When Ira suggested I write a guest post for her fantastic Lost In Bordeaux blog, I wondered what might be the best approach. Over the years my Invisible Bordeaux blog has sought to uncover the city’s more obscure and lesser-known sights and stories. This has resulted in many interesting encounters and numerous fascinating discoveries, writing about subjects as varied as Cacolac (a local beverage that is most definitely not wine), Mort Shuman (the renowned Brooklyn-born singer-songwriter who is buried in Caudéran), the innovative silent movie star Max Linder, the events of May 1968… and what can be found at the point of convergence between the 45th parallel and the Greenwich meridian (the answer is: not much).
But one of the things I’ve realized is that one of the best ways to visit the city is by finding an unusual angle, transforming it into an itinerary, and just seeing what happens. I thought it might be interesting to share a few of those tips, which you may or may not want to replicate, or which might trigger concepts of your own! So here are five alternative ways of visiting Bordeaux:
Using a Monopoly board as a roadmap to discovering Bordeaux
There are many regional variants of the legendary board game Monopoly, including one that is set in Bordeaux. Of course, the basic premise of the game is that the various squares represent streets or districts of diverse real estate values… and therefore different moods and atmospheres. So, by plotting a route across all those squares in real life, you are bound to get a feel of the city as a whole! This is something Invisible Bordeaux tested, by conceiving an itinerary that involved “collecting” all the Monopoly properties over the course of the journey, which is probably best enjoyed on a bike. The trip was made using what is now an older edition of the game and that remained within the city itself, whereas the current edition includes stops that are further afield… but the potential for an unusual take on Bordeaux remains intact! You can discover the full route in this article.
You can also read Lost in Bordeaux’s articles about things to do in the chic Chartrons neighborhood and the hip Bacalan district as this fun route goes through both of these districts.
Plaque-spotting on the waterfront
The Garonne waterfront is now synonymous with its pleasant walkways, shops and café terraces, but by hunting out some of the plaques that have been positioned here and there, it is possible to travel back in time and imagine how it once was. One of the city’s big taboo subjects is its Second World War period, but plaques commemorating the British Royal Marines’ ambitious “Operation Frankton” (between Hangar 14 and the skatepark), the altruistic actions of Portuguese consul Aristides de Sousa Mendes (Quai Louis XVIII) and the manner in which Spanish guerilla Pablo Sanchez saved the Pont de Pierre from imminent destruction (Quai Richelieu) serve as testaments of some of the city’s more inspiring wartime events.
By the “Bourse Maritime” building, a statue by Haitian sculptor Filipo that depicts the slave Modeste Testas is a poignant recently-installed memorial to the city’s slave trade past (get closer to the riverfront to see her). It is located, along with its accompanying plaque, towards the area from which ships set sail between 1672 and 1837, on the first legs of 508 triangular slave trade voyages that resulted in 150,000 Africans being deported to the Americas. Finally, on Quai des Chartrons, a plaque commemorates the legacy of Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States and a veritable “symbol of Franco-American friendship”. It is positioned here in honor of the five fruitful fact-finding days this renowned wine connoisseur spent in the city in 1787!
The Wallace fountain hunt
Wallace fountains are distinctive, elegant green cast-iron drinking fountains that are more naturally associated with Paris, but there are seven to be spotted around Bordeaux, in locations ranging from the Jardin Public to Place Stalingrad, via pleasant lesser-known squares such as Place Mitchell and Place de Porto-Riche. Some are original 19th-century models that were financed at the time by local philanthropist Daniel Osiris, while others are more recent replicas. Invisible Bordeaux has a very detailed article explaining where the Wallace fountains can be found in Bordeaux.
The 1950s Formula 1 circuit
In the early 1950s, the city center of Bordeaux hosted four Formula 1 Grand Prix races, attracting driving aces including Juan Manuel Fangio, Stirling Moss and Maurice Trintignant. The drivers competed on a 2.5-kilometer circuit which looped around the Esplanade des Quinconces and along the waterfront. In order to be recognized as a Formula 1 race, the total distance had to be of at least 300 kilometers; drivers would, therefore, have to go around the track no less than 123 times, amounting to a little over three hours of racing. It is easy to find maps of the circuit in order to revisit it on foot or by bike, although going around once is probably enough! Read the full article about how Bordeaux city centre became a Formula 1 racing track.
Greenery in the suburbs of Bordeaux
Finally, it can be refreshing to head out to the suburbs and enjoy some of the nice greenery and wide-open spaces to be found within a relatively small radius. You can, for instance, start out to the north of the city at the surprising Parc Floral (now part of the recently rebranded “Réserve écologique des Barails”) with its curious twin city gardens, stunning rose garden and artificial Pyrenean stream.
Looping your way anti-clockwise around the city’s periphery, make sure you take in the massive vegetable growing patches in Eysines, the linear Parc du Ruisseau in Le Haillan, the slightly arty Bois du Bouscat in Le Bouscat, followed by the tall and impressive wooden structures of Pessac’s Écosite du Bourgailh. Then the leafy stroll along the Eau Bourde stream in Gradignan and Canéjan is other-worldly, the Garonne riverside path between Floirac and Latresne is an absolute delight, and Lormont’s Parc de l’Ermitage Sainte-Catherine is a scenic reminder that the right bank is a hilly beast! The hustle and bustle of the city center soon feels a long way away!
A little bit about Tim, the founder and writer of Invisible Bordeaux
Tim Pike is an Englishman who has spent most of his adult life in France. On his website Invisible Bordeaux, he has been documenting the city’s lesser-known sights, stories and landmarks since 2011, also using the project as a great excuse to do a lot of cycling! During office hours Tim handles digital communications and content for the aerospace company Thales. He can also occasionally be spotted out and about singing and playing guitar.
These and many more subjects have been covered over the years on Invisible Bordeaux, which you’ll find here: http://invisiblebordeaux.blogspot.com
You can also follow Invisible Bordeaux on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.