The 70-metre-high twin bell towers of Sacré-Coeur parish church are one of the constants on the skyline of the residential streets near S...

Sacré-Coeur: the 24-hour timekeeper near Saint-Jean railway station

The 70-metre-high twin bell towers of Sacré-Coeur parish church are one of the constants on the skyline of the residential streets near Saint-Jean railway station. 

They have towered over the surrounding échoppes since 1870. The church was one of many to be built during that second half of the 19th century as part of a drive led by the then Archbishop of Bordeaux, Cardinal Donnet. In fact, spires and steeples were going up or being restored at such a rate that Baron Haussmann, best-known as the Prefect and city-planner behind the tree-lined boulevards of Paris (but who had also spent time serving at Blaye, in Gironde), is quoted as telling Donnet that Gironde was beginning to “look like a hedgehog” (“Notre département, Monseigneur, ressemblera d’ici peu à un hérisson !”).

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The concrete-and-glass development to be found in the central Bordeaux district of Mériadeck is far-removed from the city’s more traditi...

Mériadeck: this used to be the vision of the future inner-city

The concrete-and-glass development to be found in the central Bordeaux district of Mériadeck is far-removed from the city’s more traditional image of picturesque squares and harmonious façades. This large-scale urban high-rise jungle, which has always struggled to gain acceptance from the people of Bordeaux, began to evolve into its present shape in the 1960s. Its complex story began many years before that though…

This area, located just a few hundred metres to the west of Cathédrale Saint-André, was initially wetland which the city strived to drain to avoid epidemics in the 17th century. A monastery for the Chartreux community of monks was built there (where the Chartreuse cemetery, created in 1791, can be seen today) but was soon destroyed and the inhospitable marshland took hold once again.

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Andernos-les-Bains is a resort on the Bassin d’Arcachon which is possibly best-known for its jetty , the longest of its type in Europe ...

The Gallo-Roman villa with a view in Andernos-les-Bains

Andernos-les-Bains is a resort on the Bassin d’Arcachon which is possibly best-known for its jetty, the longest of its type in Europe (232 metres!). Today though, we are investigating the ruins of a Gallo-Roman villa that can be viewed alongside Saint-Éloi church, which overlooks the beach just a short distance to the north of the town centre.

The church dates back to the 11th century and, over the centuries, storms have caused the shoreline to move and the Arcachon bay waters have gradually gained ground. It has been established that, as recently as the early 19th century, the church lay 100 metres inland, surrounded by its cemetery.

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Question: Where in Bordeaux can you view cows, roses and vines, stroll alongside a mock Pyrenean mountain stream, sit on a bench from Mun...

Parc Floral: the green and pleasant land with an international flavour!

Question: Where in Bordeaux can you view cows, roses and vines, stroll alongside a mock Pyrenean mountain stream, sit on a bench from Munich, dispose of litter in a dustbin from Madrid and unwind in a Japanese garden? Answer: the Parc Floral in the Bordeaux-Lac quarter to the north of the city.

The 1992 opening of the Parc Floral tied in with an international flower festival, Les Floralies Internationales de Bordeaux. Over the 20-or-so ensuing years, the 50-acre landscaped park and its neighbouring 320-acre wood, le Bois de Bordeaux, have become the territory of joggers, ramblers and cyclists, and cultural events are also occasionally held there.

Despite having long been aware of the place, it wasn’t until researching this item that I took the time out to visit the Parc, and was pleased to be greeted by information panels providing lots of detailed information about flora, fauna, the number of gardeners (14), the low ambient noise levels (45 decibels), the electric vehicles used by maintenance staff, biodiversity, biotopes and lots of other words I had to google. What I wasn’t expecting though was to also be greeted by a (small) herd of cows.
Eagle-eyed readers may spot the Pont d'Aquitaine in the distance.
The cows are a local breed of dairy cattle, la “vache bordelaise”, which were commonplace in the 19th century in Aquitaine and beyond. By the 1960s it was thought that the breed had died out until a strand was somehow re-discovered in 1990. An animal preservation society, Conservatoire des Races d’Aquitaine, has set about re-developing the breed – the cows at the Parc Floral belong to them and they are regularly on hand to observe and monitor them.

From then on the sights are perhaps more typical of a “floral park”. A 5,000-square-metre rose garden features no less than 479 different types of roses and, according to the official literature, “retraces the history of the rose from ancient times to the present day”. The roses weren’t yet in bloom when I was there but I can imagine the full-colour version of the rose garden must be impressive to behold.

Nearby is a section known as the "vine collection" comprising a wide range of cépages (or types of grape: Cabernet, Cabernet franc, Cabernet sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot gris, Pinot noir and many others from Eastern Europe, Israel and North America), some of which are either very rare or very old. The grapes are not picked or transformed into wine though - most are consumed by the birds! The Parc is also home to 65 types of peonies (pivoines in French), a fine collection of magnolia trees, irises (180 varieties) and rhododendrons (150 different types).

The vine collection and rose garden.
Moving further on into the Parc and an artificial lake provides a natural focal point for the visit. Feeding the lake is a 250-metre-long feature that has been constructed to resemble a mountain stream (referred to as a “le Torrent” in the official blurb, but it was more of a trickle when I was there, and certainly not especially torrential). To get the mountainous feel just right, 300 tons of rocks and pebbles were transported up from banks of the Gave de Pau river in Argelès-Gazost down in the Pyrenees. Before being channelled up to the artificial source at the top of the mound, the water is collected from different “jalles” (streams which flow eastwards into the Garonne river) in the vicinity.

However, my trek through the Parc Floral was saving the best until last. In a section known as “jardins des villes jumelles” (the twin city gardens), eleven different areas have been designed to make visitors feel as if they have been magically transported to other parts of the world. Built around items which have been donated by the twin cities of Bordeaux, the gardens manage to recreate a little bit of Germany, Spain, Japan, Morocco and a whole host of other exotic destinations!
Clockwise from top left: the Casablanca (Morocco), Madrid (Spain), Munich (Germany) and Québec City (Canada) gardens.
My personal favourites were the gardens representing Munich, complete with benches and statues; Madrid, with lamppost, drinking fountain and dustbins; the Moorish mosaics in the Casablanca display; and the peaceful Japanese garden that represents Fukuoka. The only disappointment was to see the garden which should have transported me back to my hometown Bristol, which is currently just a bit of greenery and some tall trees (admittedly not unlike most parks in Bristol)… although part of it was cordoned off suggesting enhancements may be on the cards.

Clockwise from top left: Ashdod (Israel), Fukuoka (Japan), Bristol (UK) and Los Angeles (US).
Meanwhile, as the area continues to develop, what with the construction of Matmut-Atlantique stadium and the new nearby terminus of tram line C, it strikes me that, for better or for worse, the Parc Floral may just lose its status as one of the city’s best-kept secrets...

In this exclusive Invisible Bordeaux clip, three young guides (Minister FIFA, Lukesterray and Mystery Hoodie Boy) tour the twin city gardens! 

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He is celebrated by a square, a monument and a lycée (not to mention a fast-food outlet) in Bordeaux, and enjoys simi...

Camille Jullian: the man who reconstructed the history of Bordeaux

He is celebrated by a square, a monument and a lycée (not to mention a fast-food outlet) in Bordeaux, and enjoys similar accolades in Paris and his birthplace Marseille, but who was Camille Jullian?

During his life, which stretched from 1859 until 1933, Camille Jullian became a renowned historian, philologist (specialising in the study of written texts) and epigraphist (deciphering ancient inscriptions). He is best remembered for his multiple door-stopper of an epic that was “Histoire de la Gaule”, released in eight instalments between 1907 and 1928.

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