For more than 35 years, arguably the most prominent of Bordeaux’s waterfront buildings was to be found in the Bacalan district to the north ...

For more than 35 years, arguably the most prominent of Bordeaux’s waterfront buildings was to be found in the Bacalan district to the north of the city. This was the massive Cité Lumineuse apartment block, which stood around the spot where the Brandenburg bus and tram interchange station can be found today. How did it come about and why is it no longer there? 


The surrounding area was once the Claveau winegrowing domain, but as the city of Bordeaux expanded northwards throughout the first half of the 20th century, the Bacalan district took shape, and was mainly made up of low-rise residential streets. By the 1950s though, city mayor Jacques Chaban-Delmas had other ideas and, at a time when France was experiencing a housing shortage, regarded the urban future as being synonymous with the age of high-rise buildings. This is what resulted in social housing complexes such as Grand-Parc, Cité de la Benauge, and les Aubiers, along with the complete overhaul of the Mériadeck quarter in the city centre.


The city council-owned Cité Lumineuse was the most impressive standalone project of them all. Designed by architects André Conte, Paul Daurel, and Jean-Jacques Prévot, it was 200 metres long, 11 metres wide, 15 storeys high, and comprised 360 apartments that were labelled as being “LOGECO”, for “logements économiques et familiaux”, i.e. affordable accommodation aimed at low-income families. Much like the course of the Garonne river, the Cité was gently curved inwards, with its eastern flank enjoying an ideal vantage point to view the rising sun… while the sunsets were obviously best viewed from the concave western side! 

Aerial photos down the years. Top row: 1950 before the Cité was built, and in all its glory in 1976. Bottom row: shortly before demolition in 1994 (note the football pitch between the building and the river), and the GoogleEarth view today. Archive shots downloaded from the IGN Remonter le Temps website.

In fact, the block’s larger apartments (so-called F4 and F5 layouts, i.e. three- and four-bedroom flats), of which there were 240, enjoyed the relative luxury of looking out on both sides, a sunlight-guided architectural principle (which was first promoted by Adolphe Augustin-Rey as “l’axe heliothermique”) that had previously been applied by the influential architect Le Corbusier at the Cité Radieuse in Marseille. The re-use of that concept in all likelihood inspired the eerily similar name of Cité Lumineuse; there is no hard evidence to back this up but it is a credible theory that local authority Marc Saboya puts forward in his book ‘Chaban le bâtisseur’.     


La Cité Lumineuse welcomed its first residents in 1960 and, over the years, became a cherished home to thousands of people in spite of its many shortcomings, such as the lack of balconies (which were never part of the masterplan in order to keep down costs) and the fact that – again, according to Saboya – the kitchens and bathrooms were tiny and the elevators only stopped every three floors! It was also a lively community hub. Between the building and the river, a sandy football pitch with full-size goals was the focal point of many a local youth’s downtime. Meanwhile, the older generations would meet to play pétanque on the neighbouring boules pitches. And the surrounding greenery was an idyllic spot for outdoor events such as residents’ picnics and parties. Over on the other side, from 1981 onwards, the forecourt of the residence became home to the weekly Marché de la Lumineuse market, which started out with just four vendors but soon grew and became a popular draw.
 

Sud Ouest archive shot of the market as it was, and the view from more or less the same vantage point today.

Sud Ouest archive shots of the football and pétanque pitches in use, and the same view today.

However, the 1980s were not kind to la Cité Lumineuse. The building was rapidly deteriorating, and it got to the stage where local authorities considered repair and renovation work would prove more costly than just demolishing the place and starting anew. Although the decision to demolish the building would not be officially finalised for a number of years, from the mid-1980s onwards whenever residents departed, they were not replaced and the apartments they vacated were bricked up. 


The dwindling number of residents who remained come the early 1990s were actively encouraged to look elsewhere, the local council facilitating moves to new developments in the Cité Claveau estate nearby or over in the right bank districts of the city. By this time, the residence was already a ghost of its former self, with the notoriously windy ground floor concourse becoming the territory of local drug dealers. To say the building had become inhospitable would be an understatement, and in the summer of 1996 la Cité Lumineuse’s final surviving resident, an 83-year-old gentleman by the name of Mr San José, departed for good.
 

In its latter years, the trials and tribulations of la Cité Lumineuse became a recurring subject in local newspaper Sud Ouest. 

In September of that year demolition work began, although progress was hampered and delayed by the presence of asbestos. The task was also rendered particularly difficult by having to remove one by one the tops of the 622 piles that had been used for the building’s foundations in an area which was inevitably humid and prone to flooding. But by February 1997 the apartment block was no more, and the local authorities began looking forward to the future and the new development that would take its place, comprising 116 homes within a 2.5-hectare landscaped environment.


The demise of la Cité Lumineuse had inspired a number of creative projects at the time, such as songs written by the local rap collective Génération Posse, and a book, ‘La Lumineuse, cite habitée’, compiling the writings of a number of local youths conducted under the guidance of the bestselling author Hervé Le Corre, who had previously spent 17 years in the Bacalan district of Bordeaux and retained strong ties with the neighbourhood and its people… so much so that Bacalan and the Cité Lumineuse often feature extensively in his fictional work.


Rewinding – or rather fast-forwarding – back to 2021, other than individual memories and a helping or two of nostalgia, what remains of la Cité Lumineuse? Well, the answer is next to nothing. Taking up position opposite the local post office and annex of the city hall with a view to reproducing a photo spotted in a 2013 issue of a local magazine, what is most striking is the sheer void where the building used to be.

Slightly blurred archive photo of la Cité Lumineuse with the post office and Mairie de Quartier in the foreground, as credited to Labarthe and featured in a 2013 issue of 'Bacalan' magazine. And, once again, the same view today. 
Behind the tram and bus stops, a modern residential complex - along with a Lidl supermarket - is tucked away behind the trees. Alongside the Garonne, where the pétanque and football pitches once were, pleasant tree-lined paths are dotted with benches, and sided by just enough greenery to keep dogwalkers satisfied.



But a couple of traces of the Lumineuse era are still forthcoming, even 25 years on. The first is a few blocks away on Place Muscaillet, which is now home to the Marché de la Lumineuse and its vendors every Friday morning. Despite the passage of time and a couple of relocations, the market has symbolically retained its name.


The Lumineuse flag is still flying on Place Muscaillet.
The other is to be spotted in an alleyway that runs between two blocks of housing that now stand where the Cité once was. Encased by one of the modern constructions is a high voltage transformer station, which clearly predates its imposing neighbour by some years. On the panel affixed to the door, just above the reminder of the imminent risk of death, is the code name of the station. In black typeface on a yellow background, the letters spell out the name “Lumineuse”. The luminous building discreetly shines on...  


> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Cité Lumineuse, Rue Achard, Bordeaux.

> Cet article est également disponible en français !

> Source of lead photo: www.delcampe.net

> Thanks to my good friend Laurent B. for tips and stories!

Taking the lead from the cities of Paris and Toulouse, Bordeaux has joined what is a pan-European trend in converting a small plot of inner-...


Taking the lead from the cities of Paris and Toulouse, Bordeaux has joined what is a pan-European trend in converting a small plot of inner-city land into a mini-forest. It is time to go for a walk in – or at least alongside – the tiniest of woods! 


These are early days for now, but the nascent mini-forest was inaugurated by city mayor Pierre Hurmic in March 2021. It is located between Saint-Jean railway station and Sacré-Coeur church, on the triangular space where rues Billaudel, Fieffé and Francin intersect. 


So, what’s it all about? According to a piece published by The Guardian, tiny, dense forests like this are “springing up around Europe as part of a movement aimed at restoring biodiversity and fighting the climate crisis”. Their format and concept “are based on the work of the Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki, who planted more than 1,000 such forests in Japan, Malaysia and elsewhere”. In France, the landscape artist Gilles Clément is also quoted as a key influence, notably with regard to his "jardin en mouvement" concept, but internationally the term “Miyawaki forest” has become the byword for this type of urban mini-forest. 


The way it will be: artist's impression of how the mini-forest will look in the future (source: bordeaux.fr).
The way it is: picture taken in August 2021.


Cross-referencing with the Wikipedia page about Akira Miyawaki (who died in July 2021) provides a means of understanding the basics: the Miyawaki method is based on the reconstitution of "indigenous forests by indigenous trees", with saplings being planted very closely together, and a diverse range of species being used to recreate the multiple layers of a natural forest. Furthermore, the practice “produces a rich, dense and efficient protective pioneer forest in 20 to 30 years, where natural succession would need 200 years in temperate Japan and 300 to 500 years in the tropics”.


Closer to the 45th parallel here in Bordeaux, where the recently-elected Hurmic is famously a member of the Europe Écologie-Les Verts political party, this first mini-forest is one of several such projets and forms part of a wider programme to bring more greenery into the inner-city, a programme which has been codenamed “Bordeaux Grandeur Nature”. When inaugurating the forest-to-be, Hurmic declared to the media that “it has added value for a whole district, there is an obligation to create islands of freshness,” pointing out that “a 100 m² area of forest reduces the temperature in adjacent streets by 1°C”.


The way it was: a GoogleEarth view of the parking spaces that have made way for the Miyawaki forest.


This inaugural Bordeaux project, which covers an area of 180m² and has cost around €50,000 to create, comprises more than 500 forest plants and shrubs, including varieties of tree such as pubescent oaks, sorb trees, field maples, wild cherry trees, and common dogwood. It has been given the name of Wangari Muta Maathai in honour of the Kenyan activist and 2004 Nobel Peace prize-winner who was instrumental in the reforestation of her home country. 


When visiting the mini-forest on a quiet Sunday morning, the first impression is that of viewing a slightly disorganised plot of land, but it does not take long to understand that that is the whole point: the plantation process is supposed to be random, and the natural woodland will form as natural selection among the seedlings enables the best-suited to flourish and develop quickly. Nothing for now is anything taller than about 60 or 70 centimetres, so it is difficult to imagine that a few years from now a number of trees will be towering over the square (or rather, the triangle). 

 


But the Miyawaki forest does already bring a splash of colour to the area. Other than the inevitable green, there are spots of white, yellow, orange and violet dotted here and there. And of course, after taking in the initial view one is tempted to look closer and hone in on specific plants, and that is when you discover that the place has already come to life, with wasps and bees collecting pollen, and flies and butterflies fleeting in between the leaves and branches. I suddenly found myself drawn to the pleasures of inner-city macrophotography, a true first! 

 

Just a couple of typical central Bordeaux street scenes.


Temporary information panels are on hand to complete the view and, for now at least, the low wooden perimeter fence is topped off by a host of toilet rolls that have been expertly and creatively decorated, presumably by children from a local school. The place is quiet but for the buzzing of winged insects, which makes the mini-forest feel very active. It’s unusual and, all in all, quite cool.  

 


Media coverage would suggest that most locals have warmly welcomed the initiative, although some instinctively grumbled about the dozen-or-so parking spots which were sacrificed, and others were cynical about the time it would take for the Miyawaki forest to reach maturity. However, in these times when barely a day goes by without there being news about another natural disaster or extreme weather event, surely everything that can be done to fight against the steamroller of climate change is to be applauded.

 

> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Micro-forêt Wangari Muta Maathai, rue Fieffé, Bordeaux

> Cet article est également disponible en français !

> Further information about the mini-forest on the city of Bordeaux website. 

> Below is Sud Ouest footage of the first plantations taking place in March 2021... a great deal has changed in just five months!



Click here if video does not display properly on your device.


[CLIQUEZ ICI POUR D ÉCOUVRIR CE DOSSIER EN FRAN ÇAIS] Some time ago I picked up a book called ' Chaban de Bordeaux ' for a token eur...



Some time ago I picked up a book called 'Chaban de Bordeaux' for a token euro in the Quai des Livres bookstore on cours Victor-Hugo in the city centre. In the book, published in 1996 by Éditions Sud Ouest, the author, the late political journalist Pierre Cherruau, focused on the Bordeaux arm of the life and career of Jacques Chaban-Delmas, who was mayor of the city for no less than 48 years, from 1947 until 1995, five years ahead of his death in 2000, aged 85. 

Those post-war and "Trente Glorieuses" years were a pivotal period for the city, with so much changing under his leadership, whether in terms of housing (the overhaul of the Mériadeck quarter, the creation of the Grand Parc, Aubiers and Benauge estates), infrastructure (the unveiling of Saint-Jean and Pont d'Aquitaine bridges, the Rocade ring-road), culture, and much, much more. 

During those years, as a member of parliament he also held a number of national ministerial functions, presided over the Assemblée Nationale during two stints, was prime minister from 1969 to 1972, and a presidential candidate in 1974. In short, quite some career! 
 

The book featured a number of great archive photos. I thought it might be fun to go hunting for the locations where those photos were taken and, with a bit of cellphone and Photoshop trickery, try to merge past and present into single shots. And here are the end results!    

 

 

Above, the young mayor is seen wandering nonchalantly through the city. The location, allées de Tourny, is where a street photographer would often snap passers-by, so many Bordelais have similar pictures showing them walking down this same street around this late 1940s-early 1950s period! Author of the original photograph unknown. Thanks to Patrick Forsans, Caroline March, Bruno Montamat and others for helping identify the exact location of the shot.



In 1949, the square previously known as Place des Salinères (and Place de Bourgogne prior to that) was officially inaugurated as Place Bir-Hakeim in reference to the Second World War's Battle of Bir Hakeim. Chaban-Delmas had invited Général Charles de Gaulle to the event. At the time De Gaulle had taken a bit of a back seat, although he was in the process of building up his Rassemblement du Peuple Français political party which would later splinter into several groups including the
Union pour la Nouvelle République that was behind De Gaulle when he was elected president of the French republic in 1958. Author of the original photograph unknown. (In the 'Chaban de Bordeaux' book, another picture of this event is actually featured but was difficult to replicate. This similar shot was lifted from somewhere on the internet... but I can't remember where!).

 

 

The newly-elected president De Gaulle was back in Bordeaux in 1958, seen here walking up cours du Chapeau-Rouge with Chaban-Delmas and miscellaneous dignitaries including De Gaulle's "chef de cabinet" Olivier Guichard (to the left of Chaban), "Garde des Sceaux" Michel Debré (to the right of De Gaulle) and Gironde and Aquitaine prefect Gabriel Delaunay (the gentleman wearing the hat over to the left). Author of the original photograph unknown.

 


OK, you're going to have to take my word for it, but Jacques Chaban-Delmas is one of the figures standing behind the driver on board this, the last of the first-generation trams to travel through Bordeaux in 1958, including this section of Place de la Victoire which was packed with somewhat nostalgic well-wishers. Chaban was glad to see the back of the city's tram network, paving the way to the automobile-heavy 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, by which time the city needed to find a new, large-scale public transport solution. The "VAL" light underground railway system was Chaban's preferred choice but never came to fruition. Eventually, one of the first key decisions of Chaban's successor Alain Juppé was to set about conceiving the new-generation tram network which has now become such an integral part of the city. Original photograph credited to Vincent Olivar.



This picture of the then prime minister Jacques Chaban-Delmas campaigning on Rue Sainte-Catherine dates from 1970, around the time that a emerging political rival, the journalist and press tycoon Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber, had posed a serious challenge in a legislative partial election, no doubt with a view to then taking Chaban on in the municipal elections. Chaban emerged victorious but reportedly felt highly threatened by "JJSS" despite downplaying the episode later in life. Author of the original photograph unknown.

 


Here's Jacques Chaban-Delmas racing up the steps to the city hall, Palais Rohan, to what could be regarded as the rear entrance, within the Jardin de l'Hôtel de Ville. In Cherruau's book, the caption claims Chaban would run up the steps four at a time. Whether this is fully accurate is unsure. The steps are low but very wide, it would take giant bounds to span four steps! Trying to keep up in the background is Robert Boulin, mayor of Libourne and France's health minister at the time. Boulin held many governmental positions over the years, but his death in 1979 is shrouded in mystery and controversy. Original photograph credited to Michel André.  

 

 

This picture was in all likelihood taken on the day in September 1976 when the newly-pedestrianised Rue Sainte-Catherine was officially inaugurated. The Citroën 2CV driver clearly hadn't received the brief and is possibly getting a good-natured telling-off from the mayor of Bordeaux! Original photograph credited to Michel Lacroix. 

 


Here is Jacques Chaban-Delmas saluting locals in the Aubiers district in June 1984 subsequent to substantial renovation work being done at a time when there was a great deal of unrest. As mentioned in the lead paragraph, les Aubiers is one of a number of high-rise estates that are very much symbols of Chaban's legacy, this being located to the north of the city, not far from the Lac district which was also very much a product of Chaban's tenure. Original photograph credited to Michel Lacroix.  

 


This picture dates from around 1986, and the clearly-delighted Jacques Chaban-Delmas is seen alongside a local beauty queen officially opening the twice-yearly funfair - which still today is such a familiar sight on the Esplanade des Quinconces. Judging by how clearly visible the buildings in the background are, it is safe to say this was the autumn session. In my 2021 picture, they're hidden behind dense springtime greenery! Original photograph credited to Théry.

 


Here is Jacques Chaban-Delmas in his later years, with his third wife Micheline (they married in 1971), walking along rue Naujac in the Saint-Seurin-Fondaudège district, on their way to vote at their local polling station (the couple lived nearby, on rue Émile Fourcand). The way the couple are holding hands makes me feel strangely happy. Thanks to Michel Laporte and Patrick Forsans for helping identify the exact location of the shot.

 

 

Where better to finish off this stroll through Chaban's Bordeaux than in the gardens of the Hôtel de Ville (try to spot the steps pictured further up the page!). This colour shot, credited to Michel André, graced the cover of the original book, as pictured below. Note the 1 euro price tag. What a bargain, eh?

 

 

> Thanks again to Patrick Forsans and other contributors who helped identify a couple of locations via Twitter and Facebook.

> Ce dossier est également disponible en français.


  As loyal readers will know, in recent months my musical project Slowrush has possibly taken precedence over Invisible Bordeaux in terms...

 

As loyal readers will know, in recent months my musical project Slowrush has possibly taken precedence over Invisible Bordeaux in terms of time and energy levels. But that doesn’t mean the two ventures don’t feed off each other. In fact, two songs on the latest E.P. to have been released by Slowrush are directly inspired by subjects covered on the blog in the past! 

 

For yes, Slowrush, the band formed by myself with my bassist friend Olivier and drummer son Dorian, have recently unveiled ‘The Neighbourhood E.P.’ and its four new tunes, available now on a streaming platform near you. The two songs which may be of particular significance to Invisible Bordeaux readers are Secret Garden and See The Neighbourhood. And this is why!

 

The lyrics of Secret Garden are inspired by the story of the silent movie star Max Linder, who was born in Saint-Loubès and educated in Bordeaux. His career and tragic demise (he killed his young wife before taking his own life) was covered in a twin set of articles published simultaneously on Invisible Bordeaux and partner website Invisible Paris. Much of the information shared then was made possible by the tireless research of his daughter Maud Linder, who was still a baby when her parents died. 

 

Given that the unsavoury end had resulted in Max Linder being airbrushed out of much of the history of cinematography, she had to rebuild the story piece by piece. The quest even involved digging up canisters of film that had been buried in the grounds of the family residence, the “secret garden” of the song’s title. Her findings, how she went about it all, and her own story are brilliantly detailed in Maud Linder’s book “Max Linder était mon père”, and the song also draws heavily on those writings. Maud Linder died in 2017 aged 93. At the time of the Invisible Bordeaux/Paris feature we enjoyed a brief email exchange in which she thanked us for the articles, I like to think she’d approve of the song too!

 

As for See The Neighbourhood, the song takes the shape of a message from a visually-impaired person to the artist who conceived the bronze 3D maps that can be found at four locations around Bordeaux. These popular pieces of public art have often appeared on Invisible Bordeaux, and the artist responsible for them, François Didier, has become a bit of a friend of the blog over the years.  

 

The message conveyed by the song is rooted in reality. In early 2020, I was invited to attend the official unveiling of the fourth sculpture, positioned near the Cité du Vin in the Bassins à Flots quarter. Listening to the various testimonies, and talking with people who were familiar with François Didier’s work, there really was a sense that the pieces were very much appreciated by the visually-impaired, as they really did offer them a means to “see the neighbourhood” which surrounds them. We naturally wanted to translate that appreciation and gratitude into song! Oh, and François Didier has been made aware of the piece and was delighted to know his handiwork had also been immortalised in the form of music. 

 

The Neighbourhood E.P. doesn’t end there, as there are two other songs to enjoy, although they possibly have a little less of a Bordeaux flavour about them… You can work out for yourself what they might be about! And if you’d like to hear the songs in a live setting, we will be performing at Le Steady in Saint-Loubès on July 24, Le Mira in La Teste-de-Buch on August 21, and in Saint-Aubin-de-Médoc town centre on September 18!  

 

> You’ll find ‘The Neighbourhood E.P.’ on the streaming platform of your choice here: https://linktr.ee/slowrush

> You can also listen to the songs on Slowrush’s Bandcamp page here: https://slowrush.bandcamp.com


Lockdowns, eh? One of the defining responses to the constraints imposed on citizens to curb the spread of Covid-19 has been to at least make...


Lockdowns, eh? One of the defining responses to the constraints imposed on citizens to curb the spread of Covid-19 has been to at least make the most of what we’re allowed to do, whilst strictly complying with the measures in place. And during this latest, ongoing lockdown, unless there is some reasonable justification, movements are restricted to within ten kilometres of one’s residence. But that still leaves plenty of space to enjoy, and that is how my wife Muriel and I decided to launch into a one-day local roadtrip, codenamed the 10k Radius Challenge.

Working on the basis of the data provided by France's benchmark website, we mapped out a circular itinerary that would take us on a day-long cycling trip but that would never take us any further than ten kilometres from our home in Saint-Aubin-de-Médoc. And so it was that we set off at 8am on a mid-April Sunday morning, heading off in a north-westerly direction through Le Pian-Médoc towards our first port of call, Parempuyre. We drifted past the famously international Emmaüs community and bric-a-brac warehouse, a scenic lake and the railway station towards the town centre, turning right by a cultural/entertainment venue that has been given the bizarre name of L’Art Y Show, no doubt a reference to the nearby Médocain speciality, the Macau artichoke.


A fine roadside cycle path took us from there to Blanquefort via some fairly depressing industrial estates that are no doubt a staple of metropolitan suburbs the world over. After hitting the residential town centre we had vague hopes of popping into the notoriously photogenic Parc de Majolan but must have taken a wrong turn. Instead we found ourselves by one of the entrances to the Réserve naturelle des Marais de Bruges. As the reserve is currently closed (you can possibly guess why…), we had to make do with taking a photo of the nearby railway and tram lines that run parallel to each other.


Then it was over the Rocade ring-road into Bruges proper, and a much-needed pain aux raisins break alongside the pretty église Saint-Pierre, parts of which date back to the 15th or 16th century. It certainly felt like it was a pleasant trip back in time, and completing the time-travelling illusion was a 1960s ABG-VAP moped parked by a bench. I would like to think it’s always there. This was all ably complemented by the circular Tour de Lassalle. We made a note to return to get the full story.



Cycling through Bruges, we spotted a surprisingly tall church spire in amongst the low-rise housing. Making a short detour to investigate, we discovered that we were in front of Bordeaux’s Russian Orthodox church. It certainly stands out from its surroundings and also appears to be a subject that deserves further research!



Proceeding south, we passed Le Bouscat’s Sainte-Germaine sports stadium (home to Stade Bordelais) and previous blog subjects the Bois du Bouscat and the hippodrome race track. Near a roundabout in Eysines, we spotted a fine ghostsign advertising “M. Chopinet - Lubrification Silicoil aux Silicones” complete with information, address and a six-digit phone number. Due to the bright sunlight and shadows it was difficult to get a decent photo, but I will return on a cloudy day to get a better shot of what I think is one of the best ghostsigns in the area!



From there we advanced through central Mérignac, past the dormant Pin Galant theatre and the Dewar & Gicquel “pantalon de jogging” sculpture, and back towards the Rocade, stopping to take a photo of the surprising “Marché de l’Avenir” building which, today, looks anything but futuristic.



Beyond the Rocade we found ourselves in another industrial estate, culminating in the cycle path being sandwiched by Dassault Aviation on one side and my weekday employers Thales on the other. It all felt suitably aerospace-y (aptly so given our proximity to the airport), at least until the sight of the somewhat neglected sport grounds of the Domaine de Rocquevieille brought us back down to earth. And to think this was where the great Girondins squads of the 1980s used to train.

From there it was on to Martignas-sur-Jalle, which we reckoned was more or less the halfway point along the circumference of our 10k radius circle. Arriving in the town we were welcomed by a slightly menacing Wild West-style sign stating that Martignas was home to the “last petrol station before Arcachon Bay”. For cars driving to the Bassin, this was therefore make-or-break time. Either fill up here or end up stranded in Saint-Jean-d’Illac! This thought sent terrifying shivers down my spine.



We made our way to the Camp de Souge military facility, where in the past I have been able to view the harrowing memorial to the 300 people who lost their lives throughout the Second World War. Sadly, this time the person manning the security desk was not in an especially cooperative mood, saying that it was out-of-bounds for private individuals and that there was work in progress or something. Hey-ho. We made our excuses and began looping up towards the north, at least until we came up against another impenetrable military facility which stopped us in our tracks. Rather than turn back we elected to follow a path mapped out by Google, which soon became extremely sandy but at least took us into a pleasant forest and an ideal picnic spot just by a stream.



By now we were just sticking to whichever paths were best-suited to cycling, rejoining the urban world somewhere in the vicinity of the Hastignan district of Saint-Médard-en-Jalles. From here, the best option to reach our next destination, Salaunes, was simply to follow the flat, linear Bordeaux-Lacanau cycle path. Hitting downtown Salaunes, there was little to do other than take in the church clock chiming (it was now 2 o’clock), peruse the books available in the “nichoir à livres” bookcase, and admire the giant wooden sculpture of a pine cone, which presumably represents all the local pines. And cones.    
   



Then it was back onto a main road, and this one was as straight, flat and uneventful as any you’ll find in the region. It took us to the hamlet of Saint-Raphaël and the chapel which was built on the spot where the 15th-century Archbishop of Bordeaux Pey Berland was born, as detailed in one of the first items to run on the blog way back in the day.



From that commemoration of the very distant past we were instantly shunted back into the present and arguably even the future, as we cycled around the massive solar panel farm in Arsac. The public domain figures are mind-boggling: 220 hectares, 85 megawatts of power (whatever that means…). The site itself is majorly impressive from ground level, but click here to check out an aerial shot to get an idea of the sheer scale of it all. By now we were more or less on the final stretch of our adventure, finishing up with a couple of photo stops outside the modern-art-heavy grounds of Château d’Arsac and looking out over the vines of Château Sénéjac in Le Pian-Médoc, just days on from those restless nights spent attempting to safeguard the vines from unseasonally freezing temperatures.


We were homeward bound, hitting Saint-Aubin-de-Médoc around 4:30pm with just over 94 kilometres clocked up by our little bike computers, over a little more than five hours of actual cycle time.

What then were the key takeaways of our low-key 10k radius challenge? Well, there’s definitely something quite unusual about being out for so long and realizing we’re still eerily close to home despite having cycled maybe 50, 60 or 70 kilometres! Secondly, as experienced in the past, it sometimes takes the randomness of a roadtrip such as this to discover unexpected delights. Bruges town centre, the Russian Orthodox church and Eysines ghostsign, I’m talking about you! Thirdly, it was a good excuse to spend time in some places that are so close to home that you don't ever "visit" them properly. And, finally, something we all know but it's great to experience it first-hand: there's such a variety of landscapes to take in. From industrial estates and retail parks to residential districts, sandy paths, shady woodland, solar parks and vineyards… we're talking majorly diverse environments here! So, in case you were wondering, yes, there really is plenty to see within a 10-kilometre radius!

Homeward bound... and our actual itinerary mapped out through the magic of satellite tracking.

It has taken Invisible Bordeaux a long time to check out Lormont’s Parc de l’Ermitage Sainte-Catherine, but that day finally a few weeks ag...

It has taken Invisible Bordeaux a long time to check out Lormont’s Parc de l’Ermitage Sainte-Catherine, but that day finally a few weeks ago. I’d often seen it listed among the recommended sights to take in if in search of greenery within easy reach of Bordeaux, as well as being a spot that boasted one of the best views of the city. Expectations were running high, to say the least.

What’s the story behind the park though? The area, tucked away in amongst the sharp ascent that connects the Garonne waterfront with the higher quarters of Lormont and Cenon, was first home to a troglodyte hermitage. It then formed the grounds of the 17th-century Château de l'Hermitage and Château Raoult. Both were demolished in the 20th century, by which time the area had become a quarry, first operated by the building materials company Poliet-et-Chausson, and later by Ciments Français. Those activities ceased in 1983, ahead of the local council acquiring the property for a token franc in 1997. The creation of the landscaped park began, and the site opened to the general public in 2005.

Spot Pont d'Aquitaine in the background!

I more or less knew where the park was located, and had in the past visited the neighbouring Parc des Iris, but read somewhere that the simplest way of accessing Parc de l’Ermitage was from a lane leading up from the Garonne waterfront. Reaching that area on my bike, surprisingly, the signposts to the park I'd been following from central Lormont had dried up and there was no indication of which way to go. So, as there was apparently no river-level access after all, I had no alternative other than to find my way up to the high-lying plateau. To reach this involved heading into the residential backstreets of Lormont and up a very steep road – rue Sourbes – that wouldn’t seem out of place in a Pyrenean valley. By looping back in the general direction of where I thought the park began, I eventually found an actual entrance, at the end of what GoogleMaps suggests may have been rue Saint-Cricq. OK, I was in, but it wasn’t exactly a great start in terms of sheer accessibility and elementary signposting.

But starting at the top at least meant that I didn’t have to wait too long to take in the much-hyped view over Bordeaux, and it must be said that the hype is very much justified. The viewing platform looks out in a south-easterly direction and you can take in more or less all of the city’s  main landmarks, with Chaban-Delmas bridge and the Cité du Vin in the foreground, and further back the spire of Saint-Michel basilica, Saint-André cathedral, the office blocks of the Mériadeck quarter, the Cité Administrative, and the high-rise buildings of the Grand Parc district. Yep, it really is quite a vantage point.

Looking towards Bordeaux from the viewing platform.

A closer look at Tour Pey Berland and Saint-André Cathedral, poking out from above the rooftops of Bordeaux.
Turning back towards the heart of the park, winding paths headed off in various directions, but what they all seemed to have in common is that they headed downhill. So I too headed off downhill, making the mistake of keeping my bicycle with me instead of hooking it up somewhere up towards the entrance. The path I took was at times steep, and occasionally broken up by steps, all of which was distinctly non bike-friendly. Battling to stay on my feet and keep control of my bike by my side, I had neither the time nor inclination to stop off and take in the information panels singing the praises of the wealth of interesting flora to take in, although I didn’t fail to enjoy the clear views of the nearby Pont d’Aquitaine. I eventually made it to a metal staircase that took me down to the large expanse of water that is arguably the highlight of the park. Is it big enough to be referred to as a lake? For the purposes of this article, let’s say it is. Welcome, therefore to the lake.

Just one of the many information panels that I didn't stop to read.
Steps leading down to the lake.
Lakeside.

As it was a dull, grey day, the lake wasn’t as blue as it appears to be in some photos available online here and there. I think I even saw an article somewhere referring to it as a blue lagoon which might be overselling it just a touch. Whatever, I made my way along the bank of the lake, and had a naughty peek inside the “Nuage”, one of the Métropole’s dozen-or-so “refuges périurbains”, rudimentary huts of various oddball shapes and sizes that are (in Normal Times) available to the general public to spend a night in unusual environments. It’s a bit mad but is a great concept.

"Le Nuage".

My stroll took me to the southern tip of the lake. Looking back at the open space by the water’s edge, I tried to picture what it must be like during the warm summer months, with people swarming here in search of fresh air – although bathing is prohibited in the lake. I crossed a metal footbridge although a gate which was locked prevented me from going any further (although this didn’t stop a young photographer from walking past, clambering over the gate and pacing upwards, no doubt in search of another viewpoint looking over the rooftops of Bordeaux).             

I spotted a lane heading downhill, possibly even down to the Garonne waterfront and the entrance I had originally been aiming for. As I had nothing to lose and was not too keen on heading back up to the top of the park, I set off in that direction and, bingo, it did indeed take me down to what should have been my departure point. I can confirm there is nothing there to suggest it is a convenient way of accessing the park, but in hindsight the path is easy to locate, just behind the arches of the railway bridge that runs parallel to the Garonne. It turns out I had been right all along to keep my bike with me.  

The Garonne-side way into the park is via the lane that leads up from behind these railway arches!

Thinking back, Parc de l’Ermitage Sainte-Catherine is quite a surprising place. It was far more compact than I expected, and also much hillier than your typical Bordeaux Métropole scenery… but never forget that the right bank of the Garonne offers a succession of challenging ascents. On the winter’s day I was there, the park was almost empty and strangely soulless, but it is possibly the kind of place that needs people there for it to come to life. But hey, there’s a lake, plenty of greenery… and THAT view over Bordeaux. It’s almost enough to forgive the authorities for the poor signposting!


> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Parc de l'Ermitage Sainte-Catherine, Lormont

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