The Atlantic city of La Rochelle is one of the most charming and interesting cities in France. Built on a rocky platform on the marshy Atlantic coast, this was once the most important port in France. Even now, La Rochelle is first and foremost a port city, with four distinct elements: a fishing port, a commercial port, a sailing marina and a ferry port. A large festival gets everyone moving each summer: the Francofolies de la La Rochelle is a popular music festival which is all about current francophone music scene.
To get to know La Rochelle, head straight for the Old Port in La Rochelle with its white stones which reflect the light in a totally unique way. Two medieval towers guard the entrance to the Old Port; the Chain Tower (which houses the quirky Museum of the New World) and the Saint-Nicolas Tower. Keeping watch over all the comings and goings in the port, these towers symbolise the historic power and wealth of the city of La Rochelle. The Saint-Nicolas quarter was traditionally the fishermen's quarter, and it retains a village-like and rather bohemian feel. Of the many bars in La Rochelle, park yourself at one in this charming area and watch the world go by. You could have a glass of fine cognac, which comes from this region.
Stroll through the streets under the cool archways around the centre of town near the city hall or Hôtel de ville in La Rochelle. The arcades were incorporated to protect merchandise from the sun in this bustling, commercial town. Do as the locals do: browse the shops in La Rochelle in the shade of the arcades. On market day, head for the 19th century covered market and fill your basket with fresh produce. The relaxed pace of life here makes doing the shopping a real pleasure.
The sea air beckons… why not take a boat trip and see the city from the open water? Hop aboard one of the 3,500 boats in the port and explore the coastline. The seagulls will lead you to the best beaches on the nearby islands: the île d'Oléron is the second largest French island after Corsica. The idyllic île de Ré will charm you with its pretty fishing villages, sandy beaches and tranquil cycle paths through sun-drenched vineyards. Between Oléron and île d'Aix, the familiar silhouette of Fort Boyard rises out of the water, location for the famous game show of the same name. If you're visiting with the family, don't miss out on a trip to the Aquarium of La Rochelle, one of the largest aquariums in Europe which includes a gigantic shark tank.
If you're in the area during International Sailing Week in La Rochelle pop down to the port to see one of the oldest and largest sailing events in France. The Minimes sailing marina is the largest in Europe on the Atlantic coast. This is the venue for the annual Grand Pavois, the largest international floating boat show. However, if you're feeling seasick after all that, stick to terra firma and support the yellow and black Stade Rochelais, who have remained one of the top rugby clubs in France for the over 100 years.
De gare à gare