La Bastide, Bordeaux: the old and the new

La Bastide, Bordeaux: the old and the new

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.

La Bastide, Bordeaux
La Cité du Vin, Bordeaux
La Bastide, Bordeaux
Pont Jacques Chaban Delmas (2013)

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.

La Bastide, Bordeaux
Le Pont de Pierre, from the Left Bank
La Bastide, Bordeaux
A French Girl greets la Garonne: “Say ‘Bonjour‘ to Toulouse, my hometown, for me…”

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.

La Bastide, Bordeaux
Avenue Thiers
La Bastide, Bordeaux
Quai des Queyries: Where one does not fear pickpockets

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.

La Bastide, Bordeaux
“I see la Garonne… I see Bordeaux!”

La Bastide, Bordeaux

By the water, la vie est belle. As it turns out, not all flâneurs are Parisian…

La Bastide, Bordeaux

La Bastille, Bordeaux

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.

La Bastide, Bordeaux
Approaching DARWIN, and the old Caserne Niel (Niel military barracks)

Upon entry, the complex reveals itself, big, bold, creative, in your face. Yet, as often, attention to detail pays off while visiting DARWIN.

La Bastide, Bordeaux

La Bastide, Bordeaux

La Bastide, Bordeaux

On the giant walls of the old military barracks, local street artists are free to experiment.

La Bastide, Bordeaux

La Bastide, Bordeaux

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?

La Bastide, Bordeaux
Magasin Général: la terrasse
La Bastide, Bordeaux
La salle
La Bastide, Bordeaux
Le coin cozy…

I had fun browsing the organic, locally sourced or fair trade wares inside le Magasin Général

La Bastide, Bordeaux
Légumes

La Bastille, Bordeaux
Sorry, Nutella: You have just been upstaged!
La Bastide, Bordeaux
Des Canelés, bien sûr!

Everywhere I looked, I was reminded le Magasin Général was a Green place.

La Bastide, Bordeaux
Oy. PhD needed to bus your own table!
La Bastide, Bordeaux
“We are what we eat.”

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.

La Bastide, Bordeaux
Le Am-ba-ga Darwin
La Bastide, Bordeaux
La Mousse au chocolat

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.

La Bastide, Bordeaux
Merci Jennifer, et à bientôt !

 

All photos by French Girl in Seattle. Please do not use text or images without permission. 

 

Bienvenue à Darwin Eco-Système !

17 Responses to La Bastide, Bordeaux: the old and the new

  1. It’s wonderful when cities revive unloved industrial districts. So much better than tearing them down…or letting them rot.
    I also appreciate the hipster penchant for using vintage (or just old) furnishings. It’s green.

    • I meant to add that I’ve been astounded/amused by how many times I’ve seen people leave personal items out in public places in France, especially where I live (small town Carcassonne). It makes me feel safe and also very proud of everybody’s good behavior.

    • Thank you for stopping by! I, too, enjoy this trend of making the old new again, and in a creative way to boot. I also like when the new incorporates “the bones” of the old structures as a starting point, and preserves some of the atmosphere, (and the past, in a way.) DARWIN is a great example of a successful transition in that regard. What my story does not highlight is what a thriving, creative space this area has turned into, many companies already working on site, young entrepreneurs finding inspiration and help, in co-working spaces, cultural events scheduled for the public each week… There is a lot more there to discover and I plan to return one day.

  2. I visited Bordeaux twice last year staying near Cite du Vin the first time and Chartrons the second – I didn’t venture across the river. However we are returning in August so your article is timely – thank you Veronique

  3. More I read your posts, more I want to visit these places. But it’ll be hard to do for old man like me. Merci beaucoup.

  4. It does look cool of course. But I’m amazed by the globalization of cultures. Except for the writing on the signs, it looks a lot like many places in the US with the « magnolia » influence. Love it though

    • Very good point, and I agree with you. It’s a good thing, in that sense, DARWIN is located on Bordeaux’s Right Bank, and visitors can still experience this great French city on the other side of the river.

  5. Mon dieu Magasin Général looks the ticket! Thanks for the trip. Geeze, que la France est belle! 2020 might be my year to move there. Time will tell french girl. 😉 xx
    Sandy

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