La Daurade is an ancient river port, which has been transformed into a peaceful green space; there are trees to shelter under for shade, lawns to lie around or picnic on, children’s play areas, a terrace were you can have a cup of coffee and riverbanks where you can admire the Garonne river (you can even take a bike or walk along 32 kilometres of tracks).
The place is full of history: the cafe, for example, is located in the old ‘morgue of the drowned’ where bodies that had been fished out of the water were left out to be identified by passers-by.
The cafe is called the “Sand fishermen”: I particularly like their sandwiches and the ‘cabaret’ feel of the place (they regularly put on jazz style concerts on the terrace.)
The sand fisherman, in their long flat bottomed boats, with oars the shape of garden hoes, used to scoop up the sand which collected in pits in the middle of the river, they unloaded it onto the quay, so that it could dry before being sold to contractors, who would come and pick it up in horse-drawn carts: they had to climb up a ramp from the “Garonne down there” to the road. They stopped trading at the beginning of the 20th century.
Follow the spring
I like to sit in a corner, on the riverbank or a bench, in the shade of a willow or maple tree, with a newspaper or a book (I’ve just finished reading dark summer by Inger Wolf, a Danish detective novel published by Mirobole which I highly recommend). The sounds of the road, up there, are muffled by the cries of gulls and the shouts of children when, with their back to the fish, they board the barges which have run aground on the sand.
A barge was traditionally used to transport both people and merchandise.
The benches are carved out of sandstone from the Pyrenees the quay and the paths are created using shingle from the bottom of the Garonne, the walls date from the time of Louis 15th; they’ve only just been restored (they replaced the bricks one by one!) An underground spring runs beneath La Daurade: in the evening you can follow the lights to its source.
A black statue of the virgin
You might think the port was named after the fish (Daurade means Bream), but it isn’t. It is named for the gilding of the church (daurada in Occitan) Notre-Dame de la Daurade, which overhangs the port and keeps a watchful eye over the Garonne.
Inside the building is cool, with painted ceilings and an incredible black statue of the virgin.
In times gone by, there was a covered bridge over the Garonne, linking La Daurade to the Saint-Jacques du Bout-du-Pont, the hospital which is just opposite, they both belonged to a Benedictine order.
The bridge was replaced at the beginning of the 17th century by the Pont Neuf, which still stands today, the Saint-Jacques Hospital has become the head offices for Hospitals of Toulouse, and the copper chapel of Saint Joseph (18th century) just behind it still stands head and shoulders above everything else.
There were always laundry boats moored in the port, and they were full of action: and very handy before the invention of washing machines!
Professional washerwomen or blanchisseuses who lived on rue des Blancheurs would come down to the port with great big baskets, they strung up washing lines all over the port so that the washing could dry quickly in the sun and wind. The streets around this area are testament to its rich history: la rue Peyrolières, which I mentioned earlier gets its name from the coppersmiths (payroles means cauldrons) who worked alongside the bell makers and armourers (rue Balestrières was home to crossbow makers, and jacket makers had colonised rue des Giponiers.)
Keep all these little anecdotes stored away because in order to steal a kiss, even on the romantic quay of la Daurade, you sometimes need to tell a few stories first…