La Rochelle

Travel Guide Europe France Poitou-Charentes La Rochelle

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Introduction

5-Sunset over La Rochelle Les Minmes

5-Sunset over La Rochelle Les Minmes

© Mistrale

La Rochelle is a port city in the French region of Poitou-Charentes. From the 14th to 17th century, it was France's leading port for trade across the Atlantic to Canada and the French West Indies. It's often called "la ville blanche" (the white city) for its limestone buildings: they're handsome in any weather, but brilliant when the sun shines down from a big blue Atlantic sky. The city is centred around the old port, Vieux Port, with three great defensive towers. 3 km south, Les Minimes is a new area built on reclaimed land. La Rochelle is linked by a bridge to the resort island of Île de Ré, some 30 km long. Other islands are Île d'Aix, Île d'Oleron (usually accessed by road via Rochefort), and the one you've seen on TV, Fort Boyard.

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Sights and Activities

The Old Port ("Vieux Port")

This is the oldest and most picturesque part of La Rochelle, dominated by its defensive towers. The quayside extends 200 m inland from the port, along Canal Maubec. Most buildings are centuries old and very well maintained. The narrow streets and pale stone buildings make the city feel more Midi than Atlantic.

The Three Towers

If a party of enormous chess pieces came down to the seaside and got tipsy, they would resemble these 14th- and 15th-century towers. Tour de la Chaine and Tour St Nicholas lean over the narrow harbour entrance: a stout chain was raised between them to keep out trouble (often English). A rampart stretches west to Tour de la Lanterne, the former lighthouse. You can visit the towers daily 10:00 to 13:00 and 14:15 to 17:30 (18:30 during daylight saving). Entry costs €6 per tower, or €9 for all three.

Enter the old city behind the quay via the Gothic great gate, the Tour de la Grosse Horloge. (The tower can't be entered.) A network of old streets encloses the market hall, the Temple Protestant, and the New World Museum. Eventually it opens out onto Place de Verdun, with the Cathedral of St-Louis.

Île de Ré

This resort island is accessed along Route D735 via a 2-km-long toll-bridge. The toll to get onto the island is €16 per car in summer and €8 in winter, free on foot or with a bike; there's no return toll. The road runs through La Flotte to the main settlement of St Martin de Ré, which has a charming port (UNESCO Heritage Site) fortified by Vauban. Most buses terminate here. The road straggles on for another 20 km to Les Portes-en-Ré. Camping on the island is only permitted at approved sites. Hotel la Jetée (23 quai Georges Clemenceau) is a 3-star hotel in St Martin, open year-round. You'll need to email ahead for an access code to drive into the pedestrianised area. Bistrot du Marin is on Quai Nicolas Baudin on the harbour island; lots of seafood restaurants line the other quays. Do try the waffles of 'La Martiniere' on Quai Poitheviniere.

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Weather

La Rochelle has a moderatly warm maritime climate. Summers from June to early September average 20-24 °C with nights around 14-16 °C. Winters from December to February are in the 8-10 °C with nights around 4 °C. Average annual precipitation is around 750 mm with most of that falling during the somewhat wetter period of October to March.

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Getting There

By Plane

La Rochelle – Île de Ré Airport (LRH) has flights to Lyon, Bristol, Birmingham, London, Glasgow, Manchester, Southampton, Edinburgh, Leeds, Brussels, Dublin and Oslo.

The airport is 5 km west of city centre, close to the bridge across to Île de Ré. Bus #7 runs downtown (Place de Verdun) M-Sa every 30 min, taking 15 mins, fare €1.30. In July and August a bus runs from the airport direct to Île de Ré, at other times you'll have to backtrack via downtown. Taxis can be found immediately outside the terminal building, with the fare to town about €20.

By Train

TGVs link La Rochelle to Paris Montparnasse every couple of hours, taking 3 hours. Five or six trains a day run south to Bordeaux (2 hr) and north to Nantes (3 hr).

The bus to Île de Ré is run in conjunction with SNCF, ie it's through-ticketed, displayed on departure boards, and timed to connect with the Paris trains.

The railway station Gare de La Rochelle is 500 m south of the town centre, near the aquarium and Maritime Museum. Cars can be rented from agencies opposite the station.

By Car

La Rochelle is one of the few large cities in France not directly served by an autoroute. The city can still be easily reached by car, though. From Paris take the A10 until the exit for N11 which will take you La Rochelle. From Bordeaux take the A10 then exit onto A837 then D137.

By Bus

Flixbus runs once a day to Paris Bercy Seine, 7 hr. They also run to Nantes (2 hr), Bordeaux (2 hr in the dead of night), and Toulouse (6 hr). Eurolines have an evening coach for Bordeaux, Bayonne, San Sebastian and Bilbao, with connections to Madrid.

The main bus stand for long-distance and local services is Place de Verdun, at the western edge of the old town.

By Boat

Cruise liners occasionally call at La Rochelle, docking at the far end of Viaduc Président Christian Morch, 10 km west of town near the bridge to Île de Ré. Typically these are on week-long cruises of the Bay of Biscay and Channel Islands, with passengers coming ashore for a day-trip to the Dordogne and quick look at the old town. They're not available to book as point-to-point ferries.

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Getting Around

La Rochelle can easily be explored by foot or by bicycle. The bike rental service is run by Yelo (a pun on "yellow" and "velo"): you first need to visit their kiosk in Place de Verdun, with ID and credit card for a €150 deposit, to be issued a pass. Short-term rental is €3 for 2 hours, €7 for 5 hours and €12 for 10 hours - these rentals may not be taken to Île de Ré. Longer hires are also easily arranged. There are several pick-up and return stations across the city.

Local buses are also run by Yelo. A single ticket can be bought on the bus for €1.30 (valid for one transfer within one hour). A 10-unit ticket costs €11, a 24-hour pass is €4.50, a 7-day pass is €12.50. Buy these from Yelo kiosks, eg in Place de Verdun. Just about every bus line will pass at some point through Place de Verdun: one exception is the Friday evening summer service to Île de Ré, which goes direct from the railway station.

There's a ferry from Vieux Port to Port des Minimes (hourly, fare €3). Boat trips and ferries run from the Vieux Port to the nearby islands. Boats can circle Fort Boyard but seldom land, as it is in effect a big offshore TV studio, with programmes in preparation throughout summer.

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Eat

Seafood is the speciality in La Rochelle, and there are many excellent restaurants around the Vieux Port. Try the mussels "Charantais" in a creamy white wine and onion sauce. For a more traditional meal "A Cote de Chez Fred" offers a variety of local specialties in a comfortable setting.

As an alternative, for budget travellers, some locals recommend trying sandwiches or kebabs at "Le Rif" restaurant on the "Rue St Nicolas", not very far away from "A Coté de Chez Fred". They offer some of their specialities like Royal Rif and Royal Fajitas.

If you are in La Rochelle, please try a waffle (with "caramel au beurre sale", salty butter caramel), a crepe/galette de sarasin, some "broye du poitou" (a delicious butter cookie) and some "gache" (a type of brioche). You can also try a "tourteau fromager", which is a baked cheese cake with a purposefully burned layer on top (that you can eat, but it is okay if you don't) and some delicious "canneles".

  • Restaurant Le Bar Andre, 5 rue St Jean de Perot, ☏ +33 5 46 41 28 24. Renowned seafood restaurant in Vieux Port.
  • Les Flots, 1 rue de la Chaine, ☏ +33 5 46 41 32 51. Acclaimed seafood restaurant run by Gregory Coutanceau.

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Drink

  • La Guignette - Head to this local spot for a La Rochelle speciality, white wine mixed with fruit syrup. Open only in the early evening, this bar is a popular place for students starting a night of partying. The bar is located on Rue St. Nicholas, in an excellent run down and dirty building. A lot of fun, but be careful, the sweet drink will quickly get you very drunk!
  • Le Général Humbert Be sure to stop by this Irish pub on Rue St. Nicholas. A comfortable place to meet with friends, or watch some football or rugby. The owners are extremely friendly, and most of the staff speak English. Occasional live music.
  • La Calhute - Just off of Rue St. Nicholas is this small and comfortable nightspot. Great music is always playing, and drink are not to expensive. Try a pitcher of "Jacqueline" wine mixed with tonic and fruit syrup. It comes in many flavours, try peach or melon.

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Sleep

Lots of mid-range hotels centrally in and around the Vieux Port. There's more out on the island, Île de Ré; you'll need your own transport there as the bus is painfully slow.

  • Ibis Styles La Rochelle Centre, 4 rue Leonce Vieljeux, ☏ +33 5 46 50 68 68. Good central budget choice.
  • Hotel La Marine, 30 quai Duperre, ☏ +33 5 46 50 51 63. Smart boutique hotel, very central in Vieux Port.
  • Hotel La Monnaie Art & Spa, 3 Rue de la Monnaie, ☏ +33 5 46 50 65 65. August facade, modern within, and very central.
  • Altica, rue de Scierie (Bus 10, 7 or 19 from centre). Budget choice 1 km S of centre, near the university.
  • Pierre et Vacances La Rochelle Centre, 14 Quai de Marans (1 km east of centre), ☏ +33 5 46 50 10 10. 2-storey residence with indoor, heated swimming pool in the "Bastion Saint Nicolas" district. It is 2.5 km from the beach and 200 m from the shops. Much in need of repair, and trash piled around exterior.
  • Hostel La Rochelle (Auberge de Jeunesse), Ave de Minimes (by marina S of centre), ☏ +33 5 46 44 43 11. The only youth hostel in town.

You can use the form below to search for availability (Travellerspoint receives a commission for bookings made through the form)

Booking.com

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Keep Connected

Internet

France is one of the best connected countries in the world, with data speed for upload/download ranked among the top 5 in the world. Most hotels and hostels would have in-house facilities to provide free internet access. Many major cities also have initiatives put in place to provide free wi-fi connection in public spaces. Alternatively there are internet cafés available in most cities/towns at a reasonable rate. Some private businesses, such as local cafés (or even the Starbuck's chain), may also provide wi-fi connectivity - keep an eye out for the signs by the shop windows/doors. Also look for the @ symbol prominently displayed, which indicates internet availability. However, with most homes now wired for the internet, cyber cafés are increasingly hard to find, especially outside the major cities.

Phone

See also: International Telephone Calls

To dial an international number from France, the IDD is 00, followed by the country code that you wish to dial, the area code and the phone number.
To call France from abroad, start with the international direct dialing (IDD) code from the country you're in, followed by French country code 33, the area code (drop the first zero in front of the area code), and the phone number. French telephone numbers are rarely given without the area code. The telephone number, including the area code, is made up of 10 digits. They are written in a set of 5 pairs of digits (i.e. 01 xx xx xx xx xx).
In France, the area code designations are: 01 - Paris Area ("Région Ile-de-France"), 02 - northwest, 03 - northeast, 04 - southeast, 05 - southwest, 06 - mobile phone providers. From 2010 onwards, 07 will also be assigned to mobile phone providers in order to cater for the surging demands for mobile phones.

Emergency numbers are 15 (medical aid), 17 (police station) and 18 (fire/rescue). You can also use the European emergency number 112 (perhaps a better choice if you don't speak French). These calls are free and accessible from virtually any phone, including locked cellphones.

France uses the GSM standard of cellular phones (900 MHz and 1800 MHz bands) used in most of the world outside of the U.S. There are several companies (Orange, SFR, Free, Bouygues Télécom and some others MVNOs like Virgin Mobile) offering wireless service. The country is almost totally covered but you may have difficulties using your mobile phone in rural or mountainous areas. If you stay for some time, it may be advisable to buy a pre-paid cell phone card that you can use in any phone that supports the GSM standard on the 900/1800 MHz bands. Then incoming calls and SMSes are free.

Post

La Poste in France is also referred to as the PTT (short for postes, télégraphes et téléphones). The mailboxes are painted bright yellow and often there is a slot for local city mail and another slot for "outside mail". Normally there is a queue in the post office, but most of the post offices have the self service machine installed which is quite easy to operate. Nowadays many of the tabac and even some of the souvenir shops also sell postage stamps. Normally an overseas postcard costs almost as much as sending a letter. Mails sent in France also have a zip code. The first two numbers represent the administrative department (e.g. in Paris' case that would be 75).

Post offices are generally open from 8:00am to 7:00pm Monday through Friday, and 8:00am to noon on Saturdays. Apart from the basic job of mailing letters, most of the post offices do some banking activities also and some even have photocopy machines and cyber cafes for internet access.

For international package services, you might also check options with companies like DHL, UPS or TNT, which have competitive services and prices and might be faster in most cases.

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Accommodation in La Rochelle

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This is version 6. Last edited at 9:41 on Aug 7, 19 by Utrecht. 7 articles link to this page.

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