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La Rochelle Tourism And Travel Guide
5° C / 41° F
May to September
2 to 3 Days
La Rochelle-Ile de Re International Airport
Gare de La Rochelle
Situated in the western part of France, La Rochelle is a small city located on the Bay of Biscay – a part of the Atlantic Ocean. Capital of the Charente-Maritime department, this ancient port town once served as one of the most important harbours in the country between the 14th and 17th century. Its historic districts and cobblestone streets foretell a story that dates back to the Middle Ages and is brimming with cultural brilliance. La Rochelle is also a city that has maintained an edgy status for centuries. It was the first French city to be governed by a mayor instead of royalty – a type of governance that was only common in northern Europe at the time. In a country that was primarily Catholic, La Rochelle maintained a Huguenot Protestant stronghold for decades in France before coming under siege in the early 17th-century. Even then, the city did not give up without a fight and ended up with considerable damage to its infrastructure, including the loss of thousands of lives.
Today, La Rochelle boasts a prosperous economy that thrives on tourism as well as maritime trade, which has gradually returned to the city with the development of new ports. Let this travel guide help you plan your trip to La Rochelle and explore the city’s many facets for yourself.
How to Reach
The international airport of La Rochelle – the La Rochelle-Íle de Ré Airport – also serves the island Íle de Ré. It is located within just a few kilometres from the town centre with daily flights to and from European cities like London, Paris, Birmingham, Lyon etc., along with weekly connections to North African cities like Turkey and Tunisia. Taxis and buses are easily available from the airport to take travellers to their respective destinations.
Gare de La Rochelle is the city’s main railway station, located just less than a kilometre away from the town centre. While the TGV rail network connects La Rochelle to cities like Paris, Nantes and Bordeaux in a very short duration, the SNCF network serves other European cities through TER and Intercity trains.
La Rochelle’s main bus stand is at Place de Verdun in the western of the old town. This is where long-distance buses from cities like Paris, Bordeaux and Nantes connect to. Eurolines and Flixbus are two big names in the bus service industry in this part of Europe that can be used to travel to La Rochelle from other cities nearby. Travellers who are looking to drive into the city should know that La Rochelle is not as well connected via road routes as compared to other big French cities. If coming in from Paris, take route A10 and exit at N11; if travelling from Bordeaux, take A10 and exit at A387 followed by D137.
Weather & Best Time to Visit
Summer (June – August):
Summers are one of the best times to visit La Rochelle. An overall warm and sunny climate with an average temperature of 20⁰C ensures ample opportunities for tourists to indulge in exciting activities like boat tours, sailing, cycling etc. July and August are the peak tourist months with considerably high commercial rates. Occasional rainfall may be witnessed, but the weather remains predominantly sunny and clear. Events like the International Film Festival of La Rochelle and the Francofolies week are some of the main highlights of visiting in summer.
Autumn (September – November):
Early autumn is a good time to visit La Rochelle when the weather is still warm enough to enjoy the city’s outdoor attractions. The peak season tourists have left by now and the hotel rates go down substantially. However, rains are pretty common in autumn as well, which should be taken into consideration if planning a trip during this time. Some of the events to look forward to in this season are the Jazz Festival and the Grand Pavois nautical show for the boat enthusiasts.
Winter (December – February):
Being a coastal city, winters in La Rochelle aren’t as harsh as the ones experienced in the interior regions of France. The average temperatures range between 3⁰C-10⁰C with only around 5 hours of sunshine each day. Winters also happen to be the rainiest season in the year, with almost 15 days of rain experienced in a month. Winters are usually quieter, but as the Christmas season approaches the crowds begin to get bigger as well.
Spring (March – May):
For those looking to avoid the busy tourist season, spring is one of the good times to plan a trip. Temperatures range between 9⁰C-12⁰C with a drier climate in comparison to autumn and weather that grows gradually warmer as summer approaches. Events like the Poetry Festival, Kite Festival, Gardening Exhibition etc. are the main highlights of visiting in the spring season.
Things to Do
Stroll through the Old Town:
La Rochelle’s old quarter is an essential part of the city’s individuality. Strolling amongst the 17th and 18th-century buildings that line the streets will transport you back in time. The shops and boutiques on the ground floor of these well-preserved buildings add even more character to these structures. The remnants of the gateway to the old town – Tour de la Grosse-Horloge – still stands majestically and complements every other monument in the area; including the town landmark Tour de la Lanterne.
Enjoy Seafood at the Old Port:
The old harbour of La Rochelle is a living example of the city’s ancient relationship with the sea. While wandering through the port with amazing views of the Tour Saint-Nicholas and Tour de la Lanterne, visitors can stop in one of the numerous quayside restaurants here that offer excellent seafood delicacies; made using the fresh catch of the day brought in by the local fishing boats each morning.
Tour of the La Rochelle Aquarium:
The La Rochelle Aquarium is one of the most famous tourist spots in the city; popular not just among the adults but also the kids. The underground Aquarium houses almost 12000 marine wildlife belonging to 600 species, which have been brought in from the Mediterranean, Caribbean, Indo-Pacific and the Atlantic oceans. A large shark tank and a 360⁰ underground tunnel with views of thousands of jellyfish are other highlights of the Aquarium. The entire tour is accompanied by an audio-guide as well, where visitors get to learn interesting information about the exotic marine life they observe.
Where to Shop
La Rochelle may not be widely known for being a fancy shopping destination, but there are still some charming boutiques and jewellery stores here where shopping aficionados can splurge on little trinkets for themselves or take them back home as gifts. Designer brands can also be found here for those with a heavy pocket. Espritvoiles is one of the top stores for all your needs of fashion and accessories, whereas Prao Boutique is a must-visit if you are looking to purchase some great designs for your home décor.
Do stop in at the very popular yet earthy Les Halles market. The indoor market is where you’ll find all kinds of fresh seafood and meat and meat-related products, whereas the outdoor market sells the freshest produce in local fruits and vegetables.
Where to Eat
One of the main attractions of dining in La Rochelle is the plethora of seafood varieties on offer; seafood aficionados will undeniably be spoilt for choice. Head to Le Panier de Crabes for some of the best shrimps and crabs in the city, along with fresh Marennes d’Oleron oysters. André is another establishment that dates back to the 1950s and offers sensational seafood delicacies that have been caught just the night before. For those not too interested in seafood, Prao and Prao Café serves excellent French cuisine. Le Boute en Train is a popular bistro that also deals in authentic and quality French fare.