When arriving in the suburban town of Eysines from Le Taillan-Médoc, we are greeted by a strange sight in the middle of a roundabout: ...

The potatoes of Eysines



When arriving in the suburban town of Eysines from Le Taillan-Médoc, we are greeted by a strange sight in the middle of a roundabout: a giant smiling potato that appears to have jumped straight out of a picture drawn by a child. 

And that is more or less exactly what happened: the giant potato and the design of the roundabout are the work of local schoolchildren (members of the junior town council)… and celebrates the special relationship the town of Eysines has with its potatoes.

It is all thanks to the “Vallée des Jalles” which runs through the town. “Jalles”, which make regular appearances on Invisible Bordeaux, are a large network of streams and rivers that flow eastwards towards the Garonne and the Gironde Estuary.

For many years here in Eysines, watermills made good use of the water power generated by the Jalle d'Eysines to produce flour which was then sold on to customers in Bordeaux. Today’s most visible remnant is the magnificent Moulin Blanc, which now operates as "Bistrot de la Jalle" a scenic reception venue and restaurant.


In the surrounding wetlands, the rich soil was used to produce vegetables, so much so that the area became known as “le potager de Bordeaux” (the vegetable garden of Bordeaux).  The output centred around a local variety of potato – la pomme de terre d’Eysines – and production peaked towards the end of the 19th century, partly because further plots previously used for cultivating vines were also converted into potato patches after a number of outbreaks of the vine-killing pest phylloxera. Other local delicacies included (and still include) the “giraumon brodé galeux d’Eysines”, a pumpkin-like vegetable with particularly thick and rough skin (best enjoyed as soup). It is thought that around 600 people contributed to vegetable production at the time. Today around 15 separate agricultural units continue to operate.


But how about the Eysines potato itself? Well, for the sake of research, I personally purchased a few samples from a roadside vegetable stall, and followed the recommended two-step recipe to get the most out of them: first cook the potatoes (either boiling water or steam will do) and then gently fry them in butter and oil. When peeling off the surpisingly thin skin, I was struck by how firm the potatoes were, and by how pale they were.

The boiling water stage didn't last long; after barely five minutes I sensed the firmness had gone and they were ready to be transferred to the frying pan, and seasoned with a pinch or two of salt and pepper. A few more minutes down the line and they were ready for consumption and, in all honesty, they were absolutely delicious and truly lived up to their reputation for tasting particularly sweet (all to do with the damp soil and jalles water) and refined – no wonder they were the de rigueur potato on board the luxury cruise liner Le France back in the day…

The Eysines potatoes being put to the test in the Invisible Bordeaux kitchen:
covered with soil before being peeled, then the two-step boil and fry sequence.
Consume and enjoy!
But don’t just take my word for it: an association known as “Confrérie de la Pomme de Terre d’Eysines” was founded a number of years ago, with volunteers acting as ambassadors at culinary events throughout the country to promote the wonder vegetable of Eysines. The organisation is also one of the driving forces behind the annual celebratory “Fête de la Patate” held every year in Eysines. Over three days, concerts, public dances and general potato-themed festivities bring hundreds of people together. 


The municipality itself has also sought to promote and develop its vegetable-growing credentials in recent years by organising exhibitions and workshops for children and their parents, and by creating a farmer's hut and “jardin pédagogique” where locals can familiarise themselves with the joys of cultivating vegetables.

And, since 2005, the vast vegetable-growing area has provided the backdrop to a popular running race every spring, the “Raid des Maraîchers”. But no need to hold on until the next Raid takes place to visit the area which, along the banks of the Jalle d'Eysines and in amongst the fertile vegetable patches, provides a charming and idyllic setting for a gentle stroll, jog or bicycle ride, and all a mere ten kilometres from the geographical centre of Bordeaux!

Some of the scenery to take in, including (bottom left) an example of the rudimentary lock systems used to regulate the flow of streams throughout the area.
> Find them on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Moulin Blanc and the vegetable-growing area, Potato roundabout, Eysines.
> Ce dossier est également disponible en français ! 

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The time has come for another tour of some of the faded hand-painted signs - or, if you will, ghost signs - to be found in and around Bor...

Ghost signs in and around Bordeaux, chapter 4

The time has come for another tour of some of the faded hand-painted signs - or, if you will, ghost signs - to be found in and around Bordeaux, and which are to be admired and savoured before they fade away for good... and all of which can be located in the slowly-expanding dedicated GoogleMap!

This first unusual find can be spotted on the walls of a house on Cours du Médoc, one of the main arteries into the city centre from the north. In case you're wondering, the house is number 180... although this is easy to work out as three generations of 180s are still very much visible above a sign that still promises "chambres garnies à louer" (furnished rooms for rent - thanks to Twitter correspondents for helping me decipher the phrase!). This suggests the building was previously a guest-house possibly providing mid- to long-term accommodation.

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Think of a typical Parisian scene and there’s every chance it will feature the unmistakeable silhouette of a Wallace drinking fountain… ...

The Wallace fountains of Bordeaux


Think of a typical Parisian scene and there’s every chance it will feature the unmistakeable silhouette of a Wallace drinking fountain… but a handful can also be spotted in Bordeaux!

These elegant cast-iron public drinking fountains, designed in 1872 by the French sculptor Charles-Auguste Lebourg, were originally commissioned by an Englishman in Paris, the wealthy art collector and philanthropist Richard Wallace (1818-1890 and buried at Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris). Wallace’s fortune had been inherited from his father and, as his adopted hometown suffered during the 1870 Franco-Prussian War, Wallace put his riches to altruistic use, first funding two field hospitals and then donating to the city 50 of these drinking fountains, aimed at offering sources of free drinking water to the homeless and needy.

Two differing models (large and applied models) were originally conceived, Wallace establishing criteria that had to be met in terms of height (tall enough to be seen from afar but not so tall as to destroy the harmony of the surrounding landscape), form (practical and pleasing to the eye), affordable price and materials (resistant, easy to shape and simple to maintain). Two further variants followed (small and colonnade models) but, ultimately, the most iconic design was to be the large model.


The classic Wallace fountain is 2.71 metres tall and incorporates an octagonal pedestal on which four caryatids (representing kindness, simplicity, charity and sobriety) are affixed with their backs turned and their arms supporting a pointed dome decorated by dolphins. The water, now activated by a foot pedal, is distributed in a trickle that falls from the centre of the dome down into a basin. Originally produced by the Val d’Osne foundry in north-eastern France, Wallace fountains continue to be manufactured in the same region by GHM in Sommevoire.


In 1873, soon after the first fountains were installed in Paris, the wealthy banker Daniel Iffla (1825-1907, better-known as Daniel Osiris) decided to follow Wallace’s lead in Bordeaux. Osiris funded the purchase of six Wallace fountains, stipulating they be located at points throughout the city that had been recommended to him by a city waterworks engineer. One of these locations was on Place des Augustins (now Place du Général-Sarrail), symbolically near to Osiris’s birthplace.

The fountain remained there until 2003, when it was relocated to Place Stalingrad on the right bank of the Garonne. At the time the fountain didn't fit in with the plans of urban architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte, who had been commissioned to modernise Rue Sainte-Catherine - which runs along one side of the small triangular square. But a campaign was led by photographer and writer Richard Zéboulon to have the fountain returned to Place du Général-Sarrail, out of respect for the memory of Osiris's generous contributions to the city. Zéboulon managed to convince the Mairie to backtrack and the fountain is now back in its original position:


Two other 1873-vintage fountains can also still be seen in the Jardin Public and in the gardens of Palais Rohan, the city hall:


Some mystery surrounds the other three original fountains, which were reportedly positioned on what is now Place des Martyrs-de-la-Résistance, Place Gambetta and near Saint-Michel church. It is thought they disappeared during the Second World War, before later re-emerging: one can now be seen at the cultural centre in nearby Créon; the second ended up on the island of Grenada in the West Indies, where it was destroyed by a hurricane; the third recently turned up for sale at an auction. Furthermore, on old photos a further fountain can be spotted on the waterfront near the Lainé warehouse, now the city's modern art museum (see pictures here and here). It has yet to be established whether this is an additional fountain or one that was later positioned elsewhere!

More recent fountains, produced by GHM around the turn of the millennium, have been installed throughout the city. This includes Place Stalingrad, where the Général-Sarrail fountain had been a temporary resident. Loyal readers will recognise the former Théâtre Alcazar in the background!


Similarly, this next fountain is the focal point of another former blog subject: Place Georges-de-Porto-Riche, in the side-streets between Rue Sainte-Catherine and Place de la Bourse.


A little further north, this fountain, painted a paler shade of green than its counterparts, can be seen on the scenic Place Mitchell, named after the Irishman who founded the city's first glassworks, creating the bottles that enabled Bordeaux to launch its international wine export trade.


Finally, heading back towards the riverside, this fountain is to be spotted on Cours Xavier-Arnozan:

And that is the end of the Wallace fountain tour of Bordeaux. Or perhaps not, because there is evidence of an eighth fountain on Place Jacques-Lemoîne, in a part of the city that has undergone a radical overhaul and has been transformed into a shopping mall: Promenade Sainte Catherine. Whatever has happened to the Wallace fountain that was there? If you know, get in touch!


You can also enjoy a video version of this feature:

> Find them on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Place du Général Sarrail, Jardin Public, Jardin de l'Hôtel de Ville, Place Stalingrad, Place Porto-Riche, Place Mitchell, Cours Xavier-Arnozan.
> If you're tempted to purchase your own Wallace Fountain, check out the GHM website. Or else content yourself with seeing how they're made in this video report or viewing this fine introduction to the fountains.
> And if you think Wallace fountains deserve whole websites to themselves, you will enjoy membres.multimania.fr/savoy and www.fontaine-wallace.info (the latter is solely focused on Wallace fountains in Paris).  
> Lire cet article en français !

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Tour Pey-Berland, the bell tower of Saint-André cathedral, is justifiably one of the most popular tourist attractions in Bordeaux. Climbi...

The cathedral bells of Pey-Berland tower

Tour Pey-Berland, the bell tower of Saint-André cathedral, is justifiably one of the most popular tourist attractions in Bordeaux. Climbing up the 231 steps to the top, two wooden doors are usually locked, keeping the bell chamber out of reach of the general public. 

However, taking up an offer made by Antoine (also known as the blogger MystickTroy), a member of staff at the tower, Invisible Bordeaux was given an access-all-areas tour and was able to view the four cathedral bells in all their glory!

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