A view of the towers and the marina at La Rochelle

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 Chaîne 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 St Louis cathedral 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 Marennes-Oléron, mussels, sea bass, sea bream and all kinds of shellfish. The perfect place for seafood lovers!

Holidays in France

Sail & stay with us to save time and money! Pack your car with everything you need - even the family pet, and enjoy the fun of travelling on board.

Gite in Atlantic Loire Valley

GITES AND COTTAGES IN FRANCE

View of the Hotel Aigue Marine, Tréguier

HOTEL HOLIDAYS & BREAKS IN FRANCE

Family walking on the beach

FAMILY HOLIDAYS IN FRANCE AND SPAIN

A man and a woman reading by their car

CAR & MOTORCYCLE TOURS IN FRANCE

Getting to France

Get closer to your holiday in France with a choice of routes sailing to Roscoff, St Malo, Cherbourg, Caen and Le Havre

Colourful boats at the port in Roscoff © Shutterstock

PLYMOUTH TO FRANCE FERRIES

Aerial view of Poole harbour, from where Brittany Ferries sail to Cherbourg, France

POOLE TO FRANCE FERRIES

The walls of Intra-Muros around St Malo from the marina © Shutterstock

PORTSMOUTH TO FRANCE FERRIES