> Big thanks to Mike Foster for the meet-up and the insider's tour! 

Further recommended viewing: 
Footage of the centenary celebrations of 1983 

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2018 report about the bridge's overhaul and the addition of the pedestrian/cycle path

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You may have just finished exploring the first set of clocks compiled by Invisible Bordeaux . But still there are more, starting with this...

You may have just finished exploring the first set of clocks compiled by Invisible Bordeaux. But still there are more, starting with this lovely timepiece to be seen at Barrière Saint-Genès.
This clock gave its name to the café that it presides over: Café de l'Horloge.
The main façade of Saint-Jean station comprises three identical clocks. Thankfully, they are all reassuringly on time. 
Inside the station proper, two magnificent clocks watch over proceedings at all times.
In the station concourse, this pragmatic, minimalist Bodet clock enables travellers to time things down to the very last second.
Another Bodet clock can be seen on Cours Victor-Hugo above the entrance to a Carrefour Market on a building still known to many as la Maison Dorée.
A Bodet design has also been embedded into the exterior of the Palais de Justice on Place de la République. This clock is currently out of order.
This classic clock is to be seen outside Palais Rohan, the city hall.
This more minimalist affair can be seen atop the Caisse d'Épargne building on Place Paul-Doumer.
Taking minimalism one step further is this clock on the corner of the Bourse du Travail building on Cours Aristide-Briand. The clock is currently frozen in time.
Also currently out of order is this clock on the municipal library building opposite Capucins food market.
Another clock which has stopped is on Sainte-Eulalie church.
Crazy building, crazy clock. There was never going to be anything conventional about the timepiece on the Bastide quarter's Maison Cantonale!
Sacré-Cœur church's steeples feature not one but two clocks. The 24-hour dial on the left was designed so that railway workers living in the vicinity instantly knew whether it was AM or PM. The 24-hour clock, which has already been featured on the blog, is functioning perfectly: it was 09:10 when I was there.
And we'll finish up on Place Stalingrad and a clock that got away, but which is clearly visible bottom right, which shows the Alcazar music hall theatre in the early 1900s. Time's up!
All of those lovely clocks have also been stuck back-to-back in this short motion picture. Sit back and enjoy!

 
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Cet article est également disponible en français !

OK, so it's happened to us all: you're in Bordeaux, possibly slightly jetlagged and confused, and you've forgotten your watch...

OK, so it's happened to us all: you're in Bordeaux, possibly slightly jetlagged and confused, and you've forgotten your watch and your mobile phone, and there's absolutely nobody around to tell you what time it is. You need a clock! Of which there are many in Bordeaux, and it feels like the time is right to go in search of them. Got the time? 

This is probably the most famous clock in Bordeaux, on Porte Saint-Éloi just below the Grosse Cloche. It is coupled with its unusual solar equation dial, which was awarded its own Invisible Bordeaux feature some time ago. The clock itself is working but the associated date has been stuck on a Tuesday in June for a long, long time.
This clock, complete with its moon phase globe, is on the other side of Saint-Éloi gate.
These clocks (there are two sets of four dials in all) are a popular meeting point on Place de la Comédie.
This colourful offering is to be found on the northern flank of Place de la Bourse.
The Roman numerals have faded from this clock on the Bourse Maritime building.
Galeries Lafayette's clock was manufactured by Lussault, a family business founded near Poitiers and now based further to the west in Tiffauges.
Staying on Rue Sainte-Catherine, this giant Rolex watch gives a feel of what to expect inside the jewelers, Mornier.
This horloger on Cours Maréchal-Juin has gone for a more modest design by Levallois-Perret clockmakers Brillié.
Brillié also supplied this clock to be spotted at Barrière de Médoc on the former octroi tax collection office. Currently out of order.
Not sure whether this clock, which is also currently out of order, will survive the refurbishments being carried out on Lescure bus depot.
A Siemens clock (complete with fairy lights) on Rue Notre-Dame.
This is the former children's hospital building on Cours de l'Argonne, and one of three designs in this set by Bordeaux clockmaker Gaston Guignan (or possibly more as he is also behind the Porte Saint-Éloi clocks).
Gaston Guignan founded his clockmaking business in 1850 and the company operated for 100 years. This clock is to be seen on Sainte-Croix abbey.
This elegant model looks out over Place du Marché des Chartrons.