Easily accessible by train, La Rochelle, France is a popular destination for European tourists. This coastal town has something to offer everyone, from upscale shops to gourmet restaurants to a variety of historical sites. Boasting four large ports, the city of La Rochelle is home to a lifestyle (food, activities, sites) that is directly influenced by its maritime culture.
My first trip to La Rochelle was during a week-long break while I was a student at Université de Rennes II. A few of my friends had decided to take the train from Rennes to Paris to La Rochelle and invited me to join them. At the end of a scenic three hour train ride from Paris’ Gare Montparnasse, I was pleased to emerge from the train station to be greeted by the smell of saltwater in the air.
What to see in La Rochelle:
The Vieux Port is a charming area with myriad restaurants and shops; the perfect place for an afternoon stroll. Port des Minimes, one of the largest in Europe, is also worth a visit. It is home to the large Grand Pavois boat show every year. If you haven’t had your fill of coastal culture after visiting these two ports, then head on over to the Musée Maritime or the Aquarium (the sea creatures are sure to thrill the kids).
La Rochelle’s impressive Hôtel de Ville is a unique combination of a 15th-century exterior with a 19th-century interior. Other attractions include the Musée des Automates (with over 300 automated figures), The Musée d’Histoire Naturelle (one of the oldest natural history museums in France) and the Musée du Nouveau Monde, a decorative art museum housed in an 18th-century mansion.
Day trips from La Rochelle:
Two nearby islands offer perfect occasions for day trips. You can take a boat to the car-free Ile d’Aix, where Napoleon spent his last days on French territory. Likewise, the Ile de Ré can be easily accessed by a toll bridge. You’ll be charmed by the lovely views of the sea and the winding white streets.
Just south of La Rochelle is the city of Rochefort, home to the Hermione, a refurbished French frigate that spent time in the Americas in the 18th century. The nearby Marais Poitevin is a lovely, marshy area that can be crossed by boat.
Where to eat in La Rochelle:
For fresh, reasonably priced seafood, I recommend Restaurant La Marée . For 30 years La Marée has been serving up delicious and simply prepared fish, lobster, mussels, shrimp…the list goes on. Its charming, casual ambiance and convenient location next to the train station, allows you to get your seafood fix as soon as you arrive.
A relatively new gem is Grégory Coutanceau’s Le Comptoir des Voyages . Their main restaurant is located at 22, rue St-Jean du Perot. The ambiance is elegant and the wine list is sublime, so you should expect to pay gourmet prices. It’s worth it- with appetizers like deep-fried balls of cod with Port wine granité, Portuguese tomato, served with a sardine fritter and a pork and cinnamon samosa, and entrées like a banana-wrapped filet of scorpion fish with mango salsa and fish and vegetable stew, you’re sure to enjoy a memorable meal.
Written by Jen Westmoreland Bouchard for EuropeUpClose.com