Known as La Ville Blanche (the White City), La Rochelle’s luminous limestone façades glow in the bright coastal sunlight. One of France’s foremost seaports from the 14th to 17th centuries, the city has arcaded walkways, half-timbered houses (protected from the salt air by slate tiles), ghoulish gargoyles and a fabulous collection of lighthouses – all rich reminders of its magnificent seafaring heritage.
Cruise lines do not make more use of this lovely port.
The 14th century twin towers of St Nicolas Fort and the Tour de la Chaine (named after the chain once drawn across the harbour to keep out night intruders) ensure a dramatic entrance into the French Atlantic cruise port La Rochelle-Pallice.
The medieval city offers an intriguing mix of well preserved and restored historic buildings and marketplaces within a lively modern city full of bars and restaurants and with an excellent aquarium. Tickle your taste buds with a visit to the small town of Cognac and its famous Courvoisier, Hennessy and Martell cellars. Along the way, you will pass through ancient towns like Saintes with Romanesque churches, arches and arenas.
Ship berths at La Pallice and this is 3.5 miles, 20-30 mins ride away. from La Rochelle The shuttles are bendy busses, limited seating and lots standing so not the best trip into town.
The shuttle will drop you right by the tourist information. Close to the Aquarium and the main town. There are also public toilets here.
There’s lovely craft stands on the walk into town which is a 5/10 min stroll.
The three towers should be visited when in La Rochelle and they give you a little insight into the explorations of the French with their settlements in Canada and The Southern United States. The views are great from all towers. St Nicolas being the best and feels more like a castle than a tower. It is big and has rooms to visit and interesting spiral staircases. The Lantern tower is lovely and the tallest and the views from the uppermost staircase are spectacular, but a steep climb and not for the faint hearted! The Chains is smaller but gives the history of the French explorers. Good value €8.50 for the 3 towers but not at €6.00 per tower (2014) and leaflets in English are available.
The Aquarium; The first thing that strikes you about the La Rochelle aquarium is the eye watering price, Adult €15pp, Child €11.50, (2014) however the brilliance of the exhibition makes it seem very good value for money. There are some truly breath-taking sea creatures in huge and beautiful tanks. The staff are exceedingly helpful and pleasant, the facilities feel clean and new, and the jungle at the end of the visit is an exciting bonus. If this is on your to do list, get an early, if not the first shuttle into town. When we visited the queue at 10:30am was very long.
Download a copy of the Tourist Booklet and follow one of the walking routes outlined on p16 of the map http://en.calameo.com/read/00001686577ea37e8b621 The route takes you down some very scenic roads and also passes by The Market (Place du Marche) – worth popping in to see all the local produce, fish, cheese, meats, fruit and vegetables.
There’s no doubt, the Vieux Port at La Rochelle is just lovely in spite of the excess of touristy restaurants and souvenir stands and it does get over run with tourists in the summer months. The old port is a great place to wander; there is a huge history to discover. If you get tired, there are lots of restaurants all around the harbour and town area for you to just sit have a glass of wine and/or something to eat. You will not go hungry.
However, the actual harbour with its bars, restaurants and shops has more than enough to offer a first timer without looking to go further afield and then missing out on La Rochelle itself.
Not sure if a doable DIY on a day visit, but I’lle de Re, across the water from La Rochelle is a lovely island with lots of little coves and small harbours.
By Peter Dagnall
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