Loyal readers will remember past adventures in the company of Bordeaux2066 ’s Vincent Bart, which include travelling to the point in ...

The Gironde four corners road-trip > Part 1: north and east (Le Verdon and its memorials, and Saint-Avit-Saint-Nazaire and its trees)

Loyal readers will remember past adventures in the company of Bordeaux2066’s Vincent Bart, which include travelling to the point in Puynormand where the Greenwich Meridian converges with the 45th Parallel, and cycling the full length of the Eau Bourde river.

Meeting up once again, the challenge we set ourselves this time was to set out on a day-long road-trip that would take us to the extreme northern, eastern, southern and western points of the Gironde (mainland France’s vastest département), secretly hoping that something interesting might happen somewhere along the way. To achieve this, we plotted our route and set out early on a Sunday morning from Saint-Aubin-de-Médoc, knowing full well that we were about to drive almost 600 kilometres together, i.e. the equivalent of travelling to Paris.

Our first stop was 88 kilometres away from our starting point: Le Verdon-sur-Mer, at the very northern tip of the Médoc wine-growing territory. It also happens to be an active ferry port with regular connections to and from Royan, which lies across the mouth of the Gironde Estuary. During the time we were in the vicinity, a Transgironde ferry arrived and unloaded before setting off once again with its eclectic mix of passengers: locals, tourists in Dutch-, German- and British-registered cars and camper-vans, cyclists and even the occasional pedestrian.   

We made our way towards the absolute northernmost point of the Gironde, at the end of a concrete walkway where, looking out towards Royan, the waters were a mix-and-match of Atlantic Ocean blue and Gironde Estuary brown. Looking down along the coast, the Cordouan lighthouse was clearly visible in the distance (seven kilometres out at sea).  This historic edifice, sometimes referred to as “le Versailles des mers”, was originally erected between 1584 and 1611, and went on to become the first lighthouse to be registered as an historic monument in 1862. It remains the oldest lighthouse in France still in operation although it has, since 2006, been fully automated and computer-controlled.

Cordouan and the Atlantic dunes.
Scanning back around towards dry land, beyond the people out for a stroll or enjoying some quality fishing time, Second World War Atlantikwall bunkers dominated the upper landscape. The area is peaceful today but it was easy enough to imagine the bunkers being manned by sentinels keeping an eye out for any sign of movement.

Moving a little further down the dunes, we encountered three separate memorials. The first was to the glory of General Pershing’s First World War US troops who had defended France in keeping with “the spirit of cooperation” that had also led La Fayette and his crew to America in 1777; indeed, La Fayette’s last port of call prior to crossing the Atlantic (and contributing to American independence from British rule) was none other than Le Verdon. The original monument was torn down by the Germans in 1942 but later rebuilt in its current form.

The second monument commemorates Operation Frankton and the heroic “Cockleshell Heroes” who passed nearby in their canoes in December 1942 during a small-scale but high-impact commando raid on Bordeaux. Not only is it one of the most unbelievable and fascinating chapters in Girondin wartime history, but it also happens to be a past Invisible Bordeaux subject, so to get the full story do take time out to read the account here.

The three memorials/monuments.
The final monument is a generic acknowledgement to all those who gave their lives in the fight for the freedom of France, and was erected in 1995, 50 years after the end of the Second World War. Combined, the three monuments give a sense of the strategic geographical importance of Le Verdon.

After walking past Le Verdon’s lighthouse and the Marine Nationale’s “Semaphore” facility (which includes a wartime bunker that appears to have been converted into living quarters), close to the end of a disused railway line we spotted a signpost displaying 104 kilometres to Bordeaux, which is arguably as far as you can get from the Girondin capital without actually leaving the département.
The converted bunker behind barbed wire, and the northern end of the old railway line.
We then finished up attempting to strike up a conversation with the landlady of a bar which is only open during the holiday season. Talk revolved around the prospect of the area becoming an island by 2100, the sense of immense distance between Le Verdon and Royan even though it’s only seven kilometres away (“a bridge would make things easier”), and the origins of many in what is, historically, a Charentais enclave surrounded by Gascon patois and culture. Value-added information was hard to get hold of though, so we paid up and hopped back into the car, drove back down towards Bordeaux, made a one-quarter clockwise loop around the city, stopped for lunch in Castillon-la-Bataille and made our way towards Gironde’s easternmost point in Saint-Avit-Saint-Nazaire.

By now it was early afternoon and we already had 272 kilometres on the clock. At the virtual border between Gironde and Dordogne, there was little to see other than a field, a ditch and some dense trees and vegetation which completely obscured the view we would otherwise have enjoyed of the river Dordogne, which flowed just a few metres away from us. Our main observation was that landscape had changed radically though from north to east. We had traded in the sand, marshland and flat, wide open spaces of the northern Médoc for a much lusher, greener and varied environment, where there were as many orchards as there were vineyards.  

Left: trees. Right: field. In the middle: a road and the Invisible Bordeaux car. Foreground: Gironde. Background: Dordogne.
However, there was nothing to keep us for very long in Saint-Avit-Saint-Nazaire, so we promptly departed for our next stop: Captieux, at the very southern point of la Gironde, a town with one or two old, dark secrets to share with us!

What could the dark secrets of Captieux be? Find out by clicking here!

The Invisible Bordeaux/Bordeaux Four Corners roadtrip is also available as a motion picture. Enjoy!

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