Located on the southwest coast of France, La Rochelle is a maritime city with ancient history. Back in time to the medieval streets, cast off the port, cycling on the neighbouring island of Ré or lazing on the beach, there is plenty to do in this elegant city.
The gray suburbs of Paris parade and give way to large green areas, beautiful stone castles, peaceful rivers and reach the small houses with red tile characteristics of the department of Charente-Maritime. The 3 hour train ride from Paris to La Rochelle is already a nice trip. It is also well served by direct flights from airports in Paris, Lyon and several European cities: Dublin, London (in only 50 minutes), Brussels, Geneva and Porto.
Once settled into a hotel or guest house in the heart of the Old Port, go on foot to explore the city. White masts of the boats moored stand in the port of La Rochelle, which developed from the 10th century through maritime trade in wine and salt. The prosperity of this trade was a wealthy city that has had to protect the tonic. Traces of the fortifications are visible everywhere, but the best examples are the three famous towers of the port: St. Nicolas, the highest, and the tower of the chain that surround the harbor entrance tower. Tower Lantern, used both as a lighthouse and prison, is connected to the tower of the chain by a stone wall.
The three towers can be visited and offer a view of the harbor and the Atlantic coast. You can even watch off the surrounding islands and Fort Boyard tour where every year a famous TV entertainment show. I had a heart for the Tour de la Lanterne and monumental spire 55 meters high. From the 16th century, we shut sailors, privateers and pirates. Throughout the climb you can see the traces of these prisoners, including amazing graffiti etched in stone the names of the detainees, the number of days they have been incarcerated, or pictures of boats and animals . Some had even cut a board in the floor to pass the time!
As you walk into the center, look up to enjoy the rich architectural heritage of the city. Epochs mix: here a medieval turret and timber-framed houses covered with slate to protect salt brought by the sea air. There gargoyles and mansions limestone quarries Crazannes nearby. This same ocher stone was used in particular to manufacture the base of the Statue of Liberty in New York.
Spend the morning of the 19th century covered market teeming with vendors touting you regional products. The town hall is a remarkable building, although he recently suffered a terrible fire. His court is not open, but you can still see the Gothic facade topped by a belfry tower and two entrances: one off for the teams and a smaller one for pedestrians. Lose yourself in the many streets stone arches that make the charm of La Rochelle. Besides being pretty, they will delight shopaholics because they are home to dozens of shops of clothes, deco regional gourmet products … What to shop in any weather, protected from the sun or rain. Indulge yourself with an ice at the Glacier and Ernest must bring a memory of Via Maris, a shop on the theme of the sea. Then join the docks through the big clock, the former cabinet door separating the port of the city.
A dive in the maritime world
Opposite the Old Port, dive into the heart of the ocean by visiting the aquarium of La Rochelle, one of the largest aquariums in Europe visited by 800,000 people each year. We begin the journey by immersing themselves in an amazing tunnel filled with jellyfish before discovering species in the Atlantic, Mediterranean, Caribbean and the Pacific. Different environments are very well restored and the visit is a joy for children. Prefer a visit in the morning or evening to avoid precisely 1. the long queue at the entrance and 2. hordes of excited children you blocking the view of the aquarium!
Visitors can also embark aboard ships of the Maritime Museum, just in front of the aquarium. You can put yourself in the place of sailors from the engine room to the officers’ and even the kitchens of France 1, old ship of the National Meteorology stationed offshore in the Atlantic Ocean. Then jump on the decks of La Rochelle trawlers and a harbor tug. The Aquarium and the Maritime Museum have both very nice places to take a break: a bar on the deck of France for a drink one hair in the wind and a restaurant on the second floor of the aquarium that offers superb views of the harbor.
If you want to offer some good time in good weather extends your towel on one of the three beaches in the city, do not forget to check the tide times at the tourist office if you want to swim! Chief Bay is probably the nicest beach of La Rochelle: sandy, sheltered from the wind by a dam, relatively quiet and fairly wide at low tide. His fault is to be far enough from downtown to the north, you will take the bike or car to get there. The small beach Competition is in town, close to the historic towers and the beautiful promenade Mail. Practice because of its proximity, we can not yet swim at high tide. Minimes beach is located near the port of the same name south of the city, where thousands of pleasure boats are moored. The area is quite touristy and reminds resorts with beach shops and its little game. It is the largest beach in La Rochelle, it hosts a lot of people in summer.
For those who feel the soul traveler and sailor, many companies offer cruises around La Rochelle. Discover the charming islands of Aix and Oleron, around Fort Boyard or seafood dinner in front of the sunset over the Old Port, you will inevitably find something for you.
Excursion to the island of Ré
Speaking of islands, there is one not to be missed which is connected to La Rochelle by a bridge surprising arc three miles long, the island of Ré. Nicknamed “D White” because of all its small white houses, is the pearl of the islands on the Atlantic coast. Very popular in the summer, it is also frequented by many celebrities who come to enjoy the golden sandy beaches, authentic markets and benefits of three thalassotherapy centers scattered around the island (Ars-en-Ré, La Flotte and St -Marie). Boats and buses make the connection D-La Rochelle, the island is very busy in summer but many shops and restaurants close in the winter. The perfect time to visit is at the beginning and at the end of the summer.
The best way to visit this island 30 miles long and 5 wide is undoubtedly the bike. You can rent almost everywhere on the island and leave for the day or half day. No need to be a great sportsman as the highlight of the island is 19 meters …! Flat almost all the time so you’ll only if an effort to provide a marine storm decided to face you. The wildest part of the island and most pleasant for cycling is the north. Take a bus or one of the free shuttles that run the 10 towns of the island to go to Ars-en-Ré. Take the opportunity to have a look at the village market. Temptation is everywhere here! Clothing, crafts, everything is nice and well presented. The smells of ripe fruit entice you to vegetable stalls in the covered market and to sample fresh oysters. Expect to pay a premium though as the island is a victim of its success and its people rather affluent visitors price! Take up in a cafe along the pretty marina before you start your bike tour. More than 100 km of cycle paths crisscross the island, which does not prevent heavy traffic sometimes in the summer when most of 50,000 bikes invaded the island! So watch out roll right and obeying the rules of the road.
Go to the Whale lighthouse from where you have a beautiful view of the island and the coast – on a clear day, of course. The rise of the lighthouse you will surely open appetite and several small restaurants are down for a quick lunch, even if the place is busy in summer. If you prefer a quiet lunch, buy what picnic in the morning on one of the markets and stop where your bike takes you! Return to Ars drop your bike and go to the peninsula Loix, a peaceful village where the museum of salt marsh. After the calm of Loix, you will find the animation further south in the largest town of the island, Saint-Martin-de-Ré. This pretty marina is very commercial, you can enjoy excellent ice cream with flavors sometimes incongruous as cherry pie or ice-caviar oysters La Martiniere, a glacier directly overlooking the harbor. Hard to imagine that this was once the citadel attractive penitentiary and today still hosts a prison with over 500 inmates, making it the largest employer on the island! After this exotic excursion, enjoy a relaxing dinner at The Waves restaurant at the foot of the tower, La Chaine. Enjoy the catch of the day, while watching the illuminated towers and passers-by on the Quays of the Old Port.
How to reach
Air: La Rochelle Airport, north of the city centre, has flights to and from destinations throughout France.
Rail: The train station is linked to Paris’ Gare Montparnasse. Other destinations served by regular direct trains include Nantes, Poitiers and Bordeaux.
Road: Inexpensive car rental companies are available near the train station along with bus services such as Océcars connecting the regional destinations. The capital city of Paris is 467 km away.
Where To Stay
Heritage hotels such as the De La Monnaie and Résidence de France are some of the most welcoming hotel, housed in 17th and 18th-century with an air of simple elegance