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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This concise post was inspired by a Twitter publication showing an aerial view of London that also displayed the actual path of the Undergro...

The Bordeaux tram network viewed from a plane

This concise post was inspired by a Twitter publication showing an aerial view of London that also displayed the actual path of the Underground network. I trust that you will agree... a Bordeaux version of the picture needed to be designed!

The original aerial photo of Bordeaux was taken in January 2012, is credited to M.M. Minderhoud, and has been reused and adapted here under the Creative Commons license. The four tram lines have been cunningly overlaid on the picture through the not-very-expert use of elementary picture editing tools! Of course, one great regret is that a substantial part of the Metropole is not visible; therefore tram line A cuts off here before it reaches Cenon and Lormont, line B doesn’t quite reach Pont d’Aquitaine, and one branch of line C stops short of Bordeaux-Lac!

However, the picture does show just about the whole of Bordeaux proper, and pans out very nicely to the north, west, and south of the city. If you know of a more representative picture that could be used, get in touch and I’ll happily start again! In the meantime, I hope you like this first version!
 

> Download the high-resolution version of the picture here.


Note: The original London picture which inspired this post (available here) was notably shared by the historian, geographer and TV presenter Tim Dunn, and by Suede bassist Mat Osman. The photo was credited to DJ Santero while the Underground map was plotted by the urban developer and designer Martin Bangratz.

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If you’re familiar with guidebooks to the cities of France, you’ll know all about Le Petit Futé , which produces a benchmark series of annua...

Spot the blog in the 2021 Petit Futé Bordeaux 'citybook'!

If you’re familiar with guidebooks to the cities of France, you’ll know all about Le Petit Futé, which produces a benchmark series of annual publications compiling top tips of things to see, places to go, and activities to enjoy.

Beyond being a straightforward guidebook, the Petit Futé “citybook” concept almost has a glossy magazine feel comprising articles and interviews with local players… and the 2021 Bordeaux citybook just happens to feature Invisible Bordeaux!

So pick up a copy and scroll through to page 8 to read about the story behind the Invisible Bordeaux blog, hear what makes the city so interesting in my eyes, and to see in print a couple of photos produced as part of my recent attempt to reproduce pictures taken by US students Steve and Patti Owen during their stay in Bordeaux in the early 1970s. And then stick around to take in everything else the guide has to offer; it really is an incredibly complete overview of everything you need to know about making the most out of the city.

Big thanks and appreciation to Petit Futé writer Laurène Delion for reaching out and producing the interview!


> You’ll find the 2021 Petit Futé Bordeaux citybook in bookshops in and around the city and beyond, as well as through online channels. The 256-page publication costs €5.95.
> Official website: www.petitfute.com


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