The fourteenth episode of the French-language Invisible Bordeaux podcast is now available! This time we are venturing into the Mé...

The fourteenth episode of the French-language Invisible Bordeaux podcast is now available! This time we are venturing into the Mériadeck district of Bordeaux with the expert guidance and insights of architect Mathias Cisnal, whose extensive benchmark research and findings are available for all to see on his website and on the associated Facebook page.  

Together we cover the many chapters in the troubled history of the Mériadeck quarter, its radical transformation from the 1960s onwards, the lack of affection of Bordelais citizens for the new-look neighbourhood, various urban legends that have developed over the years, Mériadeck in the movies and on Youtube, and the best spots to take in the best views of the district!

Here then is the podcast, which you'll also find on miscellaneous platforms including Anchor, Apple Podcasts/iTunes, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Breaker, PocketCasts, RadioPublic, Overcast, Podbean, Podcast Addict and Stitcher. Feel free to hit the subscribe button on the app of your choice! And scroll on down for all the links that will provide further information about Bordeaux's great unloved district!

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> The website built by Mathias is available here:
> The associated Facebook page can be found here
> Elsewhere on the Invisible Bordeaux blog, you can read a full feature about the Mériadeck quarter here and an aerial timelapse of the area over the years can be seen here.

A fourth bronze orientation map (or “ plan-relief ” in French) was recently unveiled in Bordeaux, just in front of the Cité du Vin wine...

A fourth bronze orientation map (or “plan-relief” in French) was recently unveiled in Bordeaux, just in front of the Cité du Vin wine museum. Hurrah! Just like the first three, which are located on Place Pey-Berland, Place de la Comédie and Place du Palais, this latest public artwork was created by sculptor François Didier, and produced in conjunction with the Cyclopes foundry in Mérignac. It was entirely funded by UNADEV, Union Nationale des Aveugles et Déficients Visuels, the national association for the visually-impaired - which happens to be headquartered in Bordeaux.

Over the years, François Didier has become a bit of a regular on the blog. I first met him in 2014 at his workshop in Lugos, towards the northern tip of the Landes, to talk at length about the story behind the first three plans-reliefs, and also about the similar project conducted in the hamlet of Bages, near Pauillac. Since then, further maps have become fixtures on the landscape in Forcalquier (south-eastern France), most recently in Pau, and another is soon set to be installed in Chantilly. We met once again the following year in Gradignan to view his ambitious “Neanysa” exhibition which showcased an imaginary ancient city.

The orientation map in all its glory.
An inscription serves as a reminder that the piece was gifted to the city by UNADEV.
Which brings us on to 2020 and François’s kind invitation to attend the official unveiling of this new plan-relief - alongside various local dignitaries and UNADEV representatives - and to enjoy the privilege of being among the first to be able to view the new orientation map, which represents the ever-evolving Bassins à Flots docklands quarter, from the Base Sous-marine WW2 submarine pens to the Chaban-Delmas lift bridge. 

As much as the orientation tables are popular with audiences of all ages, it is important to remember their original raison d’être. François notes that “the work was commissioned by UNADEV so that visually-impaired visitors could get an idea of the surrounding area by touching the models. Visually-impaired correspondents contributed upstream and their input always enables me to revise my perception of what I’m seeking to represent. The end-product is, in effect, a gift from the visually-impaired to those who can see, rather than the other way round!”

From many angles the plan-relief is eminently Instagrammable.
That end-product is an attractive and pleasing interpretation of the neighbourhood: “My aim is to provide an objective depiction of the area, as seen from above, while also giving a feel of what it’s like at ground level.” As well as the converted warehouses and industrial facilities, the plan-relief seeks to highlight the many cultural establishments that have developed here in recent years: Cap Sciences science museum, the Cité du Vin wine museum, the Musée Mer Marine maritime museum, and of course the aforementioned Base Sous-Marine, which is now a renowned exhibition centre.

A close-up view of the miniature Base Sous-marine.
It wasn’t all plain sailing: “For the Chaban-Delmas lift bridge, I had to cheat a little, which is the reason why it has been portrayed simultaneously in its open and closed configurations. Had I opted for the raised bridge, the model would not have been solid enough. Had the platform been lowered, the four pillars would have seemed somewhat aggressive to visitors. As for the Cité du Vin, the challenge was to be able to depict a transparent steel and glass structure using the very opaque medium of bronze!”

The double-decker Pont Chaban-Delmas.
All the signs would suggest this latest piece will prove to be just as popular as all the others: “This is artwork which stays outside, is subject to all the elements, and yet is treated with great respect by the general public. That may be because it’s a way of celebrating the neighbourhoods and those who live there by paying close attention to their surroundings, and this is something that people can sense, hence that level of respect that they award in return.”

See for yourself by viewing this latest addition to the city, just by the bridge outside the Cité du Vin on Quai de Bacalan!

This feature is also available as a French-language podcast! Listen to François Didier talking about Bordeaux’s fourth plan-relief here or on the podcast app of your choice (Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, etc.).

Click here if podcast player does not display properly.
And here is an action shot of me trying to keep up with François Didier! Yes, it was a windy day. Picture reproduced courtesy of UNADEV.
> Further reading: get the full story behind the city’s bronze orientation maps in the previous Invisible Bordeaux item available here. And you can revisit the Neanysa exhibition here
> Ce dossier est également disponible en français !

[Ce dossier est également disponible en français] A few weeks ago, the good people of Université Bordeaux Montaigne celebrated t...

A few weeks ago, the good people of Université Bordeaux Montaigne celebrated their 50th anniversary by publishing photos submitted by people who had studied or worked at the establishment over the years. A couple of posts comprising pictures sent in by one Steve Owen really caught my eye and prompted me to check out his Flickr gallery, where he had published further views of sights and scenes throughout the city, as photographed by Steve himself and by one Patti Larson.

I thought it might be interesting to head back to those same locations nearly fifty years down the line to combine the then and now in single shots… so that is precisely what I did over a couple of weekends, after first checking with Steve that he was happy to see his photos being given this new lease of online life, hence the pictures you can see here!

Place de la Bourse. Steve's original photo sought to demonstrate the difference between the cleaned-up and dirty façades. The modern-day view is conspicuously free of parked cars!
Porte Saint-Éloi/Grosse Cloche. The curve-heavy building on the left is no more.
The view from the top of rue Sainte-Catherine in its pre-pedestrianised era. The photo at the top of the article also shows rue Sainte-Catherine, as seen from place Saint-Projet.
In our correspondence, Steve confirmed that he had been a student at what was then Bordeaux III University during the 1971-72 academic year, as part of the University of California’s Education Abroad programme. “At that time Bordeaux was the only location in France for UC undergrads, and there were 100 of us. We spent six weeks in Pau getting language training, then the academic year in Bordeaux. We took the regular French courses, although UC had to set up separate testing and grading because the two systems were pretty different. I was a History major, and most of the courses I took during his time in Bordeaux were History courses, although I also attended one Art History course that met in the old medical school facility on Place de la Victoire.”

Who then was the Patti Larson credited with many of the pictures, and who also appears on some of the shots? “She was another student from California, and also my girlfriend from about the time we left Pau in late September. We were married in 1974… and went on to have two sons and two granddaughters.”

Patti and Steve posing in the doorway of the house on rue Mouneyra where Patti lived during their year in Bordeaux.
Restaurant universitaire / Bordeaux étudiants club on rue de Cursol.
Steve’s experience in France triggered an interest in French history, and he ended up going to grad school to study it. He and Patti came back to France in 1978-79 and spent ten months living in Paris while Steve worked in the archives. “My academic career never materialized, however, and we both ended up working in administration at U.C. Berkeley, retiring about nine years ago.” Patti and Steve returned to Bordeaux in about 2005 and “we were impressed with how much the city had improved… and how much worse the university campus looked!

Place de la Victoire, including a lovely Renault 12, and signposts to Agen, Mont-de-Marsan, Pau and Toulouse.
Highway code awareness sessions in Parc Bordelais.
Carnival parade season in Talence.
What are Steve’s enduring memories of his year in Bordeaux? “I have very fond memories. Many of them revolve around Patti of course, but my time there (and several weeks in Paris at various times) also led to a fascination with France in general. At the time I was struck by the differences in outlook and living styles between California and France, so the time had kind of an exotic feel about it. France and California are much more similar today, but I am still fascinated by how the French do things. As for Bordeaux itself, I enjoyed myself, but was not unduly impressed with the city at the time. Later, I developed a greater appreciation for the place, due perhaps to the power of nostalgia or to how much better it looked when we went back. We are hoping to make it back again in the next few years!”

Patti and Steve, Bordeaux will welcome you back with open arms!

Here is a video version of the report:

> Click here to view Steve Owen's other 1970s Bordeaux pictures in his Flickr gallery. If you scroll down that page, you may even spot a photo of Steve and Patti today!
> View the original Université Bordeaux Montaigne Instagram posts by clicking here and here.
> Big thanks to Steve and Patti for allowing the photos to be used in this article, and a shout out to Université de Bordeaux Montaigne whose initial posts led to this piece.
> Ce dossier est également disponible en français !

The twelfth episode of the French-language Invisible Bordeaux podcast is now available! This time we're off to meet Jules ...

The twelfth episode of the French-language Invisible Bordeaux podcast is now available! This time we're off to meet Jules Gaubert-Turpin, the enviously young and equally enviously charismatic co-author - with Adrien Grant Smith Bianchi - of two fine books: the Journey Through Wine wine atlas of the world (which is available in English), and Le Tour du Monde en 80 Verres.  

Together we talk maps, posters, the story behind the two books, wine, beer... and we get an exclusive heads-up about Jules's next madcap project, which will also involve his other writing partner, Charlie Garros. All will be revealed if you listen to the podcast!

Here then is the podcast, which you'll also find on miscellaneous platforms including Anchor, Apple Podcasts/iTunes, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Breaker, PocketCasts, RadioPublic, Overcast, Podbean, Podcast Addict and Stitcher. Feel free to hit the subscribe button on the app of your choice! And scroll on down for all the links that will lead you on into the weird and wonderful world of Jules, Adrien and Charlie!

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> The official website, shop and blog can be found here:
> You can Jules and the team's projects on social media here: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter
> This was not our first encounter! Read the 2015 Invisible Bordeaux interview with Jules to see how far he's come in the meantime... You'll find it by clicking here.

One of the first items to run on the Invisible Bordeaux blog after its launch eight years ago was focused on the bust portraying the...

One of the first items to run on the Invisible Bordeaux blog after its launch eight years ago was focused on the bust portraying the Haitian leader Toussaint Louverture, to be seen on the right-bank waterfront in Bordeaux. At the time, the sculpture was one of the only visible acknowledgements in the public domain of the city’s slave trade past. But times have changed and today there are further signs that Bordeaux is becoming more open about its inconvenient legacy. 

For, yes, between 1672 and 1837, ships departed from Bordeaux on the first legs of around 500 triangular slave trade voyages that resulted in 150,000 – possibly more – Africans being deported to the Americas. Bordeaux was not alone. In France - which ranked alongside Spain behind Great Britain and Portugal in terms of the scale of its slave trade - the city of Nantes organized 1,744 expeditions, and the ports of La Rochelle and Le Havre were on a par with Bordeaux.

Before the triangular voyages began (they peaked in the 1780s), the boats departing from Bordeaux conducted straightforward two-way commerce with the Caribbean. Boats would carry wine, oil and flour, all of which would be exchanged for local produce. With the onset of triangular trade, vessels would leave from Bordeaux loaded with foodstuffs, cloth, arms and trinkets which, upon arrival on the eastern coast of Africa six to eight weeks later (the “outward passage”) would be exchanged for slaves. The dangerous middle passage would then follow, with the slaves being ferried in inhumane conditions to the colonies, mainly Saint-Domingue (now known at Haiti) as far as the Bordeaux ships were concerned. The death rate on board the boats was between 10 and 20 per cent.

Ground-level panel recently installed on square Toussaint-Louverture.
Upon arrival, the (surviving) slaves would be sold or auctioned off and set to work on the plantations where the average life expectancy was a lowly five to six years. Meanwhile, the boats would embark on their return passage to Bordeaux carrying sugar, cocoa, tobacco, cotton and other produce, making a substantial contribution to the city’s wealth.

Until the mid-1990s, this chapter in the city’s history was more often than not glossed over, but around the turn of the millennium Bordeaux took its first tentative steps to bring the subject out into the open. In 2006, then-mayor Hugues Martin inaugurated a ground-level plaque on the waterfront opposite the Bourse Maritime building, and in 2009 came a dedicated section within the permanent exhibition at the Musée d’Aquitaine. As for the Toussaint Louverture bust, sculpted by Haitian artist Ludovic Booz (who died in 2015), it was donated to the city by the Republic of Haiti in 2005.

Returning to the spot today, I note that what had previously been a lone, isolated plinth and its bust are now surrounded by a landscaped area that makes the (refurbished) statue more prominent. Interestingly, the design of the “square” is in fact in the shape of a triangle, no doubt in reference to the triangular trade routes. On the ground, information panels explain who Toussaint Louverture was and his connection with the city (as detailed in the previous Invisible Bordeaux item) and provide a brief overview of Bordeaux’s role in France’s slave trade history.

The triangular square.
Meanwhile, on the left-bank quayside, the barely-visible plaque was replaced in 2019 by a poignant statue created by another Haitian sculptor, Filipo (full name: Woodly Caymitte), which depicts the slave Modeste Testas. The accompanying information panel explains who she was: born Al Pouessi in East Africa in 1765 and captured when she was young, she was bought around 1780 by two Bordeaux brothers, Pierre and François Testas, who owned a business in the city and a plantation in Saint-Domingue.

Pouessi was deported and worked on the plantation, going on to become the slave and concubine of owner François Testas, who gave her the name Marthe Adélaïde Modeste Testas. After François died, she was set free (as symbolized by the broken chains at the feet of the statue) and he bequeathed her 51 acres of land. She married a fellow former slave and died in 1870 aged 105. In the following years, her grandson François Denys Légitime became president of Haiti.

Then, the latest addition to the Bordeaux landscape came in December 2019 to mark the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, in the shape of "Strange Fruit", a tree-like sculpture by the Réunionnaise artist Sandrine Plante-Rougeol. The tree’s three branches also echo back to the “triangular” notion, and each carries a wine barrel hoop containing a man’s head. Their faces have been blindfolded to suggest a lack of identity, and they reportedly symbolize fear, pain and abandonment.

That same December day, the city announced that explanatory panels were being affixed on streets which had been given the names that harked back to shipowners, traders and sailors involved in the slave trade, a compromise response to years of lobbying by various associations (particularly Mémoires et Partages) asking for those street names to be changed. Each panel provides a concise and factual overview of the connection, as researched by teams at the city’s archives department. The initial rollout concerns six streets or squares (see footnote) but, when preparing this item, I headed out to see the various locations and can state that, at the time of writing (February 2020), those panels have yet to be installed.

Street signs awaiting their information panels.
Whatever, the city’s slave trade past is no longer the taboo subject it once was, and it will be interesting to see what further developments occur throughout the 2020s. Will similar moves be observed in the city’s relationship with its Second World War history, Bordeaux’s other great untold story? Only time will tell… 

> Find them on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Statue of Toussaint Louverture, Quai des Queyries; Statue of Modeste Testas, Quai Louis XVIII; Strange Fruit sculpture, jardin de l'Hôtel de Ville, Bordeaux.
> The first six panels will be affixed alongside the street signs on rue Desse, rue David-Gradis, rue Grammont, passage Feger, cours Journu-Auber and place Mareilhac. 

Invisible Bordeaux recently came across this nice set of aerial views of Bordeaux from the 1950s-60s, offering an unusual way of seeing ...

Invisible Bordeaux recently came across this nice set of aerial views of Bordeaux from the 1950s-60s, offering an unusual way of seeing Allées de Tourny, the Triangle d’Or, Place Gambetta, Jardin Public and Cité de la Benauge! Scroll on down for a closer look at each picture! 

First up is Allées de Tourny, which still boasted its two fountains and its Gambetta statue. Bottom right: the old Grands-Hommes market. There are parked cars on Place de la Comédie and a small event is taking place on Place des Quinconces (or is perhaps being set up or dismantled). The Garonne waterfront is a succession of cranes and warehouses. Over on the right bank, Gare d’Orléans railway station is still clearly connected to the rail network and the brand new Benauge fire station is in position. Saint-Jean bridge is still a few years from being built so the only crossings that can be seen are Pont de Pierre and the Eiffel railway bridge. 

Photo: éditions aériennes Combier (Macon).
Here is the so-called Triangle d’Or quarter, with Cours Clémenceau and Cours de l’Intendance forming one of the three angles. You can make out the words “Petit Paris” on the white building towards the bottom, and “Français” on the cinema-house which is still known as such. The old Grands-Hommes covered market building can be seen once again towards the middle of the picture. Over in the distance, check out the row of cranes on the Garonne waterfront and, on the right bank, the Grands Moulins de Paris factory which is still a fixture on the landscape 70 years later! 

Photo: éditions Lapie (Saint-Maur).
This is Place Gambetta, as viewed from the south, demonstrating the near-perfect alignment between Rue du Dr Charles Nancel Penard (known as rue Dauphine until 1946) and Cours Georges-Clémenceau.

Photo: éditions Lapie (Saint-Maur).
Here’s another view of Place Gambetta (with its handful of cars and a single bus), looking towards Cours Georges-Clémenceau and Jardin Public.

Photo: éditions Lapie (Saint-Maur).
This is the Jardin Public, as viewed from the north-western side. In the foreground you can make out the buildings and inner yard of Lycée Montesquieu (previously known as Lycée Longchamps). 

Photo: édition Renaud & Buzaud (Bordeaux), cliché P. R. Larrey/Delboy.
Finally, key 1950s large-scale building project the Cité de la Benauge. Left and middle: the tall towers and more compact residences of Cité Pinçon. The circle in the middle is still known as “le Rond des Mamans”. Bottom you can see the Jean Dauguet sports hall. Top left: Benauge primary school. And further in the distance on the right, Stade Galin sports stadium, the neighbouring swimming pool had yet to be built.

Photo: Chatagneau (Bordeaux), cliché Herlec – Libourne, opérateur M. Le Collen/Elcé.
 > Ce dossier est également disponible en français !

The eleventh episode of the French-language Invisible Bordeaux podcast is now available! So please form an orderly queue ahead o...

The eleventh episode of the French-language Invisible Bordeaux podcast is now available! So please form an orderly queue ahead of immediate boarding for a trip back through the 200-year history of public transport in Bordeaux, with friend-of-the-blog Antoine Puentès in the driving seat!

By day, Antoine's background as a history graduate is put to good use working for France's Centre des Monuments Nationaux, and in his spare time he has gained something of a reputation as the go-to authority on all things public transport-related, as regularly demonstrated in high-profile conferences he has given and articles he has produced. 

As we will see, the subject at hand is a vast one, ranging from the horse-drawn omnibuses and first-generation trams of yesteryear, to tomorrow's high-speed bus services and regional rail network, via the city's buses, trolleybuses, the aborted VAL metro project and the rebirth of the tram network. Your ticket gives you unlimited access to all these forms of transport over the next twenty minutes in Antoine's company!

Here then is the podcast, which you'll also find on miscellaneous platforms including Anchor, Apple Podcasts/iTunes, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Breaker, PocketCasts, RadioPublic, Overcast, Podbean, Podcast Addict and Stitcher. Feel free to hit the subscribe button on the platform of your choice!

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> If you're social media-minded, you can follow Antoine Puentès by hunting down "Mysticktroy" on Twitter and Instagram.

Antoine, viewed through a tram-shaped looking glass.

We are in Lacanau-Océan, on the Atlantic coast some sixty kilometres to the west of Bordeaux, and we are outside an angular building th...

We are in Lacanau-Océan, on the Atlantic coast some sixty kilometres to the west of Bordeaux, and we are outside an angular building that could easily be mistaken for offices or a warehouse, or possibly a supermarket. It is in fact a church, Notre-Dame des Flots, and its unusual minimalist design and red-brick architecture have been listed as 20th-century heritage (Patrimoine du XXe siècle). What’s the story?

In 1907, shortly after the resort of Lacanau-Océan was first founded, one of the initial property developers erected a small wooden chapel on Rue de la Paix, not far from the seafront, to enable holiday-makers to attend services which, from 1920 onwards, were held on a daily basis during the summer season. Although it was extended over time, the chapel ultimately proved to be too small. What is more, it faced twin threats: being swallowed up by sand dunes and being slowly eaten away by termites! 

The original chapel in amongst the dunes. On the right, the extra window shows how it was extended. Source:
The chapel was abandoned and dismantled, and the decision was made to build a more durable edifice. A larger plot of land was acquired by the Bordeaux diocese in 1960, the purchase coinciding with the creation of a local parish structure, “Association Paroissiale de Lacanau-Océan”. During this interim period, open-air services were held, although a new makeshift weather-resistant wooden chapel was soon built at the new location.

In 1964, an agreement was ratified by representatives of the Archbishop of Bordeaux, the vicar of Lacanau and the chairman of the Parish Association committing to the construction of a new church, to be built to the designs of Patrick Maxwell, Jean-Claude Moreau and Francis Duclos (Agora architects). Finances came in the shape of a loan from the Catholic Church’s “Chantiers Diocésains”; the 220,000-French-franc outlay would have to be paid back over 20 annual instalments of 17,000 francs (by doing the maths it is easy to work out that there were substantial interest rates involved!). The Parish was in effect signing up to years of fund-raising initiatives ranging from fêtes and jumble sales to hiring out the church as a venue for secular events. (And still today, the church is an occasional concert venue.)

Foundation stone ceremony in 1964.
Picture source: information leaflet
available inside the church.
Anyway, the foundation stone was laid by Bordeaux’s Cardinal Richaud in August of 1964. Budgetary issues led to hastily revised plans for the building, possibly resulting in the back-to-basics end-result which was delivered in 1967. In some ways it was very much a two-in-one design: through the use of panels, a heated corner of the building could originally be closed off to serve as the winter chapel for year-round worshippers, while the full space was used when the church was operating to full capacity during the holiday season, where it could accommodate up to 600 visitors. The building also comprised a small apartment where the priests-in-residence could stay.

But the aforementioned budgetary constraints were to have other knock-on effects ten years down the line, when it became apparent that the iron framework was fighting a losing battle against the salty sea air, that some of the cheap materials used were also ageing badly, that the roof was anything but watertight, and that the electrical installation needed to be replaced. The building therefore underwent a massive overhaul and over the next decade the Parish shifted its focus from paying off its debts to investing more in the upkeep of the church.

Bricks and mortar.
In 1991, the building was greatly embellished by the installation of some stained-glass and ceramic artwork by Raymond Mirande, manufactured by the Ateliers Dupuy-Fournier glassmakers, along with the addition of a slender row of stained-glass windows that run along each side of the church just below ceiling height. Of the main Mirande creations, which are positioned behind the altar, the first represents Noah’s Ark, the second depicts Virgin Mary alongside an adolescent Jesus, and the third comprises a series of images ranging from a dove of peace, to depictions of Pentecost and Jerusalem. 

Stained-glass creations flanking the altar and along the sides of the building.
A closer look at one of the Mirande stained-glass creations, photo courtesy of Harvey Morgan (
From then on it was fairly plain sailing until the turn of the millennium when a health and safety audit established that the church was short on exits and could only reasonably welcome up to 200 people rather than 600! The Parish got to work with an architect to create some additional openings to enable the church to get back to operating at full capacity throughout the early years of the 21st century, the first major highlight of which came in September 2015, just ahead of the 50th anniversary celebrations, when the prestigious “Patrimoine du XXe Siècle” label was awarded. Hurrah! 

Further views of the church, including its eminently accessible front door and, bottom left, the rear of the building, including living quarters on the first floor.
The church is not usually open to the general public other than when services are being held, but by recently engineering an arrival on site around noon on a Sunday I was able to see inside, courtesy of two very kind ladies who were clearing up after that morning’s mass and who invited me and my travelling companions to enter. We were reluctant to outstay our welcome, so the visit was particularly swift, but we did find the time to admire the stained-glass windows and a 330-kilogram bell which is kept inside and was previously the property of a convent in Lyon. 

The inside of the church and the bell from Lyon. Check out the corrugated metal ceiling/roof, which in all likelihood was installed during the 1970s overhaul. Presumably it must be get very noisy when it's raining!
Our hosts also spontaneously led us to the leaflets detailing the history of the church, as they were quick to point out that there was little or no information available on the internet. Well, that is no longer the case as the church does now at least have its own Invisible Bordeaux report, based almost exclusively on that archive information compiled by whoever wrote those leaflets on behalf of the Association Paroissiale de Lacanau-Océan, so a big thank you goes out to them for sharing the story of Notre-Dame des Flots… undoubtedly one of Gironde’s most interesting and unusual places of worship! 

> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Notre-Dame des Flots, 12 avenue de l'Adjudant Guittard, Lacanau-Océan
> Thank you once again to the kind ladies who let us look inside the church, and to whoever wrote the Association Paroissiale de Lacanau-Océan information leaflet which formed the basis of much of the content shared here! 
> Ce dossier est également disponible en français !

OK, granted, this is not exactly typical Invisible Bordeaux material, given that since opening in 2016 the city’s wine museum has rap...

OK, granted, this is not exactly typical Invisible Bordeaux material, given that since opening in 2016 the city’s wine museum has rapidly established itself as one of Bordeaux’s essential sights and stops on the tourist circuit. But, despite a number of whistle-stop tours when holding corporate events there, I had never taken the time out to visit the place properly. I did finally achieve a full-on visit a few days ago and I thought the blog readership might appreciate an independent user review and get an idea of whether the Cité du Vin is, indeed, any good. 

But, first, a disclaimer: this is not going to be a piece about the museum’s unorthodox open-to-interpretation curve-heavy architectural design (the work of Anouk Legendre and Nicolas Desmazières of the international architecture agency XTU). I will also most definitely not be writing about the vital statistics of the 55-metre-tall building, with its 918 coloured glass and 2,300 aluminium panels. Nor will I be talking about the Cité’s 250-capacity auditorium, or amenities such as its quiet reading room or swish seventh-floor restaurant. This, dear reader, will be solely focused on my tour of the permanent exhibition itself (as dreamt up by the London-based museum and exhibition designers Casson Mann), which is what most visitors come to see.

And to start off, those visitors are kitted out with a smartphone-style “companion” and a headset, the design of which conveniently leaves a little bit of personal space between the speakers and one’s ears, to retain at least a certain sense of what's going on in the outside world. The companion/headset combination is the essential accessory to be able to enjoy the full Cité du Vin experience, as audio is fed into the earphones throughout, and the electronic device is in essence a personal guide, also offering additional resources and activities along the way.

The opening "World wine tour" video exhibit.
Then visitors are released into the exhibition proper. While there is no set itinerary, there are six clear sections to explore at will: “Wine regions of the world”, “From the vine to the glass”, “Wine and civilization”, “Wine and you”, “Wine and the imagination”, and, logically enough, a whole exhibit focused on Bordeaux. The natural starting point is the area focused on “Wine regions of the world”, the first highlight of which is a stunning multi-screen film that compiles drone footage showing vineyards and wine-growing properties all round the world. That segues quite nicely into one of that first area’s other highlights, a set of multimedia “Terroir tables”, in which winemakers from a wide range of countries share video testimonials of their personal stories and the specifics of their respective territories. It’s all very interesting and even strangely moving.

Winemaker testimonials beamed in from all over the world to the "Terroir table".
The “From the vine to the glass” section delves into the nitty-gritty of wine production, from the diverse characteristics and qualities of different grape varieties, to the techniques and equipment involved in transforming the grapes, and developing and nurturing the wine, to the different types of end product that can be achieved. The stories are told through a number of touchscreen devices, and even some unusual camera obscura-style dish-shaped screens where visitors swish their hands from side to side to interact with the information on offer.

As might be expected, the “Wine and civilization” area extends beyond the product itself to the surrounding economy and culture, as illustrated by a so-called “Trend wall” that covers aspects such as marketing and packaging, and by the large Disneyland ride-like “All aboard” exhibit where visitors are sat in the dark, surrounded by a massive curved screen and under the illusion that they have travelled several centuries back in time and have boarded merchant ships in the company of sailors as they criss-cross the seven seas. A lot of energy and a high-risk sense of adventure clearly went into the business of exporting wine!

Setting sail for the "All aboard!" attraction.
In the “Wine and you” section, there is a distinct shift towards the codes and etiquette associated with the consumption of wine. Exhibits include the “Banquet of legends” short widescreen film where famous wine-lovers from various periods throughout history magically come together; much wine-related mirth and merriment ensues. There’s Napoleon Bonaparte and Colette, Marie Curie, Churchill, Voltaire and Hitchcock, as well as the third US president Thomas Jefferson, who surprisingly at no time alludes to his previous (also wine-related) appearance on the Invisible Bordeaux blog.

Legendary wine-loving figures surrounding French actor Pierre Arditi, who appears as himself.
Next up are the twin “Art of living” and “Meet the experts” attractions, where authorities appear on big vertical screens to share their thoughts on wine-related rituals and give their top tips on wine selection, tasting, etc. The final facet of that section, the hands-on “Buffet of the five senses” is arguably the most fun of the whole Cité, with a whole host of objects to observe, scratch, squeeze, smell, listen to and feel, to sharpen all senses!

French media personality Ariane Massenet appears life-size on screen to talk wine and the "art of living". 
The all-squeezing, all-sniffing "buffet of the five senses".
Then the “Wine and the imagination” area brings visitors back down to earth with a very earnest and somewhat arty bump, firstly with “Divine wine”, an obscure other-worldly video installation, then with “Bacchus and Venus”, a bizarre private club-esque setup behind curtains where visitors recline on a comfortable, near-horizontal sofa and stare upwards at a circular screen where high art is projected to the sounds of atmospheric music. It makes you want to stroke your chin and wonder what it’s all about and probably seemed like a good idea to somebody somewhere.

Finally, the Bordeaux section, predictably enough, recounts the city’s “epic wine tale” on a large video wall, complete with its highs and lows, and delivers interactive panels so that visitors can familiarize themselves with the local appellations and the development of the wine industry throughout the centuries. Oh, and let's not forget that admission includes a glass of wine up on the eighth floor in the “Belvedere” bar, and that the wine tastes all the better when combined with the spectacular panoramic view over the city from the terrace walkway which stretches around the building.

The Belvedere bar in all its glory.
Just a small part of the splendid panoramic view over the city.
So, what works, and what doesn’t? Let’s start with the downsides. First of all, it must be said that visiting the Cité du Vin can easily become a very solitary experience. The headset concept is great but it does mean the place turns into something resembling one of those silent discos where everybody is dancing to a different tune in their earphones. Furthermore, it may have been a case of poor organization on my part, but when that was coupled with the lack of a set circuit, I for one regularly lost track of where the rest of my party was, and what started out as a communal project sometimes left me feeling more like a child lost in a supermarket. Speaking of kids… I know there is a dedicated kids’ tour that mainly takes in the fun, touchy-feely exhibits, but I do reckon it must be difficult for parents and children alike to satisfactorily synchronise their visit. As for teenagers, let’s not go there, I’m really not sure it’s a place for them but will gladly stand corrected if you know otherwise. The in-your-face technical wizardry is amazing, but you do go home feeling a few more hands-on activities would have been appreciated. And, as you will have gathered, one or two of the installations are a bit high-brow and not exactly brimming over with fun, but it takes all sorts!

Hello clouds, hello trees, it's the slightly strange "Bacchus and Venus" installation.
On the plus side, the sheer breadth of the formats and concepts of what is showcased is hugely impressive, and the tailor-made content that is piped into the exhibits is genuinely top quality and seamlessly consistent in terms of tone and approach. The scope of what is presented stretches way beyond Bordeaux, and this big-picture vantage point makes for a highly informative visit where even the most advanced wine connoisseurs will learn something new and find plenty to enjoy. And the bottom line is that however long you spend visiting the permanent exhibition, you can’t help feeling there’s still plenty more to view. It would no doubt take several visits to really digest everything that is on offer.

The takeaway is that the Cité du Vin truly is a world-class exhibition. It could be argued that the world of wine certainly deserved something as unusual, as creative and as imaginative as the Cité du Vin, and surely Bordeaux can be saluted for having delivered it.

> La Cité du Vin, esplanade de Pontac, 134 quai de Bacalan, Bordeaux
> Official Cité du Vin website:

> Ce dossier est également disponible en français !