French fountains

If you’ve done some cycling in southern France, you’ll know how welcome the sight of a village or town fountain is. We’re not talking about some merely ornamental carbuncle, but something of real practical use for a parched cyclist. For the real French fountain is where you can fill up your empty water bottles, drench yourself in cool water, or rinse your washing (if you’ve had the foresight to bring your laundry with you).

Certainly in these parts it is unusual to pass through even a small settlement where you can’t find some public source of ‘Eau potable’. Indeed, it’s so much the norm that it’s pretty safe to assume that any water running into a trough in a village or town is ‘potable’ unless it specifically says it’s not. (See photos below).

Having said that, I’m not sure how far south you have to come before that assumption is safe: last summer I got caught out by a fountain in some anonymous central French town, as I cycled from Exeter to Die (see how I sneaked that in there): it looked all the world like the examples down here, but I guess the slight green tinge should have alerted me. Well, the taste certainly did, and having spat it out, the nearby café provided water, but only after checking that I’d bought a coffee. Harumph.

The reference to washing wasn’t entirely made for comic effect. I actually spoke briefly to an old lady in Sainte Croix (near Die) who was in the process of doing some washing in the trough. Which brings me to the bit of advice to fill your bottles direct from the piped water, unless you particularly enjoy the taste of old ladies’ washing, and probably rampant French bacteria and parasites.

I’d be interested if anyone knows where the ‘Eau potable’ assumption is a safe one. All I know is that it’s both reasonably safe, and very welcome down here.

Pictures below are of three examples from a ride today. Firstly a massive (40ft long!) trough in Cléon d’Andran, with a clear ‘Eau non potable’ sign; one from Bourdeaux (check the spelling), the ‘Eau potable’ sign probably there because there’s another fountain just 50 yards away; and two examples from Saillans – the first is one of my favourites, as it’s a good example of the attractive AND functional fountains you sometimes find.


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