La Bastide, Bordeaux’s Right Bank
Challenging decisions await travelers exploring a city for the first time: To visit landmarks, or not to visit landmarks, that is the question. Embracing crowds near said-landmarks, or exploring the roads less traveled to make one’s own path, is another question. To really capture a city’s essence, one must do both. In Bordeaux, France, most visitors (and many locals) spend time on the Left Bank. That is where landmarks are, and in that sense, Bordeaux delivers. This is not to say there are no pleasant surprises, or new discoveries on that side of the Garonne river. Les Chartrons neighborhood, for example, will delight the most discriminating visitor. Still, while standing on the Left Bank at the newest museum in town, la Cité du Vin, during a recent visit, I could not help but stare at the other side of the river, across the massive Jacques Chaban-Delmas bridge. Little did I know one of the most dynamic and most original parts of town, la Bastide, stood on the Right Bank.
Crossing le Pont de Pierre to the Right Bank
For a long time, le Pont de Pierre (the Stone Bridge,) located two miles away from the Jacques Chaban Delmas bridge, was the only way to cross la Garonne. It was built as a tribute to Napoleon 1st and boasts 17 arches, to match the 17 letters in the name “Napoléon Bonaparte.” For a long time, les Bordelais were not particularly attracted to the industrial district located on the other side. That was then. This is now. La Bastide, Bordeaux, changed everything.
On the other side of the bridge, a lively neighborhood awaits, around la place Stalingrad and the area’s lifeline, avenue Thiers, lined with shops and restaurants and serviced by the local state-of-the-art Tram.
Strolling along le Quai des Queyries
As you follow la Garonne‘s Right Bank along le quai des Queyries, you realize you may just have found the best vantage point to admire Bordeaux and all of her iconic landmarks, like la place de la Bourse, its 18th century buildings, and farther down, le quai des Chartrons.
By the water, la vie est belle. As it turns out, not all flâneurs are Parisian…
Is Darwin Eco-Système the trendiest place in Bordeaux?
I could have headed to the renowned Botanical gardens that day while exploring la Bastide, Bordeaux but I was meeting a new friend for lunch, Jennifer, the American expat behind the American Mom in Bordeaux blog. We met twice during my short stay, and had an immediate connection. Similar personalities, similar life experiences: You might say Jenn and I hit it off famously. Our first lunch happened, fittingly, on the Left Bank. The second one had to be on the Right Bank. Jennifer knew just the place: “Darwin! Tu vas voir, c’est super!” She had already blogged about this up-and-coming spot in la Bastide, Bordeaux, and her story inspired me to check it out during my next visit. Project DARWIN, as it is known, is a great illustration of how enthusiastically cities all over France have embraced change over the last twenty years. In Bordeaux, where change has left its mark on the urban landscape, the greatest transformations had to happen on the Right Bank, once an undesirable, deserted industrial area. It is challenging – and unfair – to summarize DARWIN’s scope in just a couple of sentences. Let’s just say that when investors, visionary entrepreneurs, city officials, and old, abandoned, military barracks meet, magic can happen. I only scratched the surface of this eco-friendly, innovative, energetic space, yet the city girl in me loved it. I would surmise DARWIN is not everybody’s cup of tea. For one, it is hip, yet not always pretty, unlike the elegant, renowned neighborhoods facing it across the Garonne river, on Bordeaux’s Left Bank.
Upon entry, the complex reveals itself, big, bold, creative, in your face. Yet, as often, attention to detail pays off while visiting DARWIN.
On the giant walls of the old military barracks, local street artists are free to experiment.
Jennifer and I met for lunch on a hot June day. I was tempted to continue exploring; but this was Bordeaux; this was France. One of the most appealing sections of the DARWIN complex, I found out, was a sustainable food store and restaurant, le Magasin Général. Once there, it is hard to tell where the store ends and the restaurant begins. It is even harder to decide where to eat: en terrasse? à l’intérieur? A table ou au salon?
I had fun browsing the organic, locally sourced or fair trade wares inside le Magasin Général…
Everywhere I looked, I was reminded le Magasin Général was a Green place.
Sharing space with other patrons, Jennifer and I ordered a popular lunch item, one that has made its mark around the world. I did not inquire about the origin of the meat, bread, or vegetables. I assumed they were locally produced, “bio,” (organic,) and good for me. To reward myself for my discerning taste, I picked a scrumptious dessert.
Did you notice how everything looks “cool” in hipsterized restaurants, even your humble carafe d’eau or baguette?
I kid. I kid. Jennifer and I had a wonderful time at DARWIN. I would go back in a heartbeat. In fact, I probably will, since I barely scratched the surface of la Bastide, Bordeaux, and the Right Bank.
All photos by French Girl in Seattle. Please do not use text or images without permission.
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