Taking the lead from the cities of Paris and Toulouse, Bordeaux has joined what is a pan-European trend in converting a small plot of inner-...

This used to be a parking lot: Bordeaux’s first Miyawaki mini-forest is taking root


Taking the lead from the cities of Paris and Toulouse, Bordeaux has joined what is a pan-European trend in converting a small plot of inner-city land into a mini-forest. It is time to go for a walk in – or at least alongside – the tiniest of woods! 


These are early days for now, but the nascent mini-forest was inaugurated by city mayor Pierre Hurmic in March 2021. It is located between Saint-Jean railway station and Sacré-Coeur church, on the triangular space where rues Billaudel, Fieffé and Francin intersect. 


So, what’s it all about? According to a piece published by The Guardian, tiny, dense forests like this are “springing up around Europe as part of a movement aimed at restoring biodiversity and fighting the climate crisis”. Their format and concept “are based on the work of the Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki, who planted more than 1,000 such forests in Japan, Malaysia and elsewhere”. In France, the landscape artist Gilles Clément is also quoted as a key influence, notably with regard to his "jardin en mouvement" concept, but internationally the term “Miyawaki forest” has become the byword for this type of urban mini-forest. 


The way it will be: artist's impression of how the mini-forest will look in the future (source: bordeaux.fr).
The way it is: picture taken in August 2021.


Cross-referencing with the Wikipedia page about Akira Miyawaki (who died in July 2021) provides a means of understanding the basics: the Miyawaki method is based on the reconstitution of "indigenous forests by indigenous trees", with saplings being planted very closely together, and a diverse range of species being used to recreate the multiple layers of a natural forest. Furthermore, the practice “produces a rich, dense and efficient protective pioneer forest in 20 to 30 years, where natural succession would need 200 years in temperate Japan and 300 to 500 years in the tropics”.


Closer to the 45th parallel here in Bordeaux, where the recently-elected Hurmic is famously a member of the Europe Écologie-Les Verts political party, this first mini-forest is one of several such projets and forms part of a wider programme to bring more greenery into the inner-city, a programme which has been codenamed “Bordeaux Grandeur Nature”. When inaugurating the forest-to-be, Hurmic declared to the media that “it has added value for a whole district, there is an obligation to create islands of freshness,” pointing out that “a 100 m² area of forest reduces the temperature in adjacent streets by 1°C”.


The way it was: a GoogleEarth view of the parking spaces that have made way for the Miyawaki forest.


This inaugural Bordeaux project, which covers an area of 180m² and has cost around €50,000 to create, comprises more than 500 forest plants and shrubs, including varieties of tree such as pubescent oaks, sorb trees, field maples, wild cherry trees, and common dogwood. It has been given the name of Wangari Muta Maathai in honour of the Kenyan activist and 2004 Nobel Peace prize-winner who was instrumental in the reforestation of her home country. 


When visiting the mini-forest on a quiet Sunday morning, the first impression is that of viewing a slightly disorganised plot of land, but it does not take long to understand that that is the whole point: the plantation process is supposed to be random, and the natural woodland will form as natural selection among the seedlings enables the best-suited to flourish and develop quickly. Nothing for now is anything taller than about 60 or 70 centimetres, so it is difficult to imagine that a few years from now a number of trees will be towering over the square (or rather, the triangle). 

 


But the Miyawaki forest does already bring a splash of colour to the area. Other than the inevitable green, there are spots of white, yellow, orange and violet dotted here and there. And of course, after taking in the initial view one is tempted to look closer and hone in on specific plants, and that is when you discover that the place has already come to life, with wasps and bees collecting pollen, and flies and butterflies fleeting in between the leaves and branches. I suddenly found myself drawn to the pleasures of inner-city macrophotography, a true first! 

 

Just a couple of typical central Bordeaux street scenes.


Temporary information panels are on hand to complete the view and, for now at least, the low wooden perimeter fence is topped off by a host of toilet rolls that have been expertly and creatively decorated, presumably by children from a local school. The place is quiet but for the buzzing of winged insects, which makes the mini-forest feel very active. It’s unusual and, all in all, quite cool.  

 


Media coverage would suggest that most locals have warmly welcomed the initiative, although some instinctively grumbled about the dozen-or-so parking spots which were sacrificed, and others were cynical about the time it would take for the Miyawaki forest to reach maturity. However, in these times when barely a day goes by without there being news about another natural disaster or extreme weather event, surely everything that can be done to fight against the steamroller of climate change is to be applauded.

 

> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Micro-forêt Wangari Muta Maathai, rue Fieffé, Bordeaux

> Cet article est également disponible en français !

> Further information about the mini-forest on the city of Bordeaux website. 

> Below is Sud Ouest footage of the first plantations taking place in March 2021... a great deal has changed in just five months!



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


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[CLIQUEZ ICI POUR D ÉCOUVRIR CE DOSSIER EN FRAN ÇAIS] Some time ago I picked up a book called ' Chaban de Bordeaux ' for a token eur...

Bringing 'Chaban de Bordeaux' back to the modern-day city



Some time ago I picked up a book called 'Chaban de Bordeaux' for a token euro in the Quai des Livres bookstore on cours Victor-Hugo in the city centre. In the book, published in 1996 by Éditions Sud Ouest, the author, the late political journalist Pierre Cherruau, focused on the Bordeaux arm of the life and career of Jacques Chaban-Delmas, who was mayor of the city for no less than 48 years, from 1947 until 1995, five years ahead of his death in 2000, aged 85. 

Those post-war and "Trente Glorieuses" years were a pivotal period for the city, with so much changing under his leadership, whether in terms of housing (the overhaul of the Mériadeck quarter, the creation of the Grand Parc, Aubiers and Benauge estates), infrastructure (the unveiling of Saint-Jean and Pont d'Aquitaine bridges, the Rocade ring-road), culture, and much, much more. 

During those years, as a member of parliament he also held a number of national ministerial functions, presided over the Assemblée Nationale during two stints, was prime minister from 1969 to 1972, and a presidential candidate in 1974. In short, quite some career! 
 

The book featured a number of great archive photos. I thought it might be fun to go hunting for the locations where those photos were taken and, with a bit of cellphone and Photoshop trickery, try to merge past and present into single shots. And here are the end results!    

 

 

Above, the young mayor is seen wandering nonchalantly through the city. The location, allées de Tourny, is where a street photographer would often snap passers-by, so many Bordelais have similar pictures showing them walking down this same street around this late 1940s-early 1950s period! Author of the original photograph unknown. Thanks to Patrick Forsans, Caroline March, Bruno Montamat and others for helping identify the exact location of the shot.



In 1949, the square previously known as Place des Salinères (and Place de Bourgogne prior to that) was officially inaugurated as Place Bir-Hakeim in reference to the Second World War's Battle of Bir Hakeim. Chaban-Delmas had invited Général Charles de Gaulle to the event. At the time De Gaulle had taken a bit of a back seat, although he was in the process of building up his Rassemblement du Peuple Français political party which would later splinter into several groups including the
Union pour la Nouvelle République that was behind De Gaulle when he was elected president of the French republic in 1958. Author of the original photograph unknown. (In the 'Chaban de Bordeaux' book, another picture of this event is actually featured but was difficult to replicate. This similar shot was lifted from somewhere on the internet... but I can't remember where!).

 

 

The newly-elected president De Gaulle was back in Bordeaux in 1958, seen here walking up cours du Chapeau-Rouge with Chaban-Delmas and miscellaneous dignitaries including De Gaulle's "chef de cabinet" Olivier Guichard (to the left of Chaban), "Garde des Sceaux" Michel Debré (to the right of De Gaulle) and Gironde and Aquitaine prefect Gabriel Delaunay (the gentleman wearing the hat over to the left). Author of the original photograph unknown.

 


OK, you're going to have to take my word for it, but Jacques Chaban-Delmas is one of the figures standing behind the driver on board this, the last of the first-generation trams to travel through Bordeaux in 1958, including this section of Place de la Victoire which was packed with somewhat nostalgic well-wishers. Chaban was glad to see the back of the city's tram network, paving the way to the automobile-heavy 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, by which time the city needed to find a new, large-scale public transport solution. The "VAL" light underground railway system was Chaban's preferred choice but never came to fruition. Eventually, one of the first key decisions of Chaban's successor Alain Juppé was to set about conceiving the new-generation tram network which has now become such an integral part of the city. Original photograph credited to Vincent Olivar.



This picture of the then prime minister Jacques Chaban-Delmas campaigning on Rue Sainte-Catherine dates from 1970, around the time that a emerging political rival, the journalist and press tycoon Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber, had posed a serious challenge in a legislative partial election, no doubt with a view to then taking Chaban on in the municipal elections. Chaban emerged victorious but reportedly felt highly threatened by "JJSS" despite downplaying the episode later in life. Author of the original photograph unknown.

 


Here's Jacques Chaban-Delmas racing up the steps to the city hall, Palais Rohan, to what could be regarded as the rear entrance, within the Jardin de l'Hôtel de Ville. In Cherruau's book, the caption claims Chaban would run up the steps four at a time. Whether this is fully accurate is unsure. The steps are low but very wide, it would take giant bounds to span four steps! Trying to keep up in the background is Robert Boulin, mayor of Libourne and France's health minister at the time. Boulin held many governmental positions over the years, but his death in 1979 is shrouded in mystery and controversy. Original photograph credited to Michel André.  

 

 

This picture was in all likelihood taken on the day in September 1976 when the newly-pedestrianised Rue Sainte-Catherine was officially inaugurated. The Citroën 2CV driver clearly hadn't received the brief and is possibly getting a good-natured telling-off from the mayor of Bordeaux! Original photograph credited to Michel Lacroix. 

 


Here is Jacques Chaban-Delmas saluting locals in the Aubiers district in June 1984 subsequent to substantial renovation work being done at a time when there was a great deal of unrest. As mentioned in the lead paragraph, les Aubiers is one of a number of high-rise estates that are very much symbols of Chaban's legacy, this being located to the north of the city, not far from the Lac district which was also very much a product of Chaban's tenure. Original photograph credited to Michel Lacroix.  

 


This picture dates from around 1986, and the clearly-delighted Jacques Chaban-Delmas is seen alongside a local beauty queen officially opening the twice-yearly funfair - which still today is such a familiar sight on the Esplanade des Quinconces. Judging by how clearly visible the buildings in the background are, it is safe to say this was the autumn session. In my 2021 picture, they're hidden behind dense springtime greenery! Original photograph credited to Théry.

 


Here is Jacques Chaban-Delmas in his later years, with his third wife Micheline (they married in 1971), walking along rue Naujac in the Saint-Seurin-Fondaudège district, on their way to vote at their local polling station (the couple lived nearby, on rue Émile Fourcand). The way the couple are holding hands makes me feel strangely happy. Thanks to Michel Laporte and Patrick Forsans for helping identify the exact location of the shot.

 

 

Where better to finish off this stroll through Chaban's Bordeaux than in the gardens of the Hôtel de Ville (try to spot the steps pictured further up the page!). This colour shot, credited to Michel André, graced the cover of the original book, as pictured below. Note the 1 euro price tag. What a bargain, eh?

 

 

> Thanks again to Patrick Forsans and other contributors who helped identify a couple of locations via Twitter and Facebook.

> Ce dossier est également disponible en français.


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  As loyal readers will know, in recent months my musical project Slowrush has possibly taken precedence over Invisible Bordeaux in terms...

[Musical interlude] A little bit of Invisible Bordeaux in the latest E.P. released by Slowrush

 

As loyal readers will know, in recent months my musical project Slowrush has possibly taken precedence over Invisible Bordeaux in terms of time and energy levels. But that doesn’t mean the two ventures don’t feed off each other. In fact, two songs on the latest E.P. to have been released by Slowrush are directly inspired by subjects covered on the blog in the past! 

 

For yes, Slowrush, the band formed by myself with my bassist friend Olivier and drummer son Dorian, have recently unveiled ‘The Neighbourhood E.P.’ and its four new tunes, available now on a streaming platform near you. The two songs which may be of particular significance to Invisible Bordeaux readers are Secret Garden and See The Neighbourhood. And this is why!

 

The lyrics of Secret Garden are inspired by the story of the silent movie star Max Linder, who was born in Saint-Loubès and educated in Bordeaux. His career and tragic demise (he killed his young wife before taking his own life) was covered in a twin set of articles published simultaneously on Invisible Bordeaux and partner website Invisible Paris. Much of the information shared then was made possible by the tireless research of his daughter Maud Linder, who was still a baby when her parents died. 

 

Given that the unsavoury end had resulted in Max Linder being airbrushed out of much of the history of cinematography, she had to rebuild the story piece by piece. The quest even involved digging up canisters of film that had been buried in the grounds of the family residence, the “secret garden” of the song’s title. Her findings, how she went about it all, and her own story are brilliantly detailed in Maud Linder’s book “Max Linder était mon père”, and the song also draws heavily on those writings. Maud Linder died in 2017 aged 93. At the time of the Invisible Bordeaux/Paris feature we enjoyed a brief email exchange in which she thanked us for the articles, I like to think she’d approve of the song too!

 

As for See The Neighbourhood, the song takes the shape of a message from a visually-impaired person to the artist who conceived the bronze 3D maps that can be found at four locations around Bordeaux. These popular pieces of public art have often appeared on Invisible Bordeaux, and the artist responsible for them, François Didier, has become a bit of a friend of the blog over the years.  

 

The message conveyed by the song is rooted in reality. In early 2020, I was invited to attend the official unveiling of the fourth sculpture, positioned near the Cité du Vin in the Bassins à Flots quarter. Listening to the various testimonies, and talking with people who were familiar with François Didier’s work, there really was a sense that the pieces were very much appreciated by the visually-impaired, as they really did offer them a means to “see the neighbourhood” which surrounds them. We naturally wanted to translate that appreciation and gratitude into song! Oh, and François Didier has been made aware of the piece and was delighted to know his handiwork had also been immortalised in the form of music. 

 

The Neighbourhood E.P. doesn’t end there, as there are two other songs to enjoy, although they possibly have a little less of a Bordeaux flavour about them… You can work out for yourself what they might be about! And if you’d like to hear the songs in a live setting, we will be performing at Le Steady in Saint-Loubès on July 24, Le Mira in La Teste-de-Buch on August 21, and in Saint-Aubin-de-Médoc town centre on September 18!  

 

> You’ll find ‘The Neighbourhood E.P.’ on the streaming platform of your choice here: https://linktr.ee/slowrush

> You can also listen to the songs on Slowrush’s Bandcamp page here: https://slowrush.bandcamp.com


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Lockdowns, eh? One of the defining responses to the constraints imposed on citizens to curb the spread of Covid-19 has been to at least make...

The 10k Radius Cycling Challenge


Lockdowns, eh? One of the defining responses to the constraints imposed on citizens to curb the spread of Covid-19 has been to at least make the most of what we’re allowed to do, whilst strictly complying with the measures in place. And during this latest, ongoing lockdown, unless there is some reasonable justification, movements are restricted to within ten kilometres of one’s residence. But that still leaves plenty of space to enjoy, and that is how my wife Muriel and I decided to launch into a one-day local roadtrip, codenamed the 10k Radius Challenge.

Working on the basis of the data provided by France's benchmark website, we mapped out a circular itinerary that would take us on a day-long cycling trip but that would never take us any further than ten kilometres from our home in Saint-Aubin-de-Médoc. And so it was that we set off at 8am on a mid-April Sunday morning, heading off in a north-westerly direction through Le Pian-Médoc towards our first port of call, Parempuyre. We drifted past the famously international Emmaüs community and bric-a-brac warehouse, a scenic lake and the railway station towards the town centre, turning right by a cultural/entertainment venue that has been given the bizarre name of L’Art Y Show, no doubt a reference to the nearby Médocain speciality, the Macau artichoke.


A fine roadside cycle path took us from there to Blanquefort via some fairly depressing industrial estates that are no doubt a staple of metropolitan suburbs the world over. After hitting the residential town centre we had vague hopes of popping into the notoriously photogenic Parc de Majolan but must have taken a wrong turn. Instead we found ourselves by one of the entrances to the Réserve naturelle des Marais de Bruges. As the reserve is currently closed (you can possibly guess why…), we had to make do with taking a photo of the nearby railway and tram lines that run parallel to each other.


Then it was over the Rocade ring-road into Bruges proper, and a much-needed pain aux raisins break alongside the pretty église Saint-Pierre, parts of which date back to the 15th or 16th century. It certainly felt like it was a pleasant trip back in time, and completing the time-travelling illusion was a 1960s ABG-VAP moped parked by a bench. I would like to think it’s always there. This was all ably complemented by the circular Tour de Lassalle. We made a note to return to get the full story.



Cycling through Bruges, we spotted a surprisingly tall church spire in amongst the low-rise housing. Making a short detour to investigate, we discovered that we were in front of Bordeaux’s Russian Orthodox church. It certainly stands out from its surroundings and also appears to be a subject that deserves further research!



Proceeding south, we passed Le Bouscat’s Sainte-Germaine sports stadium (home to Stade Bordelais) and previous blog subjects the Bois du Bouscat and the hippodrome race track. Near a roundabout in Eysines, we spotted a fine ghostsign advertising “M. Chopinet - Lubrification Silicoil aux Silicones” complete with information, address and a six-digit phone number. Due to the bright sunlight and shadows it was difficult to get a decent photo, but I will return on a cloudy day to get a better shot of what I think is one of the best ghostsigns in the area!



From there we advanced through central Mérignac, past the dormant Pin Galant theatre and the Dewar & Gicquel “pantalon de jogging” sculpture, and back towards the Rocade, stopping to take a photo of the surprising “Marché de l’Avenir” building which, today, looks anything but futuristic.



Beyond the Rocade we found ourselves in another industrial estate, culminating in the cycle path being sandwiched by Dassault Aviation on one side and my weekday employers Thales on the other. It all felt suitably aerospace-y (aptly so given our proximity to the airport), at least until the sight of the somewhat neglected sport grounds of the Domaine de Rocquevieille brought us back down to earth. And to think this was where the great Girondins squads of the 1980s used to train.

From there it was on to Martignas-sur-Jalle, which we reckoned was more or less the halfway point along the circumference of our 10k radius circle. Arriving in the town we were welcomed by a slightly menacing Wild West-style sign stating that Martignas was home to the “last petrol station before Arcachon Bay”. For cars driving to the Bassin, this was therefore make-or-break time. Either fill up here or end up stranded in Saint-Jean-d’Illac! This thought sent terrifying shivers down my spine.



We made our way to the Camp de Souge military facility, where in the past I have been able to view the harrowing memorial to the 300 people who lost their lives throughout the Second World War. Sadly, this time the person manning the security desk was not in an especially cooperative mood, saying that it was out-of-bounds for private individuals and that there was work in progress or something. Hey-ho. We made our excuses and began looping up towards the north, at least until we came up against another impenetrable military facility which stopped us in our tracks. Rather than turn back we elected to follow a path mapped out by Google, which soon became extremely sandy but at least took us into a pleasant forest and an ideal picnic spot just by a stream.



By now we were just sticking to whichever paths were best-suited to cycling, rejoining the urban world somewhere in the vicinity of the Hastignan district of Saint-Médard-en-Jalles. From here, the best option to reach our next destination, Salaunes, was simply to follow the flat, linear Bordeaux-Lacanau cycle path. Hitting downtown Salaunes, there was little to do other than take in the church clock chiming (it was now 2 o’clock), peruse the books available in the “nichoir à livres” bookcase, and admire the giant wooden sculpture of a pine cone, which presumably represents all the local pines. And cones.    
   



Then it was back onto a main road, and this one was as straight, flat and uneventful as any you’ll find in the region. It took us to the hamlet of Saint-Raphaël and the chapel which was built on the spot where the 15th-century Archbishop of Bordeaux Pey Berland was born, as detailed in one of the first items to run on the blog way back in the day.



From that commemoration of the very distant past we were instantly shunted back into the present and arguably even the future, as we cycled around the massive solar panel farm in Arsac. The public domain figures are mind-boggling: 220 hectares, 85 megawatts of power (whatever that means…). The site itself is majorly impressive from ground level, but click here to check out an aerial shot to get an idea of the sheer scale of it all. By now we were more or less on the final stretch of our adventure, finishing up with a couple of photo stops outside the modern-art-heavy grounds of Château d’Arsac and looking out over the vines of Château Sénéjac in Le Pian-Médoc, just days on from those restless nights spent attempting to safeguard the vines from unseasonally freezing temperatures.


We were homeward bound, hitting Saint-Aubin-de-Médoc around 4:30pm with just over 94 kilometres clocked up by our little bike computers, over a little more than five hours of actual cycle time.

What then were the key takeaways of our low-key 10k radius challenge? Well, there’s definitely something quite unusual about being out for so long and realizing we’re still eerily close to home despite having cycled maybe 50, 60 or 70 kilometres! Secondly, as experienced in the past, it sometimes takes the randomness of a roadtrip such as this to discover unexpected delights. Bruges town centre, the Russian Orthodox church and Eysines ghostsign, I’m talking about you! Thirdly, it was a good excuse to spend time in some places that are so close to home that you don't ever "visit" them properly. And, finally, something we all know but it's great to experience it first-hand: there's such a variety of landscapes to take in. From industrial estates and retail parks to residential districts, sandy paths, shady woodland, solar parks and vineyards… we're talking majorly diverse environments here! So, in case you were wondering, yes, there really is plenty to see within a 10-kilometre radius!

Homeward bound... and our actual itinerary mapped out through the magic of satellite tracking.

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It has taken Invisible Bordeaux a long time to check out Lormont’s Parc de l’Ermitage Sainte-Catherine, but that day finally a few weeks ag...

Parc de l’Ermitage Sainte-Catherine: the quarry that became a hilly park with a view

It has taken Invisible Bordeaux a long time to check out Lormont’s Parc de l’Ermitage Sainte-Catherine, but that day finally a few weeks ago. I’d often seen it listed among the recommended sights to take in if in search of greenery within easy reach of Bordeaux, as well as being a spot that boasted one of the best views of the city. Expectations were running high, to say the least.

What’s the story behind the park though? The area, tucked away in amongst the sharp ascent that connects the Garonne waterfront with the higher quarters of Lormont and Cenon, was first home to a troglodyte hermitage. It then formed the grounds of the 17th-century Château de l'Hermitage and Château Raoult. Both were demolished in the 20th century, by which time the area had become a quarry, first operated by the building materials company Poliet-et-Chausson, and later by Ciments Français. Those activities ceased in 1983, ahead of the local council acquiring the property for a token franc in 1997. The creation of the landscaped park began, and the site opened to the general public in 2005.

Spot Pont d'Aquitaine in the background!

I more or less knew where the park was located, and had in the past visited the neighbouring Parc des Iris, but read somewhere that the simplest way of accessing Parc de l’Ermitage was from a lane leading up from the Garonne waterfront. Reaching that area on my bike, surprisingly, the signposts to the park I'd been following from central Lormont had dried up and there was no indication of which way to go. So, as there was apparently no river-level access after all, I had no alternative other than to find my way up to the high-lying plateau. To reach this involved heading into the residential backstreets of Lormont and up a very steep road – rue Sourbes – that wouldn’t seem out of place in a Pyrenean valley. By looping back in the general direction of where I thought the park began, I eventually found an actual entrance, at the end of what GoogleMaps suggests may have been rue Saint-Cricq. OK, I was in, but it wasn’t exactly a great start in terms of sheer accessibility and elementary signposting.

But starting at the top at least meant that I didn’t have to wait too long to take in the much-hyped view over Bordeaux, and it must be said that the hype is very much justified. The viewing platform looks out in a south-easterly direction and you can take in more or less all of the city’s  main landmarks, with Chaban-Delmas bridge and the Cité du Vin in the foreground, and further back the spire of Saint-Michel basilica, Saint-André cathedral, the office blocks of the Mériadeck quarter, the Cité Administrative, and the high-rise buildings of the Grand Parc district. Yep, it really is quite a vantage point.

Looking towards Bordeaux from the viewing platform.

A closer look at Tour Pey Berland and Saint-André Cathedral, poking out from above the rooftops of Bordeaux.
Turning back towards the heart of the park, winding paths headed off in various directions, but what they all seemed to have in common is that they headed downhill. So I too headed off downhill, making the mistake of keeping my bicycle with me instead of hooking it up somewhere up towards the entrance. The path I took was at times steep, and occasionally broken up by steps, all of which was distinctly non bike-friendly. Battling to stay on my feet and keep control of my bike by my side, I had neither the time nor inclination to stop off and take in the information panels singing the praises of the wealth of interesting flora to take in, although I didn’t fail to enjoy the clear views of the nearby Pont d’Aquitaine. I eventually made it to a metal staircase that took me down to the large expanse of water that is arguably the highlight of the park. Is it big enough to be referred to as a lake? For the purposes of this article, let’s say it is. Welcome, therefore to the lake.

Just one of the many information panels that I didn't stop to read.
Steps leading down to the lake.
Lakeside.

As it was a dull, grey day, the lake wasn’t as blue as it appears to be in some photos available online here and there. I think I even saw an article somewhere referring to it as a blue lagoon which might be overselling it just a touch. Whatever, I made my way along the bank of the lake, and had a naughty peek inside the “Nuage”, one of the Métropole’s dozen-or-so “refuges périurbains”, rudimentary huts of various oddball shapes and sizes that are (in Normal Times) available to the general public to spend a night in unusual environments. It’s a bit mad but is a great concept.

"Le Nuage".

My stroll took me to the southern tip of the lake. Looking back at the open space by the water’s edge, I tried to picture what it must be like during the warm summer months, with people swarming here in search of fresh air – although bathing is prohibited in the lake. I crossed a metal footbridge although a gate which was locked prevented me from going any further (although this didn’t stop a young photographer from walking past, clambering over the gate and pacing upwards, no doubt in search of another viewpoint looking over the rooftops of Bordeaux).             

I spotted a lane heading downhill, possibly even down to the Garonne waterfront and the entrance I had originally been aiming for. As I had nothing to lose and was not too keen on heading back up to the top of the park, I set off in that direction and, bingo, it did indeed take me down to what should have been my departure point. I can confirm there is nothing there to suggest it is a convenient way of accessing the park, but in hindsight the path is easy to locate, just behind the arches of the railway bridge that runs parallel to the Garonne. It turns out I had been right all along to keep my bike with me.  

The Garonne-side way into the park is via the lane that leads up from behind these railway arches!

Thinking back, Parc de l’Ermitage Sainte-Catherine is quite a surprising place. It was far more compact than I expected, and also much hillier than your typical Bordeaux Métropole scenery… but never forget that the right bank of the Garonne offers a succession of challenging ascents. On the winter’s day I was there, the park was almost empty and strangely soulless, but it is possibly the kind of place that needs people there for it to come to life. But hey, there’s a lake, plenty of greenery… and THAT view over Bordeaux. It’s almost enough to forgive the authorities for the poor signposting!


> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Parc de l'Ermitage Sainte-Catherine, Lormont

> Cet article est également disponible en français !


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Parc Ausone, to be found in the suburb of Bruges, is a recent addition to the local landscape and provides an unusual combination of woodlan...

Parc Ausone, delivering fresh air, greenery and art to Bruges (except on Mondays)


Parc Ausone, to be found in the suburb of Bruges, is a recent addition to the local landscape and provides an unusual combination of woodland paths, play areas, and public artwork… not to mention a tall viewing tower, some snazzy metallic walkways and, best of all, a suspension footbridge. The park certainly deserved an exploratory visit. 


The innovative park first opened in September 2019, two years on from the purchase of twelve hectares of land by the local town council. The €2.3m landscaping assignment was conducted by the Floirac-based Graziella Barsacq and the Moonwalklocal architecture agency, and the project was an integral part of the extensive urban development of the surrounding area. 


Indeed, a whole new residential neighbourhood has, in effect, sprung out of nowhere over the past five years and, along with places to live and shop, the new arrivals deserved – and possibly needed – a bit of space to relax and unwind. Hence the creation of Parc Ausone, which the official literature inevitably refers to as a “poumon vert”, a “bulle de verdure” and, yes, “un parc écologique, durable et poétique”. My expectations were therefore running high when making my way to one of the no less than seven entrances to the park – which in itself is a symbolic demonstration of the intention to make the park as accessible as possible to local residents on all sides.

This map shows how the park is surrounded by residential districts on all sides, and also how the park itself loops all the way round a residential complex.


As there are seven entrances, what you get to see first depends on where your starting point is! In my case, I headed for the gate located close to the Ausone tram line C stop, and immediately found myself at the foot of the observatory tower which, along with the map at its base, was bound to be a useful introduction to the park. I climbed to the top to take in the panoramic view, but as I had unwittingly interrupted a couple of young lovebirds who were enjoying some quality high-rise downtime, as soon as I had taken my picture I made my excuses and left!   

The observation tower.

The view from the top!
From there a footpath leads down to what may be regarded as the heart of the park, and a narrow linear water feature runs alongside the path. It was almost dry when I was there, but its levels no doubt rise and fall according to the weather. The natural inclination is then to head right into the “chênaie centenaire” the 100-year-old oak forest, with its network of lanes meandering off in various directions. Two of the park’s most striking sights are to be found there in amongst the trees.


The first is the aforementioned suspension bridge, which stretches over a stream and connects ground level with another, higher entrance to the park. Although the bridge gently rocks and rolls, the non-slip surface of the platform makes it relatively accessible to all-comers, and above all it’s a very kid-friendly shade of bright red. (Let's get our priorities right!)



 

The second is “Le Livre de Sable”, a permanent art installation conceived by Moonwalklocal with the Paysagistes Sans Frontières collective. The piece was inspired by the 1975 book of the same name by Jorge Luis Borges and was originally designed for an international garden festival held in Chaumont-sur-Loire in 2018. Here the colour scheme shifts from red to a vivid blue, and the elements of the work connect and intertwine with the trees and bushes. If you want to take your understanding of the piece to higher levels, an information panel provides full details. For now, let’s just take away the fact that it makes for a surprising contrast with all the greenery.


Moving away from the woodland towards another entrance to the park, a spectacular and ever-so-slightly futuristic corten steel tunnel encases a footbridge over the ponds and wetlands that form a natural moat-like frontier to much the park. The design of the tunnel is reportedly reminiscent of the metal frames of the greenhouses built in the area by vegetable farmers. Whatever, its photogenic aesthetics will surely prove popular on Instagram… although I can’t say I’ve seen it crop up very often so far in my timeline.

The view from the footbridge.

Edging away from that entrance, benches and deck chairs are dotted around the park, alongside young pines. From here on the permanent backdrop is the succession of new-build apartment blocks that look straight out of an estate agent’s brochure. The buildings also poke out from above the trees by the children’s play area that brings a sudden rush of life and noise to proceedings. Rather than turn back, the journey ends with a walk through another corten steel arched passageway, which leads naturally into a residential complex and back out into the real world, i.e. Bruges proper!


So yeah, Parc Ausone certainly ticks a lot of the right boxes, bringing a much-needed expanse of vegetation in amongst the multiple constructions that have mushroomed throughout the area. I like to think that the first short visit took in most of the essential sights, but also sense that there are others remaining to be spotted and enjoyed, and that as the neigbourhood still seems to be work-in-progress, there may be further developments to come. 


Before signing off and, more importantly before you, dear reader, stop whatever it was you were doing to satisfy your sudden urge to go and visit Parc Ausone, be sure you don’t head there on a Monday because, bizarrely, the park is closed on Mondays – possibly some kind of veiled act of solidarity with the banks and hairdressers of France who are also for the most part closed on Mondays. Happily, other parks are available. 


> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Parc Ausone, Bruges.

> Cet article est également disponible en français !


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