La Rochelle is a city dating from the 9th century in the department of Charente-Maritime, France. From the 14th to 17th century, it was France's leading port for trade across the Atlantic to Canada and the French West Indies. It's often called "la ville blanche" (the white city) for its limestone buildings: they're handsome in any weather, but brilliant when the sun shines down from a big blue Atlantic sky. The city is centred around the old port, Vieux Port, with three great defensive towers. 3 km south, Les Minimes is a new area built on reclaimed land. In 2017, its population was 76,000.
La Rochelle is linked by a bridge to the resort island of Île de Ré, some 30 km long. Other islands are Île d'Aix, Île d'Oleron (usually accessed by road via Rochefort), and the one you've seen on TV, Fort Boyard.
- 1 La Rochelle – Île de Ré Airport (LRH IATA) (5 km west of city centre, close to the bridge across to Île de Ré). Has year-round direct flights from Paris Orly, Lyon, London Stansted. Direct connections in summer include Ajaccio, Bristol, Charleroi, Dublin, Geneva, Leeds, London (Gatwick and Stansted), Geneva, Manchester, Marseille, Nice, and Porto.
Bus #7 runs downtown (Place de Verdun) M-Sa every 30 min, taking 15 min, fare €1.30. In July and August a bus runs from the airport direct to Île de Ré, at other times you'll have to backtrack via downtown. Taxis can be found immediately outside the terminal building, with the fare to town about €20.
TGVs link La Rochelle to Paris Montparnasse every couple of hours, taking 3 hours. Five or six trains a day run south to Bordeaux (2 hr) and north to Nantes (3 hr).
The bus to Île de Ré is run in conjunction with SNCF, i.e. it's through-ticketed, displayed on departure boards, and timed to connect with the Paris trains.
The railway station 2 Gare de La Rochelle is 500 m south of the town centre, near the aquarium and Maritime Museum. Cars can be rented from agencies opposite the station.
Flixbus runs once a day to Paris Bercy Seine, 7 hr. They also run to Nantes (2 hr), Bordeaux (2 hr in the dead of night), and Toulouse (6 hr).
Eurolines have an evening coach for Bordeaux, Bayonne, San Sebastian and Bilbao, with connections to Madrid.
The main bus stand for long-distance and local services is Place de Verdun, at the western edge of the old town.
La Rochelle is one of the few large cities in France not directly served by an autoroute. The city can still be easily reached by car, though. From Paris take the A10 until the exit for N11 which will take you La Rochelle. From Bordeaux take the A10 then exit onto A837 then D137.
By cruise shipEdit
Cruise liners occasionally call at La Rochelle, docking at the far end of Viaduc Président Christian Morch, 10 km west of town near the bridge to Île de Ré. Typically these are on week-long cruises of the Bay of Biscay and Channel Islands, with passengers coming ashore for a day-trip to the Dordogne and quick look at the old town. They're not available to book as point-to-point ferries.
La Rochelle can easily be explored by foot or by bicycle. The bike rental service is run by Yélo (a pun on "yellow" and "vélo"): you first need to visit their kiosk in Place de Verdun, with ID and credit card for a €150 deposit, to be issued a pass. Short-term rental is €3 for 2 hours, €7 for 5 hours and €12 for 10 hours - these rentals may not be taken to Île de Ré. Longer hires are also easily arranged. There are several pick-up and return stations across the city.
Local buses are also run by Yélo. A single ticket can be bought on the bus for €1.30 (valid for one transfer within one hour). A 10-unit ticket costs €11, a 24-hour pass is €4.50, a 7-day pass is €12.50. Buy these from Yélo kiosks, e.g. in Place de Verdun. Just about every bus line will pass at some point through Place de Verdun: one exception is the Friday evening summer service to Île de Ré, which goes direct from the railway station.
There's a ferry from Vieux Port to Port des Minimes (hourly, fare €3). Boat trips and ferries run from the Vieux Port to the nearby islands. Boats can circle Fort Boyard but seldom land, as it is in effect a big offshore TV studio, with programmes in preparation throughout summer.
The Old Port ("Vieux Port")Edit
This is the oldest and most picturesque part of La Rochelle, dominated by its defensive towers. The quayside extends 200 m inland from the port, along Canal Maubec. Most buildings are centuries old and very well maintained. The narrow streets and pale stone buildings make the city feel more Midi than Atlantic.
The Three Towers
If a party of enormous chess pieces came down to the seaside and got tipsy, they would resemble these 14th- and 15th-century towers. Tour de la Chaine and Tour St Nicholas lean over the narrow harbour entrance: a stout chain was raised between them to keep out trouble (often English). A rampart stretches west to Tour de la Lanterne, the former lighthouse. You can visit the towers daily 10:00 to 13:00 and 14:15 to 17:30 (18:30 during daylight saving). Entry costs €6 per tower, or €9 for all three.
Enter the old city behind the quay via the Gothic great gate, the Tour de la Grosse Horloge. (The tower can't be entered.) A network of old streets encloses the market hall, the Temple Protestant, and the New World Museum. Eventually it opens out onto Place de Verdun, with the Cathedral of St-Louis.
- 1 Musée du Nouveau Monde (New World Museum), 10 rue Fleuriau, ☏ . M & W-F 10:00-12.30 & 13:45-17:00 (18:00 summer); Sa Su 15:00-18:00. Housed in the old Fleuriau Hotel, depicts La Rochelle's relationship with the Americas, especially Maritime Canada and the French Caribbean. €6, concessions €4.
Port des Minimes is one of the biggest pleasure boat marinas in Europe: mostly yachts not motorboats. Also, visit the nearby beach.
- 2 Musée Maritime (Maritime Museum), Place Bernard Moitessier, ☏ . 1 Apr - 31 Oct daily 10:00-18:30. Land-side museum plus eight ships (mid-20th century) moored in the Bassin des Chalutiers. €9.
- 3 Aquarium de La Rochelle (La Rochelle Aquarium), Quai Louis Prunier (near railway station just south of old port), ☏ . Daily Apr-Jun & Sep 09:00-20:00, Jul & Aug 09:00-23:00, Oct-Mar 10:00-20:00. The whole tour takes approximately 2–3 hours to experience and is an excellent activity if the weather outside is poor. Audio devices for various languages are available but all educational notices for each exhibit are also translated into English. There can be very long waiting lines during the summer, but the wait is worth it; the aquarium is beautiful and well-designed. Also, if you wait in the sun with children, think to bring a change of clothes or a towel as there is a fountain in which you will often see kids playing situated right on the side of the waiting line to the aquarium. €16 adults, €12 children; audioguide extra.
Île de RéEdit
This resort island is accessed along Route D735 via a 2-km-long toll-bridge. The toll to get onto the island is €16 per car in summer and €8 in winter, free on foot or with a bike; there's no return toll. The road runs through La Flotte to the main settlement of St Martin de Ré, which has a charming port (UNESCO Heritage Site) fortified by Vauban. Most buses terminate here. The road straggles on for another 20 km to Les Portes-en-Ré.
Camping on the island is only permitted at approved sites.
Hotel la Jetée (23 quai Georges Clemenceau) is a 3-star hotel in St Martin, open year-round. You'll need to email ahead for an access code to drive into the pedestrianised area.
Bistrot du Marin is on Quai Nicolas Baudin on the harbour island; lots of seafood restaurants line the other quays. Do try the waffles of 'La Martiniere' on Quai Poitheviniere.
- 1 Stade Rochelais (Les Corsaires; called Atlantique Stade Rochelais until 2016), Stade Marcel-Deflandre; 27 Avenue du Maréchal Juin (2 km west of old town). Rugby union team that plays in France's top flight, the Top 14. They've yet to win the title but have been well-placed, so they qualify for European tournaments. The stadium dates to the 1920s, but has been renovated several times in the last 25 years. It's named for Marcel Deflandre, who was club president in 1940 when rugby league ("rugby-a-treize") was outlawed by the Vichy government, its assets handed over to rugby union clubs, and the union game greatly strengthened in France.
The Market PlaceEdit
Situated near the Old Port, you can buy fresh products every morning in the central covered Market. On Wednesday and Saturdays (and during most of the summer), you will see all of the streets surrounding the main area covered in stands occupied by local farmers selling their products. You will find dozens of restaurants surrounding this hot spot, and from the market, you can go in direction of the Place de Verdun or the Old Port and will walk by the main shopping streets of La Rochelle.
The sector of Les Minimes is where you will find most activities that are not specifically targeted to tourists, such as bowling, movie theaters, etc.
Seafood is the speciality in La Rochelle, and there are many excellent restaurants around the Vieux Port. Try the mussels "Charantais" in a creamy white wine and onion sauce. For a more traditional meal "A Cote de Chez Fred" offers a variety of local specialties in a comfortable setting.
As an alternative, for budget travellers, some locals recommend trying sandwiches or kebabs at "Le Rif" restaurant on the "Rue St Nicolas", not very far away from "A Coté de Chez Fred". They offer some of their specialities like Royal Rif and Royal Fajitas.
If you are in La Rochelle, please try a waffle (with "caramel au beurre sale", salty butter caramel), a crepe/galette de sarasin, some "broye du poitou" (a delicious butter cookie) and some "gache" (a type of brioche). You can also try a "tourteau fromager", which is a baked cheese cake with a purposefully burned layer on top (that you can eat, but it is okay if you don't) and some delicious "canneles"
- Restaurant Le Bar Andre, 5 rue St Jean de Perot, ☏ . Renowned seafood restaurant in Vieux Port.
- Les Flots, 1 rue de la Chaine, ☏ . Acclaimed seafood restaurant run by Gregory Coutanceau.
La Guignette Head to this local spot for a La Rochelle speciality, white wine mixed with fruit syrup. Open only in the early evening, this bar is a popular place for students starting a night of partying. The bar is located on Rue St. Nicholas, in an excellent run down and dirty building. A lot of fun, but be careful, the sweet drink will quickly get you very drunk!
Le Général Humbert Be sure to stop by this Irish pub on Rue St. Nicholas. A comfortable place to meet with friends, or watch some football or rugby. The owners are extremely friendly, and most of the staff speak English. Occasional live music.
La Calhute Just off of Rue St. Nicholas is this small and comfortable nightspot. Great music is always playing, and drink are not to expensive. Try a pitcher of "Jacqueline" wine mixed with tonic and fruit syrup. It comes in many flavours, try peach or melon.
Lots of mid-range hotels centrally in and around the Vieux Port. There's more out on the island, Île de Ré; you'll need your own transport there as the bus is painfully slow.
- Ibis Styles La Rochelle Centre, 4 rue Leonce Vieljeux, ☏ . Good central budget choice
- Hotel La Marine, 30 quai Duperre, ☏ . Smart boutique hotel, very central in Vieux Port
- Hotel La Monnaie Art & Spa, 3 Rue de la Monnaie, ☏ . August facade, modern within, and very central.
- Altica, rue de Scierie (Bus 10, 7 or 19 from centre). Budget choice 1 km S of centre, near the university.
- Pierre et Vacances La Rochelle Centre, 14 Quai de Marans (1 km east of centre), ☏ . 2-storey residence with indoor, heated swimming pool in the "Bastion Saint Nicolas" district. It is 2.5 km from the beach and 200 m from the shops. Much in need of repair, and trash piled around exterior.
- Hostel La Rochelle (Auberge de Jeunesse), Ave de Minimes (by marina S of centre), ☏ . The only youth hostel in town.
Best use the bus or train to reach Cognac, or sort out in advance who'll be driving back. Royan is an important seaside resort. South of there lies Bordeaux and their wine country, enclosing that city and the Gironde estuary.
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