La Rochelle is a beautiful French seaside town located on the mid-Atlantic coast in the Charente-Maritime province of France, and I just got back from spending a long weekend there! La Rochelle is known to be popular with French vacationers, particularly Parisians. However, it is not very well-known in the US, and I probably would never have visited La Rochelle except my college (yay University of Richmond!) had a study abroad program there (I opted for Paris) – and I have a “map of France” t-shirt from Anthropologie that features La Rochelle… In addition to being featured on an Anthropologie shirt, La Rochelle is quite historical, as it has been around since antiquity, and is the port from which French settlers left for the new world (i.e. Quebec!).
I really enjoyed visiting La Rochelle. It had a lot of what I love about France – seaside towns, good shopping without tourists (Galleries Lafayette and Monoprix (the Target of France)), lots of striped shirts and just adorable French things, such as this bonbons stand on the water. I obviously indulged.
La Rochelle Touriste
In terms of big tour sites, La Rochelle falls short, which is why I think it may be best to skip on a first or limited visit to France. The most famous site in La Rochelle is le Vieux Port (translation: Old Port). You cannot, and should not, miss it! Much of the town action happens around le Vieux Port and its absolutely gorgeous, especially at sunset. The town closes down the streets around le Vieux Port on the weekend and it turns into one gloriously tame street party.
Second to the Vieux Port are La Rochelle’s three towers: la tour Saint-Nicolas, la tour de la Chaine et la tour de la Lanterne (St. Nicholas Tower, the Chain Tower and the Lantern Tower). La tour Saint-Nicolas and la tour de la Chaine are the town stone towers guarding the Vieux Port. Both are accessible to tourists for €6/person. There they are, proudly waiving the French flag! Spoiler alert – Franctour de la lantern e is my absolute favorite country.
I skipped these two towers and visited the prettier tour de la Lanterne, a bit further down from the port. La tour de la Lanterne is more reminiscent of a castle than a stone tower and has gorgeous views of La Rochelle from the 7th level. The cost to visit la tour de la Lanterne is also €6 but you can buy a combination ticket to visit all three for €8.
In addition to the towers, La Rochelle’s newest attraction is the La Rochelle Aquarium. Its supposed to be fabulous, but I was just more interested in eating and shopping on a short trip!
Aside from the primary tourist spots, we walked around the old town and saw la grosse-horologe (the below clock tower) and a portion of the Hotel de Ville. It was under construction, but looked like a castle from what I could see.
We also came across the most adorable market on Sunday morning when we were strolling around La Rochelle – Marché central de la Rochelle. Turns out this market is held every morning in an 18th century covered market hall, although I imagine it is a little more robust on the weekend. The market sold food that looked absolutely amazing; it made me wish that I had a kitchen (or knew how to cook).
La Rochelle Foodie
No fear if you do not have a kitchen either, in addition to the market, La Rochelle offers excellent seafood but be reminded that most nice restaurants serve almost exclusively seafood. Some of my favorite spots were:
le Pass’Port: a random find on my first night. Le Pass’port is right on the Vieux Port and served crepes and mussels. I ordered the moules frites (in blue cheese) and a chocolate crepe. When in France. My only complaint is that le Pass’port does not use Nutella for their chocolate crepes.
Tante Lucie: Another random lunch find on the Vieux Port. We seriously ended up here on a whim because were were super hungry. Lucky for us, it turned out to be a delicious lunch! I ordered the sequin galette (a buckwheat crepe), which came with emmental cheese, warm, goat cheese, Canadian bacon and honey! It tasted so much better than the picture looks.
Le Restaurant Bar Andre: Andre is La Rochelle’s most famous restaurant and gets mixed reviews online. I made a reservation online before I left because I knew I had to try it when in La Rochelle. In a happy turn of events, the food and service were really good! I am not sure where the negative reviews come from. I started with what I will dub a French cheese stick – cheese wrapped in a fried crepe stuffed with mussels and served with a honey, sesame and lemon sauce and then ordered the fish and chips. Dan got a French version of paella.
Le Glacier Ernest: My favorite food spot in La Rochelle. Le Glacier Ernest is an ice cream shop with two locations along the Vieux Port. Ernest has so many flavors, and most of them are super interesting. For example, they serve kalamansi and peppered nougatine with black chocolate sorbet!
Le Bateau Ivre: We ended up at Le Bateau Ivre because we were a bit tired of seafood, and quite frankly were craving pizza. I ordered one of my favorite pizzas (the below) the Regina – red sauce, cheese, ham and uncooked mushrooms. The pizza was quite tasty and was served as most French pizzas are, with a bottle of spicy olive oil.
La Rochelle Logistics
I arrived in La Rochelle via a first-class train ride from Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport (CDG) to La Rochelle with one very brief change in Poitiers (seriously, an 8 minute stop). The train ride was very convenient and took about three hours. I slept most of the ride. La Rochelle’s train station was quite modern and petit. The train station is about a 15 minute walk from the Vieux Port (slightly longer with luggage or slow movers). I would not waste too much time here. There are only about six tracks and one to-go coffee/sandwich shop to pass the time.
I stayed at Hotel Marine. Hotel Marine is a small hotel located right on le Vieux Port. It was definitely an excellent location, but nothing else wowed me. Perusing Instagram today, I wish that I had stayed at the adorable Hotel Bord’O. In terms of our room, it was one the smaller side (but average for European hotels), had air conditioning, a flat screen TV, a coffee maker and a separate toilet and shower.
I stayed in La Rochelle for three days. The first two were spent in La Rochelle and on the third day I took a day trip to Île de Ré, which is also known as the Martha’s Vineyard of France!
I think three days is a good amount of time in La Rochelle, especially if you are traveling around France and in all honesty, if it is your first time in France, you may want to skip La Rochelle as there are many bucket list sites in France that are more inticing. If you are a fan of cognac, note that the town of Cognac, home to the famous liquor, is not far away and also doable as a day trip.
STEAL OUR TRIP
La Rochelle: La Rochelle Tourisme website.
SNCF: Tickets can be pre-purchased on this website in English. No validation is required with tickets purchased on the internet. You can alternatively buy tickets at any train station, through a self-service kiosk (coin or chip credit card required (US ones do not always work)) or waiting in line at a service desk (lines can be looooong). Note – tickets purchased at an SNCF station need to be validated by inserting the ticket into the small box at the entrance to the train platform (stamped with date and time). If you forget to do this, you should immediately tell the conductor to avoid a hefty fine.
Hotel La Marine: 11 rue Paris, 50270 Barneville Carteret. Tél : 02 33 53 83 31. Fax : 02 33 53 39 60. Email : firstname.lastname@example.org. Reservations can be made in English online. Note that the hotel is located on the second, third and fourth floor of the building and there is no elevator. In addition, breakfast is not included in the price.
Café le Pass’Port: 10 Quai Duperré, 17000 La Rochelle, France. Casual creperie on the Vieux Port.
Restaurant Le Bar André: 5, rue St-Jean du Pérot, 17000 La Rochelle – France. Tél. 05 46 41 28 24. Reservations can be made online. Famous La Rochelle restaurant in interesting setting. Menu is almost exclusively seafood.
La Rochelle Aquarium: I did not visit but it seems to be all the rage, especially for those traveling with children.
Tante Lucie: 38 Quai Duperre, 17000, La Rochelle, France. Casual creperie on the Vieux Port. Reservations not required.