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The culturally rich and sublimely stunning region of South West France holds untold beauty of both the natural and human-made kinds. With its historic southern capital of Bordeaux at its beating heart, many visitors abounding in these beloved touristic parts of the country skip lesser known towns and hidden gems in favor of the bustling metropolis, where culture, history, breathtaking architecture, and cuisine come together to craft one of the most sensational cities in 'l'Hexagone' – the nickname lovingly bestowed upon France by its passionate and patriotic people.

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Despite the irresistible allure of France's and indeed its southwesterly regions' medieval urban sprawls, it's bewildering to believe people are never far from a tranquil, untouched space perfect for escaping to nature – some far less known than others. One of these almost-unheard-of spots is the secret blue lakes of Guizengeard, a duo known locally as 'Lac Bleu de Guizengeard' and 'Balade au Lac de Guizengeard', with their crystal-clear turquoise pools contained in white clay cliffs and enveloped by emerald pine and oak forests in the charming Sud-Charente region.

At a mere one hour's drive from Bordeaux, these two divine lagoons of impossibly blue hues are found right on the border of the Charente-Maritime and Sud-Charente departments, set over an area of around 100 hectares. With such brilliant blue waters contrasting with lush verdant forestry, it's bizarre to think one is still in France and not the alpine lake landscapes of Switzerland – or even the shores of the Caribbean, given these lagoons' intense, brilliant blue waters and the blinding white cliffs towering above them. Once a kaolinite quarry, the place has been taken over by nature and is now an explorable spectacle to spend a few hours walking, picnicking, taking photos, wildlife-spotting, and soaking up the paralyzing panoramas, where the scenery truly resembles something out of a fantasy fairytale movie. As we at TheTravel stumbled upon these beauties in person completely by accident, we simply couldn't resist giving our readers an exclusive insight into these magnificent lakes, which, surprisingly, nobody seems to know about.

How Were The Guizengeard Lakes Formed?

The South of France's Charente-Maritime department is a rich source of kaolinite – a highly sought-after raw white clay used in the manufacture of a wide array of materials, including bricks, tiles, paint, fertilizer, cosmetics, and even certain pharmaceutical products. In fact, Kaolinite is so prized that it's even used to make porcelain, as it's resistant to very high temperatures and heralded for its mineral purity and luxury finesse.

From 1975 to 2013, kaolinite exploitation saw the now-surreal site at Guizengeard change its forest environment forever. As one of a number of kaolin quarries, its white earth was dug up to harvest this precious white clay, seeing commercial operators move thousands of cubic meters of material and dig up to 40 meters deep below the ground to extract the kaolinite on an industrial scale. This intense extraction of kaolinite left two gaping white holes in the terrain, which, after its end in 2013, handed the site back to the hands of Mother Nature, who has since done it a good service, transforming the lands into a spectacle showcasing what she does best.

Being left alone after commercial kaolinite projects ceased, nature began to take over the ground once more, with vegetation and wildlife resuming their rights as intended. The two enormous open pit quarries subsequently flooded with rain water, birthing the twin artificial lakes seen at the supernatural site today. Normally, a body of water in this part of France would become overtaken by visibility-reducing aquatic life, such as algae and other water greenery, that cause green and brown discoloration. However, the blue lakes at Guizengeard, as their names suggest, remain ever azure – but how?

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The environment in and around the lakes is still fresh, despite the large-scale digging operations have stopped in 2013, which, as of writing, was almost a decade ago. Yet, it does take some time for a place to fully succumb to nature's powerful will and this is evident in the beaming blue colors of the lagoons' waters. It all comes down to the high acidity of the soil and the amassed geological layers in and around the lakes, which is so strong that it renders the water inhabitable for many aquatic species that would otherwise flourish and bring about murkiness and greenery, such as algae, fish, and certain amphibians.

As a result, the water of the Guizengeard lakes is crystalline and transparent, with no suspended matter to absorb light and reduce clarity, thereby granting serene vistas bursting with booming shades and lagoons sporting a full rainbow of blue hues from turquoise to azure. Although extremely clear, only around 10 to 15 meters of depth is visible from the water’s surface; the lakes descend far deeper than what can be observed, adding an extra layer of mystery to their appeal.

Furthermore, those lucky enough to witness the lakes' splendor for real will discern a distinct color differentiation between the two; one is an illuminated turquoise shade, thanks to its higher acidity, while the other wears a slightly darker tone due to its slightly more neutral pH levels, which has attracted myriads of aquatic animals, including frogs, turtles, beavers, and otters. As one might assume, these lakes will continue to adapt over time as they have done already since quarrying halted, permitting the slow development of life that will result in the darkening of the water's color – slowly albeit, but surely.

For the moment, these two artificial lakes remain remarkably vibrant and clear for the foreseeable future; however, it won't be so forever. In time, nature will do what nature does best, dimming the water's color and transparency as its acidity naturally balances out, allowing aquatic species to move in and claim what is rightfully theirs.

Plus, with the natural soil evolution, the growth of vegetation, and rainwater erosion, these highly unstable cliffs surrounding the lakes are estimated to recede and dissolve over time – but how long that will take remains unknown.

Hike The Discovery Trail At Lac Bleu De Guizengeard

Two trails at Lac Bleu de Guizengeard, the Grand Bois du Marais, and the Guêpiers circuits come together to form the collective 1.9-mile Discovery Trail across this wildlife and ecologically rich site. The area was rehabilitated by AGS and the Conservatoire Régional d’Espaces Naturels de Poitou-Charentes (Regional Conservatory of Natural Spaces of Poitou-Charentes) as part of a local project, one that saw the creation of the trail, which is a fairly untaxing route taking around an hour to complete.

Comprising an easy figure-of-eight walk through the luscious pine forest and along the two lakes' white cliffs, the fruits of the rehabilitation project's labors are as clear as the water, having resulted in a pristine natural reserve with preserved biodiversity, about which signposts dotted around the trail document the otherworldly site, its wildlife, and history.

To begin, walkers can start the discovery trail in front of the church known as the 'Église Sainte-Jean-Baptiste,' which is set in the Double Saintogeaise pine forest located in the northern part of the Landes – an area officially recognized as the largest pine forest in Western Europe.

Those arriving by car can also park in front of the church, where there's plenty of space for multiple vehicles despite the lakes as an attraction being so quiet and off the radar, which does beggar belief indeed, given their astounding beauty.

Interestingly, the enchanting yet modest-looking old church at this part of the trail, which gained historical monument status in 1983, is also a wonderful start to the walk and serves up a slice of history from the beginning; resting on the site of a twelfth-century command of the Knights Templar and boasting one of the oldest bells in the Charente region, which dates back to 1495, the centuries-old building certainly commands a photo or two.

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Setting off just behind the old-world church, the discovery trail first sends hikers on a loop around the first and greener of the two lakes, which appear in sight after around ten to 20 minutes of leisurely sauntering. Walkers can follow the path straight through the pines to be met by the first lookout right at the edge of the forest, from where the majestic white clay cliffs give way to a steep edge that descends into the first and more verdant of the two lakes – named the Grand Bois du Marais.

As the cliffs dramatically overlook the glistening waters below without obstruction, the views are utterly extraterrestrial, showcasing panoramas of the distant wetlands beyond the Marais stream – an iron-rich expanse contrasting starkly in color with its vibrant red hues clashing with the turquoise and green tones of the lake.

The discovery trail then takes explorers down towards the grassy wetland banks of the Grand Bois de Marais, which, unlike the second lake – named Guêpiers – isn't cordoned off by fencing, thus permitting closer and more intimate experience with its splendor. Still, it's crucial to know that swimming is not permitted, not solely at this lake but at both, due to safety concerns and in order to protect the sensitive wildlife and environment.

However, that doesn't mean stopping to soak up the scenery and spot the local creatures isn't off limits – plus, those who are careful and quiet enough may even be able to observe fascinating animals like otters, frogs, and turtles in the wetlands, including the flocks of traveling European bee-eaters that come from Africa to mate and nest during the months from May to July.

Next, the trail continues the circuit around the second of the two lakes, the Guêpiers, its intense turquoise colors beckoning those who stumble upon it along this part of the scenic trek. Again, the path lures walkers up towards the white clay cliffs that overlook the transparent blue lake, where shades of yellow from the water's high acidity mark the edges.

At this second lake, an array of small sandy islands can also be viewed, while a fence and lines of pine trees surround its entirety, preventing access in order to protect the hardy wildlife that's managed to establish itself here and stop swimmers from entering because of the water's low pH – rendering it unsafe for humans and pets alike.

For the final part of the trail, visitors traverse through the green forest above the second lake before heading back down along its forested boundaries, where more information on the quarrying and kaolinite digging is displayed for everyone to feed their curiosities and learn about what took place to form the exquisitely beautiful yet ever-unstable environment seen today.

Important Things To Know About The Blue Lakes At Guizengeard

  • The Lac Bleu de Guizengeard is better to visit on a warm, sunny, and cloudless day when the sun's rays beam down to illuminate the lakes' vivid turquoise colors, the glowing white cliffs, and the green shades of the maritime pines, oak, and chestnut trees.
  • The blue lakes at Guizengeard won't stay blue forever; eventually, flora and fauna will colonize their environments as pH levels neutralize, and the cliffs are also set to recede over time – so visit sooner rather than later.
  • Visitors can discover a wealth of information on the signs peppered across the trail, combining a pleasant walk with brain-tickling details on the usual site's history, wildlife, and science.
  • Various species have moved in and taken up residence around the blue lakes, which visitors can observe, including the European genet, European bee-eater, roe deer, kingfisher, white stilt, dragonflies, and, as mentioned, even European turtles, frogs, otters, and beavers.
  • Every wildlife specimen plays a major role in the continued biodiversity in and around the lakes; therefore, visitors are kindly asked to be respectful of the delicate environment.
  • Swimming is forbidden at the lakes because of the acidic water, unstable soil, and slippery clay bottoms, which could make any emergency rescue attempts a challenge. Also, swimming isn't allowed in order to protect the site's ecosystems and wildlife.
  • Dogs are permitted to walk the trail with their owners; however, they must be kept on a leash at all times, and they are not allowed into the water since it's very acidic, which can be harmful to their skin.

How To Get To Lake Guizengeard

Getting to Lac Bleu de Guizengeard is simple, so long as intending visitors have researched how to get there beforehand. Funnily enough, we first found the Guizengeard blue lakes completely by accident; the writer of this feature had recently moved to this part of the Charente region and came upon them whilst out walking her dogs, believe it or not!

Situated in the picturesque Charente region of sunny southern France and close to the nearby bordering region of the Charente-Maritime, the blue lakes of Guizengeard are located about ten kilometers southwest of a small community called Brossac. To head in the right direction, anyone in the area should follow the signs for Guizengeard, and then once close enough; they can look out for the 'Clay Discovery Trail' panels.

Once they've found the church, lake-goers know they've arrived and can park in its parking lot on the right, which is directly connected to the walking path leading to the glimmering blue lakes at Guizengeard set in the midst of the expansive green forested landscapes.

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When Is The Best Time to Visit the Guizengeard Blue Lakes?

The best time to visit Guizengeard is during the sunny summer months, from around May to the end of September, on a cloud-free day, although these lakes and their trails are open year-round for exploration. In this wondrous season, the strong summer sun ignites the sparkling waters and their sharp turquoise colors, along with the leafy green shades of the area's emerald forests, forming heart-stopping scenes worthy of a postcard.

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Last but not least, should a visit to Guizengeard's blue lakes be on the cards during the hottest season, wearing high-SPF sunscreen, hats, and ideally, clothing covering the shoulders, arms, and legs is advised. The summertime sun truly is strong during this period, especially on a clear day, and finishing the day's itinerary with angry, pink, blistered, sun-burnt sore skin that clashes with the lakes' cool tones are no way to end a memorable day exploring this bewitching section of the sunny Sud Charente – (trust us, we learned the hard way).