La Rochelle travel guide

About La Rochelle

La Rochelle in Poitou-Charentes is a city by the sea known for its history in trade and fishing and is joined to the charming Île de Ré by a road bridge.

Known as the 'rebel city', La Rochelle has 1000 years of history that document the aptness of this title. Originating in the 10th century as a fishing village deep in the marshes, in the 13th century it became the most important port on the Atlantic coast due to its trade in salt and wine and in the 16th became a stronghold of Protestantism during the Reformation. Beseiged by Catholics it eventually surrendered and was granted mercy and by 1635 had developed regular links with Canada, then New France, and the West Indies with whom it developed a triangular trade of furs from Canada and West Indies sugar. The La Palice harbour was built in 1890 and was used as a German submarine base during WW2. Since the war, La Rochelle has grown rapidly with 4 new districts and the 3,500 berth Les Minimes pleasure port, the largest on the Atlantic coast. Once a heavily fortified town, now just three 15th and 16th century towers remain - the Tour St Nicholas, Tour de la Chaine and the Lighthouse Tower. The arch-covered streets where shopkeepers used to sell their merchandise out of the sun and rain are wonderful to walk through and visit the medieval half-timber houses and 18th century shipowners' mansions.

Beautiful buildings not to miss are the great clock tower, an ancient gate separating the port and the centre, the cathedral St Louis which was built by the Catholics after the seige and was consecrated in 1784, and the House of Henri II, a house which isn't a house, just a facade! There is also the Renaissance hôtel de ville (town hall) and the 18th century stock exchange, previously the Chamber of Commerce from 1760-2002, whose facade is covered in in stone carvings of maritime objects such as anchors, oars, sextants. The city has many lovely parks and gardens as well as beaches for a stroll and comes alive with its festivals including the Grand Pavois, Europe's biggest floating boat show, a Jazz Festival and several film and television festivals. Take a trip across the bridge to Île de Ré, a pretty UNESCO protected island of white-washed houses with many flat cycle tracks and a warm micro-climate. The island was created by the coalescence of an archipelago through their extensive salt marshes.

La Rochelle has some good shopping opportunities for those looking for crafts, antiques and jewellery with many boutiques and fresh produce and craft markets. Enjoy the locally caught fish in the city's restaurants with specialities being oysters from Marannes-Oléron, mussels, sea bass, sea bream and all kinds of shellfish. The perfect place for seafood lovers!  

Why visit La Rochelle?

  • The Architecture
  • The Harbour
  • Île de Ré
  • The Museums
  • Food and Drink 

Overview

  • Country: France
  • Region: Poitou-Charentes
  • Department: Charente-Maritime
  • Population: 75,800
  • Coordinates: 46.165803,-1.150183

Coordinates shown are based on the WGS84 system, please check driving directions before departing.

Places to visit nearby

Niort in Poitou-Charentes is an important modern finance centre with a rich historical past as a trading port and the second largest donjon (keep) in France.

Saintes in Poitou-Charentes is the second largest city in Charente-Maritime and has an historical heritage dating back to Gallo-Roman times with some excellent ruins of Roman baths and an amphitheatre.

Angoulême in Poitou-Charentes is an attractive city famous for its International Comic Book Festival and the classic car race, the Circuit des Ramparts.

Nearby attractions

Take a boat trip from the harbour in La Rochelle towards Fort Boyard (an ancient stone fortress made famous by a tv series), or out to the tiny Île d'Aix.

Learn about the fascinating underwater world at this excellent state-of-the-art aquarium which is well laid out and has beautiful fish from all over the world.

At this maritime museum you can explore the meteorological vessel France I from the engine room to the bridge. Climb aboard the fishing trawler Angoumois to imagine life on board during its 12-day voyages from La Rochelle and...