La Rochelle in Charente-Maritime, Nouvelle Aquitaine, has a unique mix of charm and style. Steeped in history and rich in architectural treasures – no wonder it’s one of the most popular seaside towns in France.
La Rochelle is home to a pretty harbour surrounded by cafés. Historic twin towers stand watch and usher in the Atlantic. Ancient covered arcades and narrow streets lead to the fabulous market. The city is famous for its fish, seafood and oyster restaurants. It’s a lively and cultural resort and perfect base for discovering the wider area.
Guide to La Rochelle
Explore on water: speedboat, sailing boat or catamaran or take to two wheels – there are more than 100 miles of cycle paths. A short boat ride (or cross via the bridge) will bring you to picture perfect Ile de Ré for an island hopping experience.
Take to the seas to discover the coast of La Rochelle. Head to Fort Boyard or go island hopping to Ile de Ré, Ile d’Oleron and Ile d’Aix. Take a two hour, half-a-day or full day trip. Departure points are the Vieux Port, Cours des Dames or the Esplanade Saint-Jean-d’Acre. You can even take an electric boat ride between the old port and the Minimes Marina. Pop to the tourist office when you’re in La Rochelle to get details as sailing schedules change with the seasons. Address: 2 Quai Georges Simenon
There are several museums in and around La Rochelle. There’s a maritime museum which includes a weather ship, La Rochelle Bunker, a blockhouse in the city centre, Natural history museum and New World Museum. And don’t forget the incredible 14th century towers, the majestic gateway to La Rochelle plus a medieval lighthouse.
Where to eat
For a small city, La Rochelle packs a mighty gastronomic punch. The streets are filled with bars and bistros, cafés and restaurants spilling out onto cobbled streets and lining pretty squares. Most visitors head for the old Port, Vieux Port, and who can blame them. The restaurants here have particularly fabulous views over the port and the ancient towers.
Seafood is on the menu in most restaurants here, understandably as La Rochelle is set on the Bay of Biscay on the Atlantic coast however you can also find world cuisine in this bustling, vibrant city.
If you’re not into the tourist style eateries, then here’s where to eat out in La Rochelle with an emphasis on the places the locals go for a tasty feast… Where to eat out in La Rochelle
Not many visitors discover one of the locals favourite bars but of course I’m going to share it with you! Head to the Maritime Museum and next to it is the France I, a former meteorological ship. It’s now a bar and restaurant. It’s the perfect place for an aperitif with a simple plancha (snack), oysters or seafood platter. I loved that there are no plastic cups or straws onboard, only reusable eco cups. Watching the sunset from the wooden deck, you really feel as if you’ve cast off and escaped. lefrance1.com
Discover a bar with a secret courtyard: L’Imprevu is in a lovely square lined with bars and restaurants the locals love. The staff are welcoming, the beer and wine are good, plus it has a great cocktail list. Sit out on the terrace or the romantic secret courtyard of this former mansion and simply enjoy the moment. Address: 1 bis Rue de la Fourche
Where to shop
Market Day: La Rochelle’s Central Market (Marché Central) is held in a 19th-century market hall in the Vieux Port with a daily food market and a general market taking over the surrounding streets each Wednesday and Saturday.
Best for souvenirs: From bags and made from recycled sails to antiques, fashion, perfume and recycled oyster baskets – there’s a great range of shops that are just perfect for that take home memento or gift.
For a taste of yesteryear and an authentic atmosphere, head to La Guingette in the Old Saint-Nicholas district. Once a favourite haunt of sailors, the décor has hardly changed in almost a century. It opens in the late afternoon and closes by 9pm at the latest and is very popular with the locals. 8 Rue Saint-Nicolas
La Rochelle is one of the liveliest ports in Europe with more than 120 events and regattas every year. World championships are held here and even of you’re not a boating fan, it’s still wonderful sightseeing all the boats line up to start.
Each November La Rochelle hosts an International film and adventure book festival. Projection rooms are set up in the aquarium and space and maritime museums showing more than 40 films. There are also more than 4000 books to get stuck into with many authors on standby to answer any questions you may have. A youth program also runs at the same time to encourage budding writers.
For more than 35 years the Francofolies of La Rochelle has been one of the best beach music festivals in France. Spread out over 5 days, more than 150,000 people come every year to listen to a wide range of performances. Families are welcome and children can join in, writing their own songs and poetry in workshops, or watching small theatre performances with trained entertainers. There are amazing fresh food and drink huts – perfect while soaking up the atmosphere of the concerts.
Fun for families
It’s not always easy to keep kids of all ages entertained oh holiday, but La Rochelle has it all covered. Protected from strong winds and currents, this stretch of water makes it the perfect place for a water sports school. There are intensive courses and lighter lessons available for adults and children in dinghy sailboats, kayaks and windsurfing almost all year round.
Hop onto La Grande Roue to see La Rochelle from the sky. A giant ferris wheel with individual pods, that slowly moves round giving you a 360 degree view of the city and beyond. Perfect for a game of eye spy!
Located near the old harbour the aquarium of La Rochelle is superb. It’s the largest private aquarium in Europe. Here you can see more than 12,000 marine animals and plant species, really explore the underwater world and see how the animals live. There are live displays and biologists give talks on sting rays, sharks and jellyfish. The aquarium is open all year round.
Palmilud aquatic centre is a large water park suitable for all. Swimming pools, leisure pools, splash pools, paddling pools, saunas, slides and Jacuzzis make for a fun filled day. It’s surrounded by a lush green park where you can play games or enjoy a picnic.