Château Tanaïs is a mysterious disused mansion that is located towards the north-western tip of Blanquefort, to the immediate north of B...

The ghosts of the Tanaïs château and military barracks in Blanquefort

Château Tanaïs is a mysterious disused mansion that is located towards the north-western tip of Blanquefort, to the immediate north of Bordeaux. The surrounding grounds, which are open to the general public, are an ideal spot for a pleasant stroll to be at one with nature, but the many incarnations of the château are what makes the Tanaïs story particularly interesting… not to mention the nearby remains of an abandoned military base and various urban legends that have turned the place into a mystical destination for modern-day ghost-hunters!

The 25-room mansion was originally built in 1767 and has retained the name of its first owner, one André Tanays. Over the years it repeatedly changed hands and in 1886 became the country-house retreat of Jean Léglise, a wealthy Bordeaux-based entrepreneur who had amassed his riches manufacturing railway sleepers, although the Tanaïs estate itself was by now more focused on its in-house wine production. The property was handed down to Jean’s son Paul in 1912.

But everything was to change in 1942 when the estate as a whole was requisitioned by the Germans with the intention of converting it into a rest camp for off-duty submarine officers operating out of the submarine base in Bordeaux. In February 1943, the first residents to move into the desirable mansion (which by now came complete with electricity, hot and cold running water, a telephone connection and a central heating system), were the general and chief of staff of a branch of the Reich Labour Service (Reichsarbeitsdienst, or RAD), with the Kriegsmarine (German Navy) proper taking their place in the summer of 1943. During their year-long stay, work began on the construction of 145 houses deep in the neighbouring forest to extend the capacity of the base.

It is unclear whether the Germans actually made use of the rudimentary homes but, following the war, given that the Léglise family was reluctant to return to Tanaïs, the French army (officers and their families) took up residence. The base, which was virtually self-sufficient with its own doctor, dentist, cinema and jail (!), initially housed sections of the FFI, France’s Interior Forces, and later units that were subsequently assigned to missions in overseas territories such as Algeria and Tahiti.

Postcards showing Tanaïs military camp as it once was, including the mansion and main entrance (top left) and some of the military personnel houses in amongst the trees (bottom right). Picture sources:
The French army vacated the premises in the mid-1960s, and the property remained untouched for the best part of 30 years, until the town of Blanquefort acquired the property. The municipality decided to demolish most of the homes, set about converting a fair proportion of the grounds into a scenic park, and created a reception venue adjacent to the mansion that can, still today, be rented out for weddings and other festivities.

All of which brings us onto possibly the strangest chapter in the Tanaïs story. Given the enigmatic status of the abandoned mansion and the secretive nature of the years when the place was a military base, rumours began to circulate suggesting the mansion and its grounds were haunted. Among the recurring tales were those of paranormal events that may have been related to the unfortunate drowning of the child of a military officer in the secluded artificial lake located close to the mansion. And, in recent years, a group photo taken outside the mansion during a family gathering appeared to show a mysterious silhouette peering out from one of the upstairs windows!
The mysterious group photo featuring... an uninvited guest? Source: GussDx Youtube video.
Nothing but bricks peering out today.
The photo served as the starting point for a Blairwitch Project-like adventure documented on Youtube by popular Bordeaux-based video maker and ghost-hunter Guillaume Durieux, better-known as GussDx. He spent a night on site using an EMF (electromagnetic frequency) detector in an attempt to categorically prove the presence of beyond-the-grave beings, both in the immediate vicinity of the mansion and in one of the derelict former military base homes. Although no key categorical evidence was forthcoming, the report featured a succession of minor unexplained occurrences, and does make for uncomfortable viewing. Even though it has since emerged that the video wasn’t perhaps as 100 per cent authentic as first claimed, it quickly went on to clock up nearly 1.5 million views… as well as prompting two further episodes of GussDx’s Tanaïs adventures, and triggering a number of copycat ghost-hunting visits to the site, including inside the mansion itself; all of which combined to earn Tanaïs a nationwide haunted house reputation that the local council did not exactly welcome with open arms.

Visiting Tanaïs today, one of the first things that is noticeable is that, since the first visits of GussDx the Youtube ghost hunter, all the windows on the first floor of the mansion have been totally bricked up. The immediate park is a mass of slightly unkempt greenery, embellished by information panels so that visitors make the most of the nature trails that meander in various directions.

The deserted roads of yesteryear.
Lakeside today.
But the most astonishing sight, by some margin, is that of the many surviving deserted military camp homes, which are officially out-of-bounds but (don’t tell anyone) are easily reachable via a nearby forest path. The homes have obviously become the occasional territory of graffiti artists (mainly the renowned street artist Saïr) but, given their state of disrepair, not of squatters. Moving from building to building, swatting away the mosquitos (the area is very humid), it is still possible to get a sense of what a unique existence it must have been for the military families who lived here, bearing in mind that the base could accommodate up to 1,500 people!

In amongst the ruins, artfully enhanced by Saïr.
Inside one of the homes.
Street art meets an old military inscription. RCP: Régiment de Chasseurs Parachutistes.
The area is eerily peaceful these days but to those who lived there, such as one Anita Jaulin-Fréchou who shared her childhood recollections of the base in a 2011 interview with Sud Ouest, the memories of the lively military base were to remain vivid down the years. Anita remembered “superb nights with receptions and dances that were like being in Versailles”, and the sense of freedom that the children enjoyed there, trying out the soldiers’ assault course, playing tennis with officers and making good use of the miniature golf course! But tougher memories also remained, such as the time in 1956 when the entire regiment departed for Algeria, leaving partners and children behind. Anita and the other children lined up in front of the mansion to see them off.

Whether or not the Tanaïs mansion and the surrounding grounds are haunted remains open to debate, although you won’t find me spending a night there to measure electromagnetic activity anytime soon! Bizarrely, when I was on site, probably around the time I was near the lake or mansion, my Sigma bike computer reset itself to zero. In all my years of cycling, this has never happened and resetting the bike computer involves pressing buttons manually for some time, i.e. it's not something that just happens by accident. Now, I'm not a great believer in that kind of supernatural intervention but that event, however tiny and seemingly trivial, was unusual and remains unexplained. Just saying! Whatever, it is safe to say that the ghost town left behind by the mid-20th century military is one of the most incredible sites for urban exploration to be found in the Bordeaux area and is a case study in how places can change over time… and how nothing lasts forever.

> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: avenue de Tanaïs, Blanquefort.
> Much of the information in this piece was compiled from the article available here.
> 2011 Sud Ouest interview with Anita Jaulin-Fréchou
> Fascinating lo-fi video produced by Lycée agro-viticole de Bordeaux-Blanquefort in 2008, which also features memories shared by Anita Jaulin-Fréchou:

Click here if video does not display properly [not available on some mobile devices].
> And here are the infamous GussDx videos: episode 1 (2014), episode 2 (2015) and episode 3 (2018).
> Big thanks to Fabrice Brussac for providing some extremely valuable information!
> Ce dossier est également disponible en français !

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The fifth monthly Invisible Bordeaux podcast is now available for your listening pleasure and I hope you're sitting especially comf...

Invisible Bordeaux podcast in English - Mike Foster (Bordeaux Expats)

The fifth monthly Invisible Bordeaux podcast is now available for your listening pleasure and I hope you're sitting especially comfortably... because this happens to be the first of the occasional episodes in English! Hurrah! This way then for some quality conversation with arguably the most famous Australian in Bordeaux, the one and only Mike Foster, founder of the Bordeaux Expats blog and social media community. 

Together we touch upon the thinking behind Bordeaux Expats, about the story of his relocation from Sydney to Bordeaux via London, and his current take not just on Bordeaux but also on Saint-André-de-Cubzac, the small town just to the north of Bordeaux which is possibly best known as the birthplace of the renowned ocean explorer and film-maker Jacques Cousteau, but is also the place that Mike now calls home.

Here 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! And scroll on down for more Bordeaux Expats resources!

This is where you'll find Bordeaux Expats:
> Bordeaux Expats blog:
> Bordeaux Expats Youtube channel 

During the podcast, Mike mentions the videos he has produced with film-maker Derek Rose. Here is one of those clips: 

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

Finally, pictured below is the magnificent Jacques Cousteau-themed roundabout in Saint-André-de-Cubzac, which also makes an appearance in the podcast. For the full story, check out the Invisible Bordeaux piece available here.   

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