La Rochelle

Despite lying on the Atlantic Ocean halfway down France’s west coast; the attractive seaside town of La Rochelle is warmed by the gulf stream and as such enjoys similar temperatures to France’s Mediterranean resorts.

Founded in the 10th century, La Rochelle swiftly grew in importance as a harbour town involved in the wine and salt trade. It gained a town charter in 1199 and prospered greatly during The Hundred Years War. During the wars of religion La Rochelle become a 'Huguenot' (protestant) stronghold and Cardinal Richelieu laid siege to the city with the King’s troops in 1627. After 14 months, La Rochelle was almost totally demolished and eventually capitulated after Richelieu cut off access to the harbour with the construction of a dyke.

A period of prosperity followed due to the prolific traffic between La Rochelle and the new world. The 17th century witnessed the complete reconstruction of the town and its seafront which have remained almost unchanged to this day. This is largely due to former mayor, Michel Crépeau, who in the 1970s saved them from developers and pedestrianised the centre of the city.

The submarine bunker in its commercial port was an important base for German U-boats in the Second World War and has been the location for scenes in the films Das Boot and Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.


La Rochelle's main feature is its perfectly preserved old harbour (vieux port), which is guarded by three impressive medieval towers, the oldest of which, the Tour de la Chaine was built in the 13th century. Fishing boats still sail from the old harbour, but these days they are outnumbered by yachts, whose owners loaf in the bars and restaurants that border its walls.

The old harbour is also the departure point for boating trips to the picturesque Île d'Aix, where Napoleon spent his final days of freedom after Waterloo and Fort Boyard, a circular fortress built in the ocean, made famous by the eponymous television game-show.

There are many museums celebrating La Rochelle’s history of seafaring and the Maritime Museum is one of the best. Among its exhibits is Jacques Cousteau’s oceanographic research vessel, the Calypso, used in his television show.

As Europe’s largest marina, the fashionable Port des Minimes development possesses a considerable number of bars, restaurants and shops as well as the excellent Plage des Minimes beach which is popular with La Rochelle’s exhibitionist inhabitants.

South of La Rochelle, the nearby Ile d’Oleron, France’s second largest island, also has many beautiful sandy beaches around its little towns. The island is connected to the mainland by bridge.


The city’s main shopping district is situated in the cobbled streets of the old town just behind the port, through the imposing Grosse Horloge gateway. There are many shops nestled under its arcades including a proliferation of designer boutiques sufficient to sate any shop-a-holic, while its plentiful tourist shops sell a myriad of maritime souvenirs.

Nightlife and Eating Out

While La Rochelle’s eateries offer a variety of world cuisine and gourmet dining options, its costal location bears a large influence on the food they serve. The multitudes of restaurants lining the old harbour specialise in local Charentaise cuisine which is heavily orientated around seafood. The numerous restaurants of the rue St-Jean-du-Pérot range from crêperies serving pancakes, to luxury gastronomic establishments.

Due to its popularity as a tourist resort, La Rochelle has more than its fair share of late-night bars, pubs and nightclubs. The rue St-Nicolas is lined by bars and pubs, many of which feature live music.

Tourist Information

La Rochelle Office de TourismeLe Gabut, 17025, La RochelleCédex 01, FranceTel. +33(0)546 411 468Fax. +33(0)546 419


La Rochelle Airport is located 5km from La Rochelle and is a destination for budget airlines from several UK airports including Bristol, Birmingham, London Stansted and Southampton. Regular direct services are also available from La Rochelle to Dublin and Lyon.

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