La Rochelle


La Rochelle (pop 78,400) is a port city and capital of the Charente-Maritime department. It is affectionately known as La Ville Blanche (The White City) thanks to the limestone cliffs that line its borders. La Rochelle is a picturesque city with a well-preserved heritage- many arcaded walkways and half-timbered, slate-roofed houses are still visible today. Initially inhabited by the Santoned (Gaulish tribe), La Rochelle quickly became an important harbour upon Roman occupation. Its vital sea trade position caused it to become a site of political, economic and religious importance. As such, La Rochelle had constantly been a site of changing political powers in the past (namely the French and the English). It was also where the founders of Montreal, Canada set sail from. On the religious end, La Rochelle was once the base of the Knights Templar, as well as the first city to experience iconoclastic clashes during the French Wars of Religion. Reminders of this dynamic past are still standing proudly in the old town and harbour of La Rochelle.

La Rochelle is located between Nantes and Bordeaux, encircling its Vieux Port (Old Port). The old city lies north of this. You arrive at La Rochelle via flights at the La Rochelle Airport north of town, or via train at Place Pierre Sémard. Bus services are also available to La Rochelle, ending at Place Verdun.




FRANCE POITOU-CHARENTE CHARENTE MARITIME Port de La RochelleThe sea-facing towers of La Rochelle are the highlights of the harbour. The Tour de la Chaine (Chain Tower) [Vieux Port, +33 546417413 ad/ch €8/Free (combined ticket)] is a 14th century structure that was named after the chain that was used to cordon off the harbour at night. This chain is still preserved at the foot of the tower. Great views of the city and the sea are available if you get to the top of the tower, where an exhibition of Canadian voyagers also stands.

On hte opposite side of the harbour entrance, Tour St-Nicolas – a 36m pentagonal tower, also provides sweeping views from the top. The unique Tour de la Lanterne lies west of this. This tower was once a lighthouse that had a giant candle alit in its conical turret-like roof. The tower was also once a prison for Dutch, British and Spanish inmates, who have left hundreds of graffiti as evidence of their existence. Venture further inland and you will find the guardian of the old city gateway- Tour de la Grosse Horloge. This Gothic-style clock tower can only be admired from ground level, due to safety reasons.

Close by, in the Bassin des Chalutiers stands the Musée Maritime [Place Bernard Moitessier, +33 546280300 ad/ch €8/5.50]. Opened in 1988, this museum has been gathering vessels ever since. Today, it has a fleet of over 8 ships; however, only 3 are open to the public- France I (a meteorological research vessel), Angoumois (a fishing boat) and the recent addition, Saint Gilles (a tugboat). A sea conservation museum is also set to open up in the vicinity by 2013.

[Quai Louis Prunier, +33 546340000 ad/ch €14/11] lies north of the museum. Also opened in 1988, this aquarium is one of the few privately-run conservations places. Updated recently, the aquarium houses several sea creatures, from sea turtles, Atlantic fish to bull sharks. The aquarium also has a centre that studies the preservation of these creatures, as well as a splendid, breezy rooftop café.

FRANCE POITOU-CHARENTE CHARENTE MARITIME Musée des ModéleHead southwest of this sight and you will find the Musée Automates [rue la Désirée, +33 546416808 one museum ad/ch €7.50/5 both museums ad/ch €11/6.50] albeit not everyone’s cup of tea, this quirky little museum can be a highlight in the mind of a truly curious traveller. Styled in a small theme-park manner, this museum displays a large collection (from all over Europe) of automated dolls- some even dating back to the early 19th century. The museum even has re-creations of famous places like Moulin Rouge. The automated doll museum is attached to the Musée des Modéles- a scale model museum that depicts popular events in La Rochelle history, via scale modelling. The collection includes re-creations of naval battles, as well as local railway networks.
North America was once referred to as the New World, as many residents of La Rochelle travelled to the continent in search of a new lease on life. The Musée du Nouveau Monde [10 rue Fleuriau +33 546414650 ad/ch €7.50/5] illustrates the ties that La Rochelle has with the North American continent via the collection it houses in an old 18th century mansion.


FRANCE POITOU-CHARENTE CHARENTE MARITIME La RochelleHotelVilleYou can head back down to the old city to find more monuments from La Rochelle’s lively past. Surviving buildings include the Protestant Temple [2 rue St-Michel] – a 17th century temple that was built after the French Revolution; and the Hôtel de l’Ville [Place de l'Hôtel de Ville, +33 546411468]- a Flamboyant Gothic and Renaissance structure that stands west of the temple. Attend guided tours of this building, so as to find out more about its fascinating history.

City tours
rounding up the major sights are offered by the tourist office. So contact them, if you would like to avoid the hassle of planning your route around La Rochelle. The office also provides information about service providers who will take you on island excursions- a popular activity in town. Most of these island trips take visitors past Île de Ré, Île d’Aix known for its beaches, and Fort Boyard, an early-19th century fortress island). If you would like visit the beaches within the city- you can head on to the artificial beaches at Plage de Conscurrence and Plage des Minimes.

La Rochelle hosts its reputable arts festival Francofolies in July [] and Jazz Festival in October [].


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LA ROCHELLE:   1. Tourism office  2. Train station  3. Tour de la Chaine  4. Tour St-Nicolas  5. Musée Maritime  6. La Rochelle Aquarium  7. Musée Automates & Musée des Modéles  8. Protestant Temple  9. Hôtel de Ville