stroll between islands and vineyards

A motorboat goes up the estuary of a huge river. The sky is heavy, the clouds dappled. Skirting an island whose vegetation evokes an impenetrable mangrove, the hero of The green island (1932) wonders about the reasons which pushed him to settle there for one or two seasons. The Gironde estuary has not had the luck of Bordeaux. Where the capital of New Aquitaine saw its splendor sung and scratched by François Mauriac, he only had Pierre Benoit. And this beautiful novel that is The green island, ecological advocacy before its time, the hero of which is a naturalist fascinated by birds, survives only in the memory of a few nostalgic.

The island, however, is still there. Created by successive deposits of alluvium and sand left by the tides, inhabited from the 18th centurye century, it welcomed vines, then corn, to reclaimed land. Electricity was brought there, artesian wells were built. The economic crisis of the 1970s gradually got the better of this activity. In 1977, the school closed. In 1991, the last inhabitant died. Today, you can see it from the edge of the river in Margaux or Lamarque (Gironde) and visit the remains of villages that have become ghosts there. The coastal conservatory was able to install a 40 hectare nature reserve there. If the storms Klaus in 2009 and Xynthia in 2010 again injured the island, it has become a sanctuary for many birds that fly there freely: white storks, marsh harriers, black kites or little egrets, gray herons, spatulas …

A cement boat wreck that was used to transport salt in the 1940s on the shores of Margaux Island.

Work, man, dikes, embankments linked it as by an umbilical cord to three other islands of the estuary (North, Cazeau and Macau) to form today a vast strip of land of 12 kilometers long called the Big Island. Seen from the sky, it looks like a long green net surrounded by the silty and brown waves of the river. Between the Bec d’Ambès, where the Garonne and Dordogne meet, and the Pointe de Grave, where the two melees flow into the sea, there are nine islands.

The Gironde estuary is the largest in Western Europe: 635 km², 75 km long and 12 km wide… On one side, the Blayais, on the other the Médoc. A ferry connects the two banks, between Blaye and Lamarque. Today it’s the Sebastien-Vauban who does the service. He had to adapt to ecological standards and not discharge wastewater into the river, which his predecessor, the Côtes-de-Blaye, dispensed shamelessly.

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