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Tourist Places To Visit In La Rochelle
La Rochelle is an immensely cultured city located on the Bay of Biscay, which is a part of the Atlantic Ocean, in the western part of France. Founded in the 10th-century by the Gallic tribe of Santones, La Rochelle had established itself as a major port town by the 12th-century and remained the largest French harbour on the Atlantic well into the 15th-century. The city and its old port remain well preserved, with its distinctive character palpable in every historic landmark of La Rochelle. The ancient districts and interesting buildings dating back to the Renaissance era lend an air of veritable antiquity to the city, something seasoned travellers will find particularly appealing. To help you make the most of your trip, here is a list of some of the best places to visit in La Rochelle.
Vieux Port (Old Port)
One of the first places worthy of a visit in La Rochelle is the old harbour, which lays bare the innate relationship between the city and the sea. Tourist boats embark on their journey from here as well, which in La Rochelle you’ll either choose to be a part of or enjoy being a silent spectator in one of the quayside restaurants while dining on the freshest seafood. Quai du Carénage, Quai Duperré and Cours des Dames are brilliant to visit in summer especially when street shows rule the market areas. Iconic views of the Tour Saint-Nicholas and Tour de la Chaine can be admired from here, apart from a marvellous view of the city and the harbour itself from the southern part of the port.
Vieille Ville (Old Town)
La Rochelle’s old quarter exemplifies all that is antiquated and historic about the city’s heritage. Strolling through this part of the city and admiring its many landmarks is customary for every tourist who visits La Rochelle. Beginning with the Porte de la Grosse-Horloge, which serves as the remains of what was once the gate to the town and the entrance of the pedestrian-only lanes. At the very centre of the town, the Hotel de Ville or the Town Hall is an opulently decorated building with a gothic façade and exotic sculptures.
The 16th-century Renaissance-style building Maison de Henri II is located nearby and free to visit for all. The cobblestone streets around the Town Hall, like Rue du Palais and Rue des Merciers, are lined by 17th and 18th-century arcade and buildings that will transport you back into the past as you explore more parts of the town. Other buildings worthy of note here are the 15th-century Tour de la Lanterne, the Palais de Justice and the Hotel de la Bourse.
La Rochelle Aquarium
A place that will be loved and enjoyed not just by adults but also the kids, this state-of-the-art aquarium is unlike any you might have ever seen. The tour begins by visitors getting into a submarine-like vehicle that descends into the underwater world in the form of a simulated submarine dive. The aquarium is divided into nine different zones with a total of almost 12000 marine wildlife belonging to 600 different species. The visitors are taken to all zones where they get to learn all about the diverse lifeforms, which have been brought from the Atlantic and Indo-Pacific Oceans, as well as the Mediterranean and Caribbean seas.
An audio-guide gives interesting information about the wildlife, with special audios for children as well. Fascinating sights like the shark tank and the 360⁰ underwater tunnel showcasing thousands of jellyfish are some of the highlights of the aquarium.
Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle
La Rochelle’s Natural History Museum dates back to the 18th or 19th-century and covers more than 2000 sq. m. of space with almost 10000 exhibits on display, making up the archaeology section, the zoology section and the geology section. Explorers from this part of France who went on expeditions around the world and returned with exotic items have all their objects on display at the Lafaille Cabinet of Curiosities, which dates back to the 18th-century and sits in the museum almost unchanged; making it the oldest natural history ‘cabinet’ in the country. There are also various ethnographic exhibits from Africa, taxidermies, and some fossils here that explore the diversity and richness of the region.
Musée du Nouveau Monde
The New World Museum of La Rochelle is housed in an 18th-century mansion in the Old Town. The museum essentially details the relationship of France with North and South America during the time of its discovery in the 18th-century. Collections in the form of maps, tapestries and paintings can be seen in this neoclassical and rococo style building, which is decorated with some splendid furnishings and art that depict the enormous wealth of the explorers who travelled to these new nations.
Galleries are devoted to exhibits that showcase the discovery and exploration of the Americas, the relationship between the European settlers who migrated to the ‘New World’ and the native American Indians, and also the era of slavery and slave ships that played a major role in history as we know it today.
Situated right in the heart of La Rochelle, Parc Charruyer is unlike any other French park you may have visited. Instead of the usual heavily landscaped version of other commercial parks, Parc Charruyer has been left largely untouched so it appears like an unspoilt natural site. Packed with a large number of trees and flower varieties, it is a great place to enjoy picnics whilst surrounded by nature or even enjoy a stroll along the 2 km walking path here. A small river here houses local ducks, with a footbridge on top meant for the pedestrians. There is also a small zoo here with domesticated animals that will prove to be a special treat for the kids.
An open green space at the south end of the park, known as Allée du Mail, is best known as the spot where festivals and fairs were organised sometime in the 15th-century. Since the 17th-century, the lawn has been used to play Mail, which is the French equivalent of croquet.
Tour de la Lanterne
La Rochelle’s Tour de la Lanterne is one of the more impressive ones among the city’s three towers. This 15th-century structure has served various purposes at different times; while it has played as much of a defensive role, this beautiful building also served as a lighthouse for the harbour that was lit with the help of an enormous candle; hence, the name. Between the 17th and the 19th-century, the fourth level of the tower was also a prison that could hold up to 100 captives. On a tour of the tower, visitors will be able to make out the graffiti left behind on the walls by the many captives who spent their sentence here.
La Rochelle and its historically significant seafaring heritage can be best learned about in the Maritime Museum. The museum is a unique setting that features a fleet of eight ships that have been splendidly renovated and are docked at Port des Minimes. The main highlights of the museum are the Saint-Gilles tugboat, the France 1 meteorological ship and a fishing trawler called the Angoumois; all three are available for on-board exploration. Visitors can observe maps, charts and other artefacts on these ships that relate to La Rochelle’s maritime history. Several yachts and ships are also on display here that can be viewed from the waterfront itself.
Île de Ré
This dreamy island is connected to La Rochelle through a short 3-km bridge and consists of scenic lanes with charming villages and picturesque golden beaches. Travellers often choose this island as part of a day trip or even a weekend getaway. Visitors come here to relax and unwind, while the easy-going bike paths and hiking trails of the island will appeal to the sporty kind just as much. The island’s historic centre is Saint-Martin-de-Re, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and features a lovely harbour where travellers can buy the fresh catch of the day from the many fishing boats docked here. Head on over the numerous seafood restaurants here to enjoy some authentic meals as well while you’re there.
A magnificent neo-classical building from the 18th-century, the La Rochelle Cathedral serves as another feather in the city’s metaphorical cap through its exceptional design that was conceived by the famous architect Jacques Gabriel. Unfortunately, he passed away before he could see the fruit of his designs come to life and the completion of the church was carried on by his son. While the outside of the cathedral is exquisite in design, the Baroque-style interiors and ceiling frescoes are just as splendid.