Once again, all the subjects covered by the website over the past twelve months have been a delight to compile and research. But here ar...

2013 in review: five personal favourites


Once again, all the subjects covered by the website over the past twelve months have been a delight to compile and research. But here are five subjects which proved particularly interesting when peeling the layers away. Click on the titles or associated pictures to read the items!

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  The end of 2013 will soon be upon us and the time is therefore right to finish off the calendar year with a couple of items that look b...

2013 in review: the year’s most-read Invisible Bordeaux items

 
The end of 2013 will soon be upon us and the time is therefore right to finish off the calendar year with a couple of items that look back on some of the features that ran on Invisible Bordeaux over the past twelve months. This first set compiles the five most-read articles. Feel free to click on the titles or associated pictures to read the items!

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It was Adam over at Invisible Paris who first spotted this 1895 advertisement for a unique range of dental hygiene products: “ Dentifri...

The strange saga of the Benedictine monks, the sand, the cuttlefish and the toothpaste


It was Adam over at Invisible Paris who first spotted this 1895 advertisement for a unique range of dental hygiene products: “Dentifrices des RR. PP. Bénédictins de l’Abbaye de Soulac (Gironde)”. As the distributors, Seguin, were based in Bordeaux, it seemed like a potential subject for this website, but piecing the full story together proved to be a difficult case of working out where the facts end and the work of 19th-century marketing types begins!

The undisputed facts are that these tooth care products, which included mouth wash (or, to put it more eloquently, “elixir”), powders and paste, were produced and marketed from the late 19th-century onwards by Seguin, a company founded in 1807 and which specialised in products that were sold in chemists and parfumeries. Seguin was initially based at number 3 Rue Huguerie, near Place Tourny, and later relocated to number 47 Rue Ulysse Gayon, near Barrière Saint-Médard.

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In spite of the fact that there are still no Starbucks coffee shops in Bordeaux ( although this will change in early 2014 ), in recent year...

The shop fronts of Bordeaux

In spite of the fact that there are still no Starbucks coffee shops in Bordeaux (although this will change in early 2014), in recent years much of the city has inevitably become a standardised succession of the brand names that are ever-present on high streets throughout France and around the world. 

But in amongst the Apples and Oranges, Fnacs, Etams, Body Shops and Subways, a number of timelessly independent outlets continue to hold out against the onslaught! Scroll on down as we view a handful of examples of the kinds of elegant and charming shop fronts that can still be seen throughout the city. Let’s enjoy them while we can!

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Four-and-a-half kilometres of murky Gironde waters separate the towns of Lamarque and Blaye. Bridging this gap between the Médoc and Blay...

Ferry 'cross the Gironde: the Lamarque-Blaye boat connection (and ghost railway station)

Four-and-a-half kilometres of murky Gironde waters separate the towns of Lamarque and Blaye. Bridging this gap between the Médoc and Blayais territories is a regular ferry connection; we give you the “bac Lamarque-Blaye”!

Every year around 50,000 vehicles and 150,000 passengers utilise the service, operated by the Gironde conseil général’s TransGironde network which mainly comprises bus routes and school bus lines.

Although I seem to recollect spotting several identical ferries in the past, the line’s official website refers only to a single one, the Côtes de Blaye. The 530-ton ship, built in 1970 by the Nantes shipbuilder Chantiers Dubigeon (founded in 1760 and which folded in 1987), is 51.5 metres long, 12.3 metres wide, and manned by a six-strong crew. It can carry up to 40 vehicles and 350 passengers, reaching speeds of up to 11 knots (around 20 km/h) over the course of the 20-minute crossing.

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One of the most illustrious of Bordeaux’s daughters is Rosa Bonheur who, throughout her life which spanned much of the 19th century, became...

Rosa Bonheur: the world-famous Bordeaux-born animalière

One of the most illustrious of Bordeaux’s daughters is Rosa Bonheur who, throughout her life which spanned much of the 19th century, became a world-renowned "animalière" and is regarded by many as the most famous female painter of her time.

Rosa Bonheur was born Marie Rosalie Bonheur on March 16th 1822 at 29, Rue Saint-Jean-Saint-Seurin (now  55, Rue Duranteau) in Bordeaux. Her father, Oscar-Raymond Bonheur, was a landscape and portrait painter and frequented Spanish artist Francisco Goya during the four years the latter spent in Bordeaux up until his death.

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After creating an “Essential Bordeaux” page a few months ago, I have now produced an “Essential Gironde” page, which provides a thumbnail...

Now available: the Invisible Bordeaux guide to the essential sights in Gironde

After creating an “Essential Bordeaux” page a few months ago, I have now produced an “Essential Gironde” page, which provides a thumbnail guide to the top daytrip-friendly sights to take in during a stay in or around Bordeaux.

These include Arcachon, the Dune de Pilat, Saint-Émilion, Blaye citadel, the Médoc wine route and a handful of other “essential” visits. The page may be further edited in time when I think of things I may have initially forgotten about or if I receive too many messages from readers complaining that I’ve left a specific sight off the list!

The Essential Gironde page will remain permanently accessible in the top horizontal menu and all the sights which have been singled out can be easily located thanks to the dedicated Googlemap - which also comprises the essential sights to enjoy in Bordeaux itself.

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Photos by fellow Bonjour Bordeaux contributors Yves Maguin, Amandine Maurand and myself are currently on display at the Tapa’l’Oeil bar ...

Tapa’l’œil photo exhibition until December 14th!

Photos by fellow Bonjour Bordeaux contributors Yves Maguin, Amandine Maurand and myself are currently on display at the Tapa’l’Oeil bar in the Sainte-Croix district of Bordeaux.

The pictures were taken over the course of a single late-summer morning in the Saint-Genès, Nansouty and Saint-Michel districts of Bordeaux, and were initially exhibited as part of the district Mairie’s Arty Garden Party back in September. The photos take in architecture, infrastructure, little-noticed details on buildings and scenes of everyday life (a previous blog item has already compiled the Invisible Bordeaux contributions to the full exhibition).

The photos will be on display until Saturday December 14th 2013. Naturally, admission is entirely free of charge, while the good people of Tapa’l’Oeil will gladly provide quality food and drink at affordable prices!
  • Tapa’l’Oeil, 14 Place Pierre Renaudel, Bordeaux (opposite Sainte-Croix church), open weekday lunchtimes, and Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings. Website: www.tapaloeil.fr, tel.: 05 56 92 63 21

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This bust, which can be seen on the main esplanade in the Mériadeck quarter, depicts Aristides de Sousa Mendes, Portugal’s Consul-General...

Aristides de Sousa Mendes: the insubordinate Portuguese Consul who saved thousands of lives

This bust, which can be seen on the main esplanade in the Mériadeck quarter, depicts Aristides de Sousa Mendes, Portugal’s Consul-General in Bordeaux in 1940 and the man whose signature enabled the escape to freedom of several thousand refugees.

Sousa Mendes was 55 years old when he arrived in Bordeaux in 1939, nearing the end of a respectable career as a diplomat for his country, having held positions in Zanzibar, Brazil and the United States. Respectable but not unblemished: he had been involved in a number of incidents of financial irregularities, using public money for private purposes. It was at the end of a ten-year stint in Belgium, a point at which Sousa Mendes returned to Portugal seeking permission to leave his post, that Portuguese prime minister António de Oliveira Salazar assigned him to this new position in south-western France.

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The town of Blanquefort, in the second belt of Bordeaux’s northern suburbs, owes its name to this “white fort” ( Blanque fortis ) which k...

The white fortress of Blanquefort

The town of Blanquefort, in the second belt of Bordeaux’s northern suburbs, owes its name to this “white fort” (Blanque fortis) which kept watch over the marshy Garonne-side lowlands from the 11th century onwards. Today, the privately-owned site occasionally opens its doors to the general public, and visiting the ruins provides a unique means of instantly rewinding through 1,000 years of history. 

Archaeological digs in the area have established that there was human presence here as early as 1200BC. More recent Gallo-Roman period tiles were also uncovered suggesting that there may have been a rudimentary structure designed to monitor movement along the road pictured below, which at the time was the only route into Burdigala (Bordeaux) from the north.

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In the previous Invisible Bordeaux posts (click here for part 1 and part 2 ), you will have read about the first stages in my attempt to...

The Invisible Bordeaux Monopoly challenge: part 3/3

In the previous Invisible Bordeaux posts (click here for part 1 and part 2), you will have read about the first stages in my attempt to use the Bordeaux edition of the board game Monopoly as a roadmap to cycle around the city. The second chapter ended with me outside Sainte-Croix church.

From here it was just a short ride to Gare Saint-Jean railway station, one of the four public transport squares to collect on the Bordeaux Monopoly board (solely railway stations in the original editions). On the other side of the railway lines lies the Belcier quarter which is, along with Bassins à Flots, currently the cheapest square on the board (60 Monopoly dollars, or M's). There are run-down, semi-demolished houses, rows of no-frills low-rise échoppes, but also a number of modern office and residential buildings taking shape and heralding the area’s on-going re-birth, which is likely to move up a gear when the very high-speed rail network is complete in 2017. Property here will then be just two hours from central Paris, i.e. almost as accessible as some of the capital city’s distant suburbs!

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In the previous Invisible Bordeaux post , you will have read about the first stages in my attempt to use the Bordeaux edition of Monopoly...

The Invisible Bordeaux Monopoly challenge: part 2/3

In the previous Invisible Bordeaux post, you will have read about the first stages in my attempt to use the Bordeaux edition of Monopoly as a roadmap to cycle around the city. The first chapter ended with me on Esplanade des Quinconces admiring wedding photographers at work.

From here on the Monopoly stops were coming thick and fast: the affluent Triangle d’Or (the most expensive blue-set property on the board, at 400 Monopoly dollars, or M's), the public transport hub and square that is Place Gambetta (M240), the wide walkway of Cours du Chapeau-Rouge (M260) where a few artists were displaying and selling their pictures, and Place de la Bourse (M320) which, at the time I was there, was still virtually deserted.

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Every year during my family’s summer holidays, a different board game rules the early-evening apéritif slot. This year, that game was the...

The Invisible Bordeaux Monopoly challenge: part 1/3

Every year during my family’s summer holidays, a different board game rules the early-evening apéritif slot. This year, that game was the Bordeaux edition of the classic board game Monopoly and it occurred to me, possibly after a couple of glasses of Corsican wine (and probably inspired by this book), that the board could serve as an interesting and unusual roadmap for a cycle ride around the city. The Invisible Bordeaux Monopoly challenge was born!

The current Bordeaux Monopoly set, one of a host of regional variants that are now available (Bassin d’Arcachon and Gironde versions also exist), was released by games specialists Winning Moves under licence from Hasbro in 2011, a decade on from the city’s first edition. The streets and districts on the board cover a wide variety of property market values, as identified with the aid of local real estate specialists. The Monopoly board therefore serves as an instant snapshot of where in the city property is the most desirable, and where it is the most affordable!

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Welcome to the Le Chapon Fin , one of Bordeaux’s oldest restaurants and firmly established as an essential high-society meeting point in th...

Le Chapon Fin: the Bordeaux dining experience by royal appointment

Welcome to the Le Chapon Fin, one of Bordeaux’s oldest restaurants and firmly established as an essential high-society meeting point in the heart of the affluent Triangle d’Or, the three sides of which are formed by Cours de l’Intendance, Cours Clémenceau and Allées de Tourny.

The restaurant was founded in 1825 in the slipstream of the French Revolution. Convent land and buildings had been confiscated and within the space of a few years of hasty urban planning, housing, shops, theatres, a covered market and restaurants all mushroomed to serve the needs of the quarter’s wealthy trader residents.

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An exhibition held last weekend as part of the Saint-Michel/Nansouty/Saint-Michel quarter's Arty Garden Party featured a number o...

Arty Garden Party photo exhibition


An exhibition held last weekend as part of the Saint-Michel/Nansouty/Saint-Michel quarter's Arty Garden Party featured a number of my photos. Fellow snapper Amandine Maurand and I had been commissioned by Bonjour Bordeaux supremo Yves Maguin to team up with him to take photographs in the surrounding neighbourhood. 

Some 60 of our shots were on display at the event, which was held in the rather lovely Jardin des Dames de la Foi. As an integral part of the programme - which also featured concerts, drama productions, guided walking tours, children's workshops, yoga sessions and martial arts demos - the exhibition proved to be popular and district mayor Fabien Robert even stated that the photos uncovered a number of sights with which he was unfamiliar.

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To the side of a roundabout in Mérignac, not far from junction 10 of the Rocade ringroad, a flame-shaped marble plaque is the sole reminder...

Beaudésert internment camp: the inconvenient truths of a wartime prison

To the side of a roundabout in Mérignac, not far from junction 10 of the Rocade ringroad, a flame-shaped marble plaque is the sole reminder of what was once located there or thereabouts: Mérignac-Beaudésert internment camp.

The Beaudésert district, after playing a leading role in the birth of aviation in the area, had formed the backdrop to a 20,000-bed hospital set up by the US Army during the First World War. Then, throughout the 1920s, the surrounding area had been earmarked by the local authorities for an “Olympic”-style village with sports fields, tennis courts, swimming pool and skating rink. The ambitious plans were soon shelved though and the area instead became occupied by the traveller community... whose immediate environment was about to change radically.

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It is September 3rd 1910, and the silhouette which can be seen over to the top right of the picture above, flying over the Garonne in cen...

Beaudésert airfield and the development of Bordeaux-Mérignac airport


It is September 3rd 1910, and the silhouette which can be seen over to the top right of the picture above, flying over the Garonne in central Bordeaux, is that of a Voisin-Gnome biplane, with the Peruvian aviator Juan Bielovucic on board (inset). His arrival in the city came ahead of a week-long “Grande semaine d’aviation”, which laid the foundations of the longstanding and healthy relationship between the Bordeaux area and aeronautics… and was in many ways the birth of Mérignac airport.

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The annual European heritage days take place on September 14th and 15th. As ever the event will provide a unique opportunity to get behin...

Journées du Patrimoine 2013: the Invisible Bordeaux selection!

The annual European heritage days take place on September 14th and 15th. As ever the event will provide a unique opportunity to get behind the scenes of many fascinating places, or else stay out in the open and enjoy some fine guided walking tours. 

Here is a small selection of some of the more unusual visits which have caught the eye of Invisible Bordeaux, while the full list of venues and visits - in Bordeaux and beyond - can be found on the official event website.

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On the right bank of the Garonne river, mid-way between Pont Chaban-Delmas and Pont d’Aquitaine, the 70-strong workforce of an industrial...

Jock: the Bordeaux family business whose “crème” is a Bordeaux family favourite

On the right bank of the Garonne river, mid-way between Pont Chaban-Delmas and Pont d’Aquitaine, the 70-strong workforce of an industrial plant is hard at work around the clock manufacturing products under the brand name Jock. The name is familiar to the citizens of Bordeaux and beyond, and the company is responsible for what is, for many, one of the most evocative foodstuffs of their childhood: “la crème Jock”.

The delicacy was created by biscuit-maker Raymond Boulesque in 1938 on Rue Bergeret in the central Bordeaux Capucins district. His aim had been to invent an inexpensive cereal-based foodstuff for children at a time when sugar was both hard to come by and costly. The end-product proved just as popular with adults, who enjoyed the crème as a dessert in its own right.
Rue Bergeret and Raymond Boulesque. And his dog. (Right-hand picture from display in Jock factory shop.)
After the Second World War, Boulesque made a first attempt at diversifying into other products, developing a hot chocolate breakfast treat which was given the name Mars. He had been unaware of the identically-named chocolate bar which had been developed and produced in the UK since 1932. The Bordeaux version of Mars was soon dropped although the no doubt closely-related “Crème tradition au chocolat” is still available today and referred to on the company’s website as the “younger sister” of Boulesque’s original invention.

The venture went from strength to strength though and in 1955, under the leadership of the founder’s son Marius Boulesque, the Jock workforce moved to new premises on Rue de Bethmann, to the south-west of the city. That period, and the following phase, with a third-generation member of the family at the helm, Jean-Pierre Ballanger, was the start of the golden age of la crème Jock, which is still nostalgically associated by countless people with their childhood.

Jock staff at the Rue de Bethmann premises (picture from display in Jock factory shop),
and the scene at n°130 Rue de Bethmann today.
In 1999, Jock moved to the new purpose-built facility on Quai de Brazza where they can still be found today, and the current managers are Jean-Pierre and Jean-Philippe Ballanger, the great-grandsons of Raymond Boulesque. The diversification strategy which began all those years ago is paying dividends; the original crème now accounts for less than 5% of the company’s sales while its most bankable products include instant cake batter (their brownie recipe is a hit in the US) and other readymade dessert mixtures (some of which are marketed under the PrePat'33/PréPât brand). The company also manufactures countless products incognito. These are then sold under the brand names of chain stores such as Leclerc, Super U and Carrefour (output extends to icing sugar and yeast). Jock now aim to launch at least three new products every year and continue boosting revenues, which recently recorded a five-fold jump over an eleven-year period, hitting the €30m mark in 2012.


Since 2012, the full range of Jock products has been available for purchase in a quaint factory shop located on the ground floor of the facility and open during factory hours. The shop also stocks vintage branded souvenirs and cooking utensils, as well as prominent reminders of the company’s partnership deal with local Top 14 rugby team, Union Bordeaux-Bègles (their logo features on the outfits the players wear when warming up and the club's official rugby balls).

Recently visiting the shop, there was obviously no way I was going to leave empty-handed, and I ended up buying two packs of the original crème Jock, and readymade mixtures to home-bake  my very own lemon cake, cannelés and gâteau basque, all in the name of Invisible Bordeaux research, of course. So you will be pleased to know that so far I have carried out a number of kitchen-based experiments with the various Jock products (all apart from the gâteau basque mixture), the results of which were as follows:

First up was the crème Jock itself, and it soon transpired that it had been a good move to purchase two packs as I misread the slightly ambiguous instructions and ended up emptying the first pack, thus putting ten times too much powder into my pan of milk. The result proved inedible although I was able to use it to plaster over some unsightly holes in the bedroom of one of my children.

The second time round I paid far more attention to the recipe (confusingly, the recommended quantities are detailed in a separate box on the pack to the cooking instructions themselves) and opted for “crème anglaise” texture. Indeed, one of the beauties of crème Jock is that differing thicknesses genuinely do result in totally different desserts (such as crème dessert and crème pâtissière).

This take on crème anglaise, which was slightly less sweet than other products on the market, did prove successful and was used for a dessert made up of Rice Krispies hardened with, ironically, melted down Mars bars. It was rather delicious. What is more, after a further 24 hours in the fridge, the crème had hardened and was enjoyed the following day as a standalone dessert.

My second failed experiment involved the Jock cannelés. Cooking cannelés is a fine art and on that day I ran out of time. The recommended baking time was between 40 and 45 minutes and well beyond that deadline the cannelés were still not cooked on the inside, or golden brown on the outside. Perhaps this was down to the silicon baking moulds I was using (which should not have been issue). Whatever, I grew impatient and we ended up consuming the half-baked cannelés, all photographic evidence of which has been destroyed.

To end on a positive note though, my attempt at cooking the readymade lemon cake mixture was a resounding success. With the benefit of hindsight, the most difficult part of the whole process was opening the packet… then resisting the temptation to eat the raw mixture inside. Other than greasing the tin, no additional ingredients are required and once in the oven the cake bakes and rises within 30 minutes. The resulting cake was an absolute delight and, it might be noted, remarkably easy to slice.

If I’m to further develop my nascent love affair with Jock produce, I still have quite a bit of catching up to do though. A quick web search will result in a whole host of more creative recipe ideas posted by enthusiasts, the best source being the blog run by Jock themselves!
> Find them on the Invisible Bordeaux map: factory and shop, Quai de Brazza; previous locations on Rue Bergeret and Rue de Bethmann. 
> Official Jock website: www.jock.fr 
> Online shop including recipe blog: www.boutique-jock.fr
> Ce dossier est également disponible en français !
Finally, this great 1984 TV advert features Girondins football legend Alain Giresse:


Click here if video doesn't display properly on your device.

Although today's ads look more like this:


Click here if video doesn't display properly on your device.
 
Big thanks to Guillaume and Erik who suggested this subject!

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Centre National Jean Moulin is a compact museum devoted to the Second World War that, despite its central location on Place Jean-Moulin, ...

Centre National Jean Moulin: remembering the Second World War

Centre National Jean Moulin is a compact museum devoted to the Second World War that, despite its central location on Place Jean-Moulin, just off Place Pey-Berland, doesn’t always make it on to the list of to-see places for locals, let alone tourists.

The centre was created in 1967 under the aegis of the then mayor of Bordeaux, Jacques Chaban-Delmas. Since 1981, it has been housed in what used to be the premises of the Caisse d’Épargne bank, whose teams have since moved on to the Mériadeck quarter… and are soon set to move again to new quarters on the Garonne waterfront.

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Cité Frugès , also known as Les Quartiers Modernes Frugès , is a 1920s housing estate of particular architectural and historical signific...

Le Corbusier's Cité Frugès: timelessly modern and back in fashion

Cité Frugès, also known as Les Quartiers Modernes Frugès, is a 1920s housing estate of particular architectural and historical significance, and its 50 properties have slowly become a source of pride for the surrounding town of Pessac.

This unique venture was initially commissioned in 1924 by the local industrialist Henry Frugès (1879-1974), whose wealth had been built on the success of his sugar refinery business (later taken over by Béghin-Say, which ceased operations in Bordeaux in 1984). Frugès, who had already nurtured a reputation as a rich eccentric, as showcased by his spectacular residence on Place des Martyrs de la Résistance in central Bordeaux (still known as Hôtel Frugès), developed an ambitious plan to house his factory workers.

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Tucked away in amongst the busy thoroughfares of Bordeaux are a couple of covered arcades which offer a time capsule-like glimpse into the ...

Passage Sarget and Galerie Bordelaise: arcade games and the birth of Mollat

Tucked away in amongst the busy thoroughfares of Bordeaux are a couple of covered arcades which offer a time capsule-like glimpse into the shopping malls of yesteryear.

Our first stop is the elegant Passage Sarget, which connects Place du Chapelet with Cours de l’Intendance. Opened in 1878, the arcade is named after Baron Sarget, a local dignitary (his mansion house was located nearby) who funded its construction.

In 1917, Passage Sarget was purchased by the wine trader Nicolas Désiré-Cordier. Just two years later he sold it on to the city of Bordeaux for 1 million francs. The city was keen to acquire the passageway because pedestrians far preferred walking through the arcade to the road that runs parallel, Rue Martignac, which was considered unsafe at the time.

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As reported in the previous Invisible Bordeaux item , in the early years of the 20th century, the small community of Croix d’Hins became ...

Croix d’Hins (2/2): the Lafayette super high-power radio station

As reported in the previous Invisible Bordeaux item, in the early years of the 20th century, the small community of Croix d’Hins became synonymous with its airfield. But as the airfield faded into obscurity, Croix d’Hins provided the setting for the construction of the world’s most powerful radio transmitter station.

The eight-pylon station, which covered an area of 400 metres by 1,200 metres (the equivalent of 96 football pitches!), was a by-product of the First World War. During the conflict, ocean-bed telephone cables were severed and alternative means of long-range communication had to be explored. At the time, radiotelegraphy (or TSF in French, télégraphie sans fil) was developing rapidly and when the US joined Allied operations in 1917, they needed a reliable and permanent communications channel between Europe and the States.

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The quiet village of Croix d’Hins, a district of Marcheprime that lies mid-way between Bordeaux and Arcachon, is a succession of resident...

Croix d’Hins (1/2): Léon Delagrange and a short chapter in the history of aviation

The quiet village of Croix d’Hins, a district of Marcheprime that lies mid-way between Bordeaux and Arcachon, is a succession of residential streets broken up solely by the occasional small industrial plant. This image is far-removed from its status as one of the birthplaces of aviation (and later large-scale radio transmission). For the full story, let’s travel back in time to 1903!

For it was around this time that the flat expanses of land in Croix d’Hins were deemed to be an ideal setting for an airfield by the pioneering pilots and aircraft builders Louis Blériot and Gabriel Voisin. Space was cleared on a stretch alongside the railway line and these early aviators found themselves with 7,400 acres (3,000 hectares) to play with, making Croix d’Hins one of the biggest airfields in the world at the time! Blériot made good use of the installations, trialling a number of his creations there.

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Thanks to everyone who took part in the photo contest organised jointly with the Bonjour Bordeaux daily photo website and the Tapa’l’oeil ...

Photo contest: the winning entries

Thanks to everyone who took part in the photo contest organised jointly with the Bonjour Bordeaux daily photo website and the Tapa’l’oeil tapas bar.

Over recent weeks we had asked for photos that captured an unusual sight or scene in and around Bordeaux. On Thursday July 4th, a select gathering assessed 25 submissions and the winning photo is this one by Clacla des Bois. It shows a familiar sight, the two 21-metre-high rostral columns which have watched over the Esplanade des Quinconces since 1829, as viewed from an unfamiliar angle: instead of the wide, open space of the Esplanade, they are peeking through a blanket of trees, making for an unusual urban forest!


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The Médoc village of Cussac-Fort-Médoc boasts one of the most grandiose sights in the area: the 17th-century Fort Médoc, one of three f...

Fort Médoc: nothing to report after three centuries spent monitoring the Gironde Estuary

The Médoc village of Cussac-Fort-Médoc boasts one of the most grandiose sights in the area: the 17th-century Fort Médoc, one of three fortified structures that make up “le verrou de l’Estuaire” (the bolt of the Gironde estuary), dreamt up by the military architect and engineer Vauban.

The story goes that in 1685, Sébastien Le Prestre, better-known as Marquis de Vauban, was surveying the Atlantic coast. Vauban had been appointed Marshal of France (the country’s highest military distinction) under Louis XIV and was on the lookout for any location that might undermine the Sun King’s authority. Assessing the citadel of Blaye, which had often proved vulnerable to British invaders, he established that it would have to be strengthened and that the Estuary as a whole needed to be “locked” in order to protect the city of Bordeaux, further upstream.

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When arriving in the suburban town of Eysines from Le Taillan-Médoc, we are greeted by a strange sight in the middle of a roundabout: ...

The potatoes of Eysines



When arriving in the suburban town of Eysines from Le Taillan-Médoc, we are greeted by a strange sight in the middle of a roundabout: a giant smiling potato that appears to have jumped straight out of a picture drawn by a child. 

And that is more or less exactly what happened: the giant potato and the design of the roundabout are the work of local schoolchildren (members of the junior town council)… and celebrates the special relationship the town of Eysines has with its potatoes.

It is all thanks to the “Vallée des Jalles” which runs through the town. “Jalles”, which make regular appearances on Invisible Bordeaux, are a large network of streams and rivers that flow eastwards towards the Garonne and the Gironde Estuary.

For many years here in Eysines, watermills made good use of the water power generated by the Jalle d'Eysines to produce flour which was then sold on to customers in Bordeaux. Today’s most visible remnant is the magnificent Moulin Blanc, which now operates as "Bistrot de la Jalle" a scenic reception venue and restaurant.


In the surrounding wetlands, the rich soil was used to produce vegetables, so much so that the area became known as “le potager de Bordeaux” (the vegetable garden of Bordeaux).  The output centred around a local variety of potato – la pomme de terre d’Eysines – and production peaked towards the end of the 19th century, partly because further plots previously used for cultivating vines were also converted into potato patches after a number of outbreaks of the vine-killing pest phylloxera. Other local delicacies included (and still include) the “giraumon brodé galeux d’Eysines”, a pumpkin-like vegetable with particularly thick and rough skin (best enjoyed as soup). It is thought that around 600 people contributed to vegetable production at the time. Today around 15 separate agricultural units continue to operate.


But how about the Eysines potato itself? Well, for the sake of research, I personally purchased a few samples from a roadside vegetable stall, and followed the recommended two-step recipe to get the most out of them: first cook the potatoes (either boiling water or steam will do) and then gently fry them in butter and oil. When peeling off the surpisingly thin skin, I was struck by how firm the potatoes were, and by how pale they were.

The boiling water stage didn't last long; after barely five minutes I sensed the firmness had gone and they were ready to be transferred to the frying pan, and seasoned with a pinch or two of salt and pepper. A few more minutes down the line and they were ready for consumption and, in all honesty, they were absolutely delicious and truly lived up to their reputation for tasting particularly sweet (all to do with the damp soil and jalles water) and refined – no wonder they were the de rigueur potato on board the luxury cruise liner Le France back in the day…

The Eysines potatoes being put to the test in the Invisible Bordeaux kitchen:
covered with soil before being peeled, then the two-step boil and fry sequence.
Consume and enjoy!
But don’t just take my word for it: an association known as “Confrérie de la Pomme de Terre d’Eysines” was founded a number of years ago, with volunteers acting as ambassadors at culinary events throughout the country to promote the wonder vegetable of Eysines. The organisation is also one of the driving forces behind the annual celebratory “Fête de la Patate” held every year in Eysines. Over three days, concerts, public dances and general potato-themed festivities bring hundreds of people together. 


The municipality itself has also sought to promote and develop its vegetable-growing credentials in recent years by organising exhibitions and workshops for children and their parents, and by creating a farmer's hut and “jardin pédagogique” where locals can familiarise themselves with the joys of cultivating vegetables.

And, since 2005, the vast vegetable-growing area has provided the backdrop to a popular running race every spring, the “Raid des Maraîchers”. But no need to hold on until the next Raid takes place to visit the area which, along the banks of the Jalle d'Eysines and in amongst the fertile vegetable patches, provides a charming and idyllic setting for a gentle stroll, jog or bicycle ride, and all a mere ten kilometres from the geographical centre of Bordeaux!

Some of the scenery to take in, including (bottom left) an example of the rudimentary lock systems used to regulate the flow of streams throughout the area.
> Find them on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Moulin Blanc and the vegetable-growing area, Potato roundabout, Eysines.
> Ce dossier est également disponible en français ! 

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The time has come for another tour of some of the faded hand-painted signs - or, if you will, ghost signs - to be found in and around Bor...

Ghost signs in and around Bordeaux, chapter 4

The time has come for another tour of some of the faded hand-painted signs - or, if you will, ghost signs - to be found in and around Bordeaux, and which are to be admired and savoured before they fade away for good... and all of which can be located in the slowly-expanding dedicated GoogleMap!

This first unusual find can be spotted on the walls of a house on Cours du Médoc, one of the main arteries into the city centre from the north. In case you're wondering, the house is number 180... although this is easy to work out as three generations of 180s are still very much visible above a sign that still promises "chambres garnies à louer" (furnished rooms for rent - thanks to Twitter correspondents for helping me decipher the phrase!). This suggests the building was previously a guest-house possibly providing mid- to long-term accommodation.

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Think of a typical Parisian scene and there’s every chance it will feature the unmistakeable silhouette of a Wallace drinking fountain… ...

The Wallace fountains of Bordeaux


Think of a typical Parisian scene and there’s every chance it will feature the unmistakeable silhouette of a Wallace drinking fountain… but a handful can also be spotted in Bordeaux!

These elegant cast-iron public drinking fountains, designed in 1872 by the French sculptor Charles-Auguste Lebourg, were originally commissioned by an Englishman in Paris, the wealthy art collector and philanthropist Richard Wallace (1818-1890 and buried at Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris). Wallace’s fortune had been inherited from his father and, as his adopted hometown suffered during the 1870 Franco-Prussian War, Wallace put his riches to altruistic use, first funding two field hospitals and then donating to the city 50 of these drinking fountains, aimed at offering sources of free drinking water to the homeless and needy.

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Tour Pey-Berland, the bell tower of Saint-André cathedral, is justifiably one of the most popular tourist attractions in Bordeaux. Climbi...

The cathedral bells of Pey-Berland tower

Tour Pey-Berland, the bell tower of Saint-André cathedral, is justifiably one of the most popular tourist attractions in Bordeaux. Climbing up the 231 steps to the top, two wooden doors are usually locked, keeping the bell chamber out of reach of the general public. 

However, taking up an offer made by Antoine (also known as the blogger MystickTroy), a member of staff at the tower, Invisible Bordeaux was given an access-all-areas tour and was able to view the four cathedral bells in all their glory!

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Bordeaux is naturally associated with the Garonne, but historically the city developed along the banks of two smaller rivers which ran i...

Underground, overground: tracking the river Devèze from Mérignac to Bordeaux


Bordeaux is naturally associated with the Garonne, but historically the city developed along the banks of two smaller rivers which ran into the Garonne: the Devèze and the Peugue. Both streams continue to flow but, in central Bordeaux, have been driven underground. Invisible Bordeaux decided to follow the course of the Devèze to find out what remains of this significant river today.

The Devèze emerges from the undergrowth in Mérignac, just east of the runway of Mérignac airport. The source is easy to locate: a prominent permanent advert for the Sexy Center sex shop can be seen nearby! Whilst in its infancy, the Devèze runs behind a number of nondescript office buildings and bus depots. A path runs alongside it but there are a number of obstacles along the way… cyclists take note!

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We find ourselves in Pyla-sur-Mer, and tucked away in one of the quiet residential districts, just a few hundred metres inland from the w...

Chapelle Saint-Esprit: the alfresco place of worship

We find ourselves in Pyla-sur-Mer, and tucked away in one of the quiet residential districts, just a few hundred metres inland from the waters of the Bassin d’Arcachon, is a curious church: la Chapelle Saint-Esprit.

The chapel is a seasonal operation, with masses held there solely during the summer holiday period, in July and August, at hours which are part of a rota that includes five other chuches in and around Arcachon.

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In the Pierroton district of Cestas, just off the main road that leads from Bordeaux to Arcachon, a monument to the agronomist François J...

Chambrelent: the architect of the Landes forests

In the Pierroton district of Cestas, just off the main road that leads from Bordeaux to Arcachon, a monument to the agronomist François Jules Hilaire Chambrelent can be seen. It was Chambrelent’s work throughout the 19th century that went some way towards making much of les Landes of south-western France the pleasant and hospitable place we are familiar with today.

In the past, it had been a very different story. South of Bordeaux, the inland area was a succession of vast, barren plains that were frequently flooded. This extensive sandy marshland, which became known to many as the “French Sahara”, was a particular challenge to many pilgrims as they headed south towards Santiago de Compostela in north-western Spain.

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The 70-metre-high twin bell towers of Sacré-Coeur parish church are one of the constants on the skyline of the residential streets near S...

Sacré-Coeur: the 24-hour timekeeper near Saint-Jean railway station

The 70-metre-high twin bell towers of Sacré-Coeur parish church are one of the constants on the skyline of the residential streets near Saint-Jean railway station. 

They have towered over the surrounding échoppes since 1870. The church was one of many to be built during that second half of the 19th century as part of a drive led by the then Archbishop of Bordeaux, Cardinal Donnet. In fact, spires and steeples were going up or being restored at such a rate that Baron Haussmann, best-known as the Prefect and city-planner behind the tree-lined boulevards of Paris (but who had also spent time serving at Blaye, in Gironde), is quoted as telling Donnet that Gironde was beginning to “look like a hedgehog” (“Notre département, Monseigneur, ressemblera d’ici peu à un hérisson !”).

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The concrete-and-glass development to be found in the central Bordeaux district of Mériadeck is far-removed from the city’s more traditi...

Mériadeck: this used to be the vision of the future inner-city

The concrete-and-glass development to be found in the central Bordeaux district of Mériadeck is far-removed from the city’s more traditional image of picturesque squares and harmonious façades. This large-scale urban high-rise jungle, which has always struggled to gain acceptance from the people of Bordeaux, began to evolve into its present shape in the 1960s. Its complex story began many years before that though…

This area, located just a few hundred metres to the west of Cathédrale Saint-André, was initially wetland which the city strived to drain to avoid epidemics in the 17th century. A monastery for the Chartreux community of monks was built there (where the Chartreuse cemetery, created in 1791, can be seen today) but was soon destroyed and the inhospitable marshland took hold once again.

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Andernos-les-Bains is a resort on the Bassin d’Arcachon which is possibly best-known for its jetty , the longest of its type in Europe ...

The Gallo-Roman villa with a view in Andernos-les-Bains

Andernos-les-Bains is a resort on the Bassin d’Arcachon which is possibly best-known for its jetty, the longest of its type in Europe (232 metres!). Today though, we are investigating the ruins of a Gallo-Roman villa that can be viewed alongside Saint-Éloi church, which overlooks the beach just a short distance to the north of the town centre.

The church dates back to the 11th century and, over the centuries, storms have caused the shoreline to move and the Arcachon bay waters have gradually gained ground. It has been established that, as recently as the early 19th century, the church lay 100 metres inland, surrounded by its cemetery.

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Question: Where in Bordeaux can you view cows, roses and vines, stroll alongside a mock Pyrenean mountain stream, sit on a bench from Mun...

Parc Floral: the green and pleasant land with an international flavour!

Question: Where in Bordeaux can you view cows, roses and vines, stroll alongside a mock Pyrenean mountain stream, sit on a bench from Munich, dispose of litter in a dustbin from Madrid and unwind in a Japanese garden? Answer: the Parc Floral in the Bordeaux-Lac quarter to the north of the city.

The 1992 opening of the Parc Floral tied in with an international flower festival, Les Floralies Internationales de Bordeaux. Over the 20-or-so ensuing years, the 50-acre landscaped park and its neighbouring 320-acre wood, le Bois de Bordeaux, have become the territory of joggers, ramblers and cyclists, and cultural events are also occasionally held there.

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He is celebrated by a square, a monument and a lycée (not to mention a fast-food outlet) in Bordeaux, and enjoys simi...

Camille Jullian: the man who reconstructed the history of Bordeaux

He is celebrated by a square, a monument and a lycée (not to mention a fast-food outlet) in Bordeaux, and enjoys similar accolades in Paris and his birthplace Marseille, but who was Camille Jullian?

During his life, which stretched from 1859 until 1933, Camille Jullian became a renowned historian, philologist (specialising in the study of written texts) and epigraphist (deciphering ancient inscriptions). He is best remembered for his multiple door-stopper of an epic that was “Histoire de la Gaule”, released in eight instalments between 1907 and 1928.

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This blog is all about scraping beneath the surface of the city and uncovering the lesser-known places and stories that Bordeaux has to ...

The Invisible Bordeaux guide to the city's essential sights!

This blog is all about scraping beneath the surface of the city and uncovering the lesser-known places and stories that Bordeaux has to offer. However, by popular demand, I have also produced a thumbnail guide to the more postcard-friendly sights that you are legally expected to take in during a stay in the city.

The resulting Essential Bordeaux page will remain permanently accessible in the top horizontal menu and all the sights which have been singled out can be easily located thanks to a dedicated Googlemap. Coming soon is a similar guide to the essential sights further afield in Gironde... more news as it comes in. In the meantime, enjoy this concise guide to the very best of what Bordeaux has to offer!

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As well as being a marvellous place for a relaxing stroll, the Écosite du Bourgailh in Pessac is a case study in innovative regeneratio...

Le Bourgailh: Pessac's innovative green belt eco-site

As well as being a marvellous place for a relaxing stroll, the Écosite du Bourgailh in Pessac is a case study in innovative regeneration.

Le Bourgailh is a 160-acre landscaped section of the green belt that runs between the Rocade ringroad and the source of the Peugue river, which was for centuries part of the lifeblood of Bordeaux but has long been driven underground nearer the city until it flows into the Garonne at the end of Cours Alsace-Lorraine.

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