LA ROCHELLE, FRANCE, AN UNKNOWN JEWEL
Settled by a Gallic tribe and then taken over by the Romans, La Rochelle, France, has an interesting history. The city was under England’s rule during which time the Knights Templar were granted privileges there and established their largest base on the Atlantic Ocean. Several religious wars, the Napoleonic Wars and the French Revolution all left their mark. La Rochelle was the last French city to be liberated after WW II. Today it is one of the most beautifully maintained and picturesque cities in Europe.
Start at the Harbor:
- Check out the Calypso, Jacques Cousteau’s ship, at the Maritime Museum.
- Walk around Les Minimes, the largest marina for pleasure boats in Europe.
- Dine at a seafood restaurant in the “Vieux Port” (Old Harbor), the heart of the city.
- Take a boat trip to the Ile d’Aix or Ile de Re and view La Rochelle from the water.
- Shop for handmade crafts, sold by the artists themselves on the waterfront.
- Toy Museum (Musee des Automates) has a near life size recreation of Montmartre.
- The Reserve Naturelle Marais d’Yves (Nature Center, free) has telescopes to help track migratory birds.
- Aquarium La Rochelle, the #1 attraction for visitors, puts you in a submarine on the ocean’s floor. The café here is a wonderful place for lunch, especially the fresh seafood.
Learn a little history:
- The Lantern Tower is the only medieval lighthouse still standing on the Atlantic coast, built in 1445. Read the graffiti on the walls left by pirates and prisoners held here.
- Tour the three towers (now a National Monument) that protect the harbor.
Become French for your stay:
- Go to the very back of the market here and buy a bunch of French lavender.
- Shop along the Rue du Palais under the arcades and stop for a pastry.
- Attend a mass (in Latin with Gregorian chants) at the Chapelle Notre-Dame de l’Esperance.
- Try playing petanque with the locals.
- Settle in at a café to people-watch with a café au lait and a pain au chocolat.
Above all, have fun and make some memories. Bon voyage!