A brilliant orange sky stretched across the western horizon, illuminating the harbor and the pair of ancient towers that guard its entrance. The spectacular sunset had surprised me as I walked from the train station in old La Rochelle to my hotel. Old stone buildings – the towers, the lighthouses, the waterfront buildings – all became golden as the sun “put itself to bed” to use the charming French expression “se coucher.” Families walked along the promenade that borders the small harbor. Some tourists snapped pictures while others enjoyed the view with another glass of wine from one of many sidewalk cafés facing the Atlantic. It was an evening to remember.
A 15th century clock tower overlooks the harbor and acts as the gateway to the town lying to its east. There visitors to La Rochelle will find ancient arcaded streets stretching for blocks. Once used by merchants to showcase their wares (which sadly often included enslaved people) today the shops behind the arcades are filled with fashionable boutiques and restaurants. The hotel de ville (city hall), one of the most beautiful in France, is now being restored following a recent fire. Behind it visitors will find a daily outdoor market as well as a beautiful old iron and brick market hall. More modern attractions include an aquarium and a natural history museum as well as a museum displaying the town’s maritime history and arts.
La Rochelle is located directly on the Atlantic shore, precisely in the middle of “the hexagon” that is France. The Poitou-Charentes region in which it is located is often missed by visitors from other countries although Atlantic beach towns like La Rochelle are very popular with the French. Visitors interested in finding new areas of France to explore will be delighted by the vineyards, the marshes, the beaches and the history of this region that comprised much of ancient Aquitaine.
Tips for visitors: La Rochelle and surrounding beach towns are very crowded in July and August. As with most of France, May and June, September and October are the ideal months for visitors.
La Rochelle is easily reached by train and car. It makes a great base for exploring western France, an area filled with remnants of the Romans, with ancient monastery churches, with many interesting old villages to explore. La Rochelle is a very interesting place to visit for those traveling with children.
To learn more about western France, see my Poitou-Charentes page by clicking here,
Two Ibis hotels are very well located and quite inexpensive, particularly on weekends.
The official city tourism site has loads of information about the city of La Rochelle: http://www.holidays-la-rochelle.co.uk/
Virtual Tourist’s page for La Rochelle includes many photos and a list of activities to consider: http://www.virtualtourist.com/travel/Europe/France/Poitou_Charentes/La_Rochelle-114350/Things_To_Do-La_Rochelle-TG-C-1.html
Following my recent week in La Rochelle a camera disaster left me with no photos to share with you. The painting shown above is courtesy of Wikimedia. Find the painting here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:LaRochelleHarbour1762.jpg. A photograph of a sunset in La Rochelle like the one I saw can be found here: http://www.panoramio.com/photo/31406906