Four-and-a-half kilometres of murky Gironde waters separate the towns of Lamarque and Blaye. Bridging this gap between the Médoc and Blay...

Ferry 'cross the Gironde: the Lamarque-Blaye boat connection (and ghost railway station)

Four-and-a-half kilometres of murky Gironde waters separate the towns of Lamarque and Blaye. Bridging this gap between the Médoc and Blayais territories is a regular ferry connection; we give you the “bac Lamarque-Blaye”!

Every year around 50,000 vehicles and 150,000 passengers utilise the service, operated by the Gironde conseil général’s TransGironde network which mainly comprises bus routes and school bus lines.

Although I seem to recollect spotting several identical ferries in the past, the line’s official website refers only to a single one, the Côtes de Blaye. The 530-ton ship, built in 1970 by the Nantes shipbuilder Chantiers Dubigeon (founded in 1760 and which folded in 1987), is 51.5 metres long, 12.3 metres wide, and manned by a six-strong crew. It can carry up to 40 vehicles and 350 passengers, reaching speeds of up to 11 knots (around 20 km/h) over the course of the 20-minute crossing.

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One of the most illustrious of Bordeaux’s daughters is Rosa Bonheur who, throughout her life which spanned much of the 19th century, ...

Rosa Bonheur: the world-famous Bordeaux-born animalière

One of the most illustrious of Bordeaux’s daughters is Rosa Bonheur who, throughout her life which spanned much of the 19th century, became a world-renowned "animalière" and is regarded by many as the most famous female painter of her time.

Rosa Bonheur was born Marie Rosalie Bonheur on March 16th 1822 at 29, Rue Saint-Jean-Saint-Seurin (now  55, Rue Duranteau) in Bordeaux. Her father, Oscar-Raymond Bonheur, was a landscape and portrait painter and frequented Spanish artist Francisco Goya during the four years the latter spent in Bordeaux up until his death.

The artistic genes also ran on the side of her mother, Sophie, who was a piano teacher. Rosa struggled at school and her mother taught her to write, encouraging her to draw animals to illustrate each letter of the alphabet. Basics in art were also passed down by Oscar-Raymond to Rosa and the other, younger Bonheur siblings: Auguste and Juliette went on to become animal painters and Isidore Jules became an animal sculptor.

55, Rue Duranteau, the birthplace of Rosa Bonheur.
In 1829, the family relocated to Paris. Four years later Rosa’s mother died and, soon afterwards, her father and his new partner set up in the Plaine Monceau district of Paris. Rosa instantly turned to painting and sculpture to help her through her teenage years. She began by copying images from drawing books and by sketching from plaster models.

Rosa Bonheur pictured at Château
de By, near Thomery. Source: Wikipedia
Then she began to make studies of domesticated animals from life. These included horses, sheep, cows, goats, rabbits and other animals observed in the pastures on the outskirts of Paris.

In 1840, her father allowed her to exhibit of picture of two rabbits at the “Salon de Paris”. This was followed by a painting entitled “Cheval à vendre” which proved popular with audiences; its success encouraged Rosa Bonheur to officially trade as an “animalière”. In order to continually progress, she visited cattle markets and studied animal anatomy and osteology by visiting the abattoirs of Paris and by performing dissections of animals at the École nationale vétérinaire d'Alfort, the National Veterinary Institute in Paris.

The homework paid off, resulting in her two most famous works: the 1848 "Ploughing in the Nivernais" (Le labourage Nivernais), which can now be seen at Musée d’Orsay in Paris, and the 1852 "The Horse Fair" (Le marché aux chevaux), a monumental piece which is now displayed by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and which led to international fame, most notably in the US where her paintings became a staple of travelling exhibitions. Britain’s Queen Victoria was among her admirers, and the two met when Bonheur was en route for an extensive stay in Scotland in 1856. Bonheur’s status was further cemented in in 1865 she became the first female artist to be decorated with the Legion of Honour by the Empress Eugenie.

"Le labourage nivernais". Source: Wikipedia.
"Le marché aux chevaux". Source: Wikipedia.
By now Rosa Bonheur, along with childhood friend Nathalie Micas, with whom she was to live for forty years, moved from Paris to the Château de By, a mansion house in Thomery, 75 kilometres to the south of the French capital (and which is now a permanent Rosa Bonheur museum).
Rosa Bonheur's portrayal of
Colonel Cody/Buffalo Bill.
Source: Wikipedia.

This is where she would spend the remainder of her life, painting the animals that surrounded her, and some famous human beings too: Colonel Cody, better-known as Buffalo Bill, made the round-trip to the Château de By to meet the celebrated painter while in Paris for the 1889 Universal Exhibition.

Buffalo Bill’s visit came shortly after the death of Nathalie Micas. Bonheur soon welcomed a new tenant to her Château, the young American painter Anna Klumpke, who went on to pen Rosa’s “autobiography” and became heir to her worldly possessions after the animalière’s death in 1899.

As well as her artistic achievements, Rosa Bonheur is regarded as having been staunchly independent and is remembered for the men’s clothes she would wear, her unorthodox (for the time) choice of companions and her penchant for chain-smoking cigars. On her wearing of trousers, Rosa stated that the choice was simply practical as it facilitated her work with animals. The authorities rubberstamped the choice, issuing a permit (a “permission de travestissement”) allowing her to wear trousers so that she could attend cattle fairs.

The Gaston Veuvenot Leroux sculpture of Rosa Bonheur in the Jardin Public, which was totally restored in 2018.

Even though Bordeaux only formed the backdrop to the early years of Rosa Bonheur’s life, a strong connection remains. Since 1910, a sculpture of Bonheur by artist Gaston Veuvenot Leroux has been a permanent fixture in the Jardin Public. A street bears Rosa Bonheur’s name in the neighbourhood where she was born and in 2009 a discreet plaque was added to the house where she was born. The latest homage is to be found in the suburb of Bruges where the secondary school has been given her name.

Rue Rosa-Bonheur.
Collège Rosa-Bonheur, Bruges.
Staying in Bordeaux, one of Rosa Bonheur's most notable works can be seen at the Musée des Beaux-Arts (undergoing renovation work at the time of writing): the rather large (6.5 metres by 3 metres!) “Foulaison du blé en Camargue”.

"Foulaison du blé en Camargue". Source:
But, for now at least, Bordeaux has yet to follow in the footsteps of Elkridge, Maryland, where Rosa Bonheur Memorial Park is in fact a pet cemetery!

> Find them on the Invisible Bordeaux map: 55, Rue Duranteau (birthplace), Jardin Public (statue), Rue Rosa-Bonheur, Bordeaux; Collège Rosa-Bonheur, 57 Rue Jean Claudeville, Bruges. 
> And here is a France 2 report which serves as an introduction to Rosa Bonheur:

Click here if video doesn't display on your device.

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After creating an “Essential Bordeaux” page a few months ago, I have now produced an “Essential Gironde” page, which provides a thumbnail...

Now available: the Invisible Bordeaux guide to the essential sights in Gironde

After creating an “Essential Bordeaux” page a few months ago, I have now produced an “Essential Gironde” page, which provides a thumbnail guide to the top daytrip-friendly sights to take in during a stay in or around Bordeaux.

These include Arcachon, the Dune de Pilat, Saint-Émilion, Blaye citadel, the Médoc wine route and a handful of other “essential” visits. The page may be further edited in time when I think of things I may have initially forgotten about or if I receive too many messages from readers complaining that I’ve left a specific sight off the list!

The Essential Gironde page will remain permanently accessible in the top horizontal menu and all the sights which have been singled out can be easily located thanks to the dedicated Googlemap - which also comprises the essential sights to enjoy in Bordeaux itself.

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Photos by fellow Bonjour Bordeaux contributors Yves Maguin, Amandine Maurand and myself are currently on display at the Tapa’l’Oeil bar ...

Tapa’l’œil photo exhibition until December 14th!

Photos by fellow Bonjour Bordeaux contributors Yves Maguin, Amandine Maurand and myself are currently on display at the Tapa’l’Oeil bar in the Sainte-Croix district of Bordeaux.

The pictures were taken over the course of a single late-summer morning in the Saint-Genès, Nansouty and Saint-Michel districts of Bordeaux, and were initially exhibited as part of the district Mairie’s Arty Garden Party back in September. The photos take in architecture, infrastructure, little-noticed details on buildings and scenes of everyday life (a previous blog item has already compiled the Invisible Bordeaux contributions to the full exhibition).

The photos will be on display until Saturday December 14th 2013. Naturally, admission is entirely free of charge, while the good people of Tapa’l’Oeil will gladly provide quality food and drink at affordable prices!
  • Tapa’l’Oeil, 14 Place Pierre Renaudel, Bordeaux (opposite Sainte-Croix church), open weekday lunchtimes, and Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings. Website:, tel.: 05 56 92 63 21

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This bust, which can be seen on the main esplanade in the Mériadeck quarter, depicts Aristides de Sousa Mendes, Portugal’s Consul-Gene...

Aristides de Sousa Mendes: the insubordinate Portuguese Consul who saved thousands of lives

This bust, which can be seen on the main esplanade in the Mériadeck quarter, depicts Aristides de Sousa Mendes, Portugal’s Consul-General in Bordeaux in 1940 and the man whose signature enabled the escape to freedom of several thousand refugees.

Sousa Mendes was 55 years old when he arrived in Bordeaux in 1939, nearing the end of a respectable career as a diplomat for his country, having held positions in Zanzibar, Brazil and the United States. Respectable but not unblemished: he had been involved in a number of incidents of financial irregularities, using public money for private purposes. It was at the end of a ten-year stint in Belgium, a point at which Sousa Mendes returned to Portugal seeking permission to leave his post, that Portuguese prime minister António de Oliveira Salazar assigned him to this new position in south-western France.
During his tenure, war broke out and German troops made rapid headway across France. Even though Salazar’s personal standpoint was favourable to Hitler’s policies, Portugal remained by and large a neutral player in the conflict. However, Portugal did provide aid to the Allies by granting naval bases to Britain and the United States. Above all, Portugal, particularly Lisbon, was one of the last European exit points to the US.

Aristides de Sousa Mendes, 1940.
Picture © Comité Sousa Mendes,
Famille de Sousa Mendes.
Getting there would not be easy though: under threat of military action from the Nazis, Salazar had issued orders on November 11th 1939 (known as “Circular 14”) that consuls were not to issue Portuguese visas to "foreigners of indefinite or contested nationality, the stateless, or Jews expelled from their countries of origin". This order was followed six months later by one stating that "under no circumstances" were visas to be issued without prior case-by-case approval from Lisbon.

Meanwhile, the French government had relocated to Bordeaux and had been followed by thousands of refugees flooding into the city hoping to reach Portugal, many with the wish of subsequently emigrating to the States. To achieve this they needed to obtain a visa. Polish Rabbi Chaim Hersz Kruger was among the refugees. He had travelled from Antwerp, Belgium, with his family and sought the support of Sousa Mendes. The Consul-General was sympathetic to their cause, took Kruber and the Rabbi’s family under his wing and put them up in his consular residence. Going against orders, he rubberstamped visas for the Rabbi and his family, who refused to accept the documents until every single refugee in Bordeaux received one too, informing Sousa Mendes that “all my brethren are at risk of death”.

The statue on Esplanade Charles-de-Gaulle in the Mériadeck quarter.
Sousa Mendes took this message on board and, on June 16th 1940, he decided to deliver visas to anyone who would request one, regardless of nationality, race or religion. Over the next four days, aided by some of his nephews and children (Sousa Mendes had fathered 14 children and while in Bordeaux also got involved in an extra-marital adventure which resulted in one more child with his French mistress), Sousa Mendes got to work signing forms and, when the forms ran out, blank sheets of paper.

In response to warnings from Lisbon he declared “I would rather stand with God against Man than with Man against God”. A cat-and-mouse game with Portuguese authorities then began: Sousa Mendes relocated further south to the sub-consulate in Bayonne where the visa-stamping continued from the 20th to the 23rd of June, when Salazar officially relinquished him of his functions. Sousa Mendes set out for Portugal but, en route, continued signing documents and personally led a group of refugees to an isolated Spanish frontier post where news of his dismissal had yet to filter through.

The gamble had paid off though. Sousa Mendes’s actions had enabled thousands of people to escape from France. The figure which has stuck and which is often quoted, including on the plinth of the Bordeaux statue and on the plaque outside the former consulate, is 30,000. This number was first referred to by author Harry Ezratty in a 1964 article and was mistakenly based on the total number of refugees who had passed through Portugal. Official records instead show that Sousa Mendes granted 2,862 visas between January 1st and June 22nd 1940 (bearing in mind that often a single visa covered more than one person), with the vast majority being issued during the final days. Beneficiaries comprised Jews but also political dissidents, army officers from occupied countries, and priests and nuns. Notable refugees included Otto von Habsburg, the last Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary, Charlotte the Grand Duchess of Luxembourg and surreal artist Salvador Dalí who had spent six months in Arcachon.

Plaque on the wall of the former Portuguese consulate.
Back in Portugal Sousa Mendes was indefinitely suspended from diplomatic duties and forced into early retirement. To make ends meet, he and his family were offered the financial support of Lisbon’s Jewish community, which enabled some of his children to be educated in the States – two even contributed to the D-Day landings. Most of Sousa Mendes’s other children also emigrated and only one remained by his side when his wife died in 1948. Six years later, Sousa Mendes himself died a lonely death in poverty on April 3, 1954 in a Franciscan hospital in Lisbon.

Happily, a posthumous change of fortunes lay ahead. In 1966, the Yad Vashem memorial ranked the “Insubordinate Consul” as a “Righteous Among the Nations” figure. In 1987, the Portuguese Republic began to rehabilitate Sousa Mendes' memory and granted an “Order of Liberty” medal. The rehabilitation in Portugal was complete in 1995 when a commemorative stamp was issued.

The former Portuguese consulate, on the Garonne river-front.

Here in Bordeaux, on May 29th 1994 former Portuguese president Mario Soares dedicated the bust of Sousa Mendes, along with a commemorative plaque at 14 Quai Louis-XVIII, the address at which the consulate at Bordeaux had been housed. In 2002, this was followed in the Chartrons district by the inauguration of a primary school which was given Sousa Mendes’s name, as was the associated street (and nearby bus-stop).

Much has been written about Sousa Mendes’s acts of bravery which made him a wartime hero with a difference and a ray of humanitarian light during such a dark period. It is peculiar to think that it was the city of Bordeaux that formed the backdrop to this historical chapter, a chapter for which the several-thousand refugees and their descendants throughout the world are no doubt eternally grateful. 

> Find them on the Invisible Bordeaux map: statue, Esplanade Charles-de-Gaulle; former consulate, 14 Quai Louis-XVIII; primary school, Rue Sousa-Mendes, Bordeaux.
> For the full story, go to (which includes a cartoon version of the Bordeaux episode) and
Here is the trailer from "The Consul of Bordeaux", a Portuguese film released in 2011:

Click here if video doesn't display on your device.

And here are extracts from a made-for-TV film based on the events:

Click here if video doesn't display on your device.

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