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Points of interest
Fast-forwarding to the 21st century, this photogenic coastal resort is the capital of the Charente-Maritime département and a superb destination for family holidays on the beach. Its popularity as a yachting destination has led to the development of the immense Les Minimes marina – one of the largest in France – and now La Rochelle has garnered a reputation as a cultural destination, offering a year-round calendar of events.
Bring the family, treat your partner to a luxurious surprise at hotels in La Rochelle, France, or fly in for a night of music at a portside festival – whatever your reason for visiting La Rochelle, we have a hotel to match your requirements.
La Rochelle's Old Town
Any walking tour of La Rochelle's medieval past will start down on the waterfront at Vieux Port. Quai Duperré is one of the biggest attractions in La Rochelle, with wine bars and seafood restaurants spilling onto cobbles packed with street performers and meandering crowds. From that vantage point, those landmark towers loom into view over the harbour: built into the medieval walls as defence fortifications in the 14th century, the Chain Tower and Saint Nicolas Tower have also doubled as jails for smugglers and political prisoners. Climb up the octagonal spire of the Lantern Tower – built a century later and the oldest surviving lighthouse on the Atlantic coast – for views over La Rochelle to the ocean.
From there, it's a short hop into the beguiling Vieille Ville (old town), passing underneath the landmark Porte de la Grosse-Horloge gateway on the way. A tangle of lanes reveal townhouses in styles from half-timbered to Renaissance, with artisan shops tucked into their arcaded façades; they lead to La Rochelle's Saint Louis Cathedral, with a riot of ceiling frescoes and glittering stained-glass windows hidden behind a deceptively plain exterior.
Other things to do in La Rochelle's atmospheric historic heart include pottering around art galleries and grazing on the regional speciality tourteau fromagé (a dessert baked with goat's cheese and with a blackened crust) at the bustling, covered Central Market. A couple of La Rochelle museums are also worth a peek: housed in a grand 18th-century mansion filled with lavish decorative arts, the Musée du Nouveau Monde tactfully addresses the Slave Trade era, while you can relive the dark days of WWII at the Bunker La Rochelle, hidden deep underground and packed with weaponry displays and Nazi uniforms.
La Rochelle with Children
Much of La Rochelle's best things to do centre on the Vieux Port. From there, jump on a family boat trip to the glittering, glass La Rochelle Aquarium, where the main attractions include a vast shark tank and endangered turtles bumbling sleepily around their underwater world. Close by, the floating Musée Maritime de La Rochelleis guaranteed to be a hit with youngsters, with self-guided tours available of three historic boats.
If you're feeling like a day's expedition to territories new, how about exploring La Rochelle's surroundings on two wheels? The old-world Île de Ré is united with the mainland by bridge, and a visit to this gloriously unspoiled island is like stepping back in time. There are gentle (flat!) biking routes down rural lanes bordered by vineyards and salt marshes – and as you cycle, tell the kids to keep an eye open for adorable Poitou donkeys grazing in the fields.
Pretty island villages with a smattering of brasseries include Saint-Martin-de-Ré, Ars-en-Ré and flower-filled La Flotte (the latter two have won France's prestigious "Plus Beaux Village" awards). And you're spoiled for choice on the island with soft sand beaches for kids to play around – head for Plage des Gollandières for watersports and La Couarde-sur-Mur for staggeringly lovely sunsets over the sea.
Back on the mainland, Plages des Minimes might just be the best La Rochelle beach for active families, with facilities for – among others – volleyball, kayaking and learning to sail dinghies. We also recommend the sandy crescent of Plage de la Platère for kitesurfing, or Chef de Baie for the seafront promenade that leads to a popular ocean viewpoint. La Rochelle is also welcoming to cyclists, with numerous designated bike paths around the coastline and ports.
La Rochelle Wining and Dining
Thanks to its lovely setting overlooking the Atlantic, seafood is the major offering on the culinary front. Some of the best restaurants in La Rochelle serve up vast platters of plump langoustines, mussels and freshly harvested oysters from the Marennes-Oléron. A local favourite is mouclade, a dish of saffron-infused, lightly spiced mussels cooked in cream, which you can sample in terrace restaurants along the Vieux Port quaysides.
The charming streets of the quirky, cobbled Saint Nicolas district were once lined with fishermen's cottages, which are now home to stylish cafés for impromptu sightseeing breaks – why not treat yourself to triangular, aniseed-tinged cornuelle biscuits to dip into inky black coffee? You can also opt for Michelin stars at fine-dining restaurants, or take an open-air table at a shabby-chic guignette bar – the perfect spots to people-watch over a glass of regional Pineau des Charentes fortified wine.
When to Visit La Rochelle
The climate on France's Atlantic coast is a gentle one, with long days of sunshine lasting from spring through to mid-October. La Rochelle winters are relatively mild too (although do bring a jacket for cooler evenings).
Annual events in La Rochelle that bring the visitors in their thousands include the Francofolies festival in July, a celebration of contemporary French culture that has seen big stars like Johnny Hallyday and Christine and the Queens perform on stages across the city. In the same month, Festival La Rochelle Cinéma attracts film stars and producers to showings of classic movies, while late autumn heralds the Grand Pavois, when hundreds of yachts and powerboats fill the marinas in a week-long regatta welcoming sailing enthusiasts from across Europe – and there's a full diary of offshore yacht racing all year around.
La Rochelle's Best Hotels
We have multiple properties around the city, with plenty of family-friendly facilities at La Rochelle hotels with a pool and interconnecting guest rooms near the beach. If you're on a romantic weekend escape, our luxury La Rochelle seaside hotels with ocean and marina views offer gourmet restaurants and soothing treatments in the spa. Some of our La Rochelle city-centre hotels offer bed and breakfast deals, and if you're looking for budget accommodation options in La Rochelle we've got those too. Working at the Grand Pavois boat show? Several of our hotels have meeting rooms and business facilities as well.
Getting to La Rochelle
European flights arrive at La Rochelle – Île de Ré, a compact airport that is busier in summer than winter. From there, bus line 7 (47 on Sunday) runs into La Rochelle in 15 minutes. Taxis and rental cars are also available at the airport.
Much of the city is best seen on foot. However, public-transport company Yeló runs an efficient combination of buses, boats and yellow bikes if you should need to travel further afield. The Sea Boat service runs regularly between the Old Port and Les Minimes, with a couple of stops that are useful for visitors along the way.