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 !


2 comments:

  1. Note that you if you take the path on the left of the viewpoint at the top, you can either join the Parc des Iris (and see some horses on the way) or reach the bottom of the lake using a path in the forest that can also make you reach some old staircase, and the quarry side. (it's pretty cool)
    There's also another path from the bottom of the lake to the top through the forest but going through the other side.
    In summer, even though it is supposedly forbidden to swim (one teenager died some years ago), many people do it. I've done it a few time myself and it's fine.
    And it's not too busy in the summer (as opposed to say the beach on Bordeaux Lac), so it remains a great spot.
    The "Nuage" refuge is really difficult to book (because it's "free"), but not impossible (I've done it once!).

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    1. Big thanks Sylvain for that interesting and useful further information! Will head back there to check out those other things... although can't promise I'll go for a swim! Spending a night in the Nuage must have been an unusual experience!

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