I had such a great time in La Rochelle that I made this little video to give a taste of what this charming city is like. I hope you enjoy it and below is my article which originally features in the Irish Daily Mail April 15th
It was a grey cold Monday in January when I had been out walking and bumped into my next–door neighbours and joined them for a drink. In the course of conversation andknowing how much they enjoy a cheeky weekend away across Europe, I mentioned the good value fares and host of new routes for 2023. La Rochelle not only has direct connection to Dublin but also to Cork airport. It was after the third glass of wine we didthe dutiful thing, picked a weekend out of our diaries and before we knew it, we were all checking in to Dublin airport for a redeye special two months later.
The flight time between Dublin and La Rochelle is one hour twenty minutes which meant we arrived early enough at our destination to enjoy the full day. There aren’t many flights from this tiny airport but a bus arrived about ten minutes after we landed to take passengers to the centre of the town. We instead dialed a number from the list of taxi providers signposted at the taxi rank and were on our way within five minutes and fare was only €15.
Masqhotel Best Western, was located close to the various ports and to our delight had rooms ready for early check-in. Along with the warm welcome we were given a map of the town, some recommendations for lunch and a slice of homemade traditional Galettes.
Le Pompon is a restaurant along the quay of the Old Port but close enough to warrant good value and frequented by locals which is always a good sign. Lunch is a leisure activity in France as we tasted for the first time the delicious local dish Mouclade – a dish of mussels in a creamy curry sauce. My partner, Terry, opted for the plat du jour of sea bass and Annemarie and Luke enjoyed the sole. Accompanied by local wine of the region our taste buds were well and truly tickled.
The harbour is crowned by two magnificent medieval towers that make this city unique. Outside the harbor walls a Marina that accommodates over 5000 yachts, makes it the largest of its kind in Europe. It’s a maritime city and now part of the south western region of Nouvelle Aquitaine. Dotted along the harbour front are glorious shops to potter – a typical boulangerie, a tabac and cafes to sit and watch the world go by.
We made our way to the Tourist Office, where our lovely guide Anne brought us on a tour of the city. Charm oozes from every street corner through the arcades and mediaeval arches. The Hotel de Ville is one of the must see attractions where an effigy of Henry IV stands in the elegant round tower that overlooks the courtyard. It is free to ramble inside the courtyard and soak up the intricate architectural details.
The history of La Rochelle is dotted with tragedy such as the seige of 1627 at the height of disputes between the French Catholic King and merchant Huguenots of La Rochelle. During this time the city was almost razed to the ground but Cardinal Richelieu saved the imposing medieval towers. We took time to revisit the towers which are three in total starting with the biggest St Nicholas tower. The Chain tower, with less decoration, is on the opposite side of the harbor. Our ticket which cost €9 included entrance into all three, the lighthouse tower also which was used as a prison among other things during its long existence. There are plenty of nice restaurants close by on the street Rue St-Jean-du–perot where we ended our evening.
The market opens everyday in La Rochelle but Saturday is the best to enjoy a cornucopia of stalls that extends into the side streets from the main market hall. Oysters are abundant and reasonably priced – paired with a local wine makes one of the highlights of a trip to the market. Buskers and locals rub shoulders and the atmosphere is always calm and relaxed in La Rochelle – except perhaps on rubgy days.
Being a large deepwater harbor made La Rochelle valuable for merchants to trade across the Atlantic and it was during this dark time many slaves were transported through the city to the Americas.
Many emigrants left from here for Canada and a deep connection remains between French Canada and La Rochelle today.
It takes time to walk around the cobbled streets that are now car free, as is the centre of the town, but bike lanes are carved through the town and our hotel offered rental. A nifty way of travelling from the old town to the new harbor and maritime port is by solar water taxi, for the princely sum of €1 per person. We jumped on board to catch our Catamaran trip to watch the sunset with Kapalouest who provide day and evening sailings. Our captain told us that on a good day we could expect to see dolphins but this time of year was about embracing the beauty of the coastline.
La Rochelle is nestled in amongst gorgeous beaches and surprising islands such as Ile de Re. On the sunset trip we had to bring our own food and drinks on board. As we settled into the two hour trip the jib was hoisted and carried us gently out to sea. The crew were great fun and didn’t mind at all when I asked for a turn at the helm. It is a highlight and well worth the €27pp.
After our sea trip we were buzzing for more fun and found a cosy French bar framed with shutters and filled with locals called La Calhutte. The beer was good and it wasn’t too far from our hotel. You can expect to find lots of great bars with nightlife and music until the small hours throughout the town and the Irish bars are especially popular.
Don’t miss a spin on the Big Wheel or La Grande Roue. Close to the old port, it offers the best eagle eye view of the city and is only €5pp. Likewise the Aquarium is a good visit especially for families. A reduced rate is available for pre purchase on line.
Our last day was on the first Sunday of the month, which meant free entry into the three most popular museums in the city. We set off for the Maritime Museum after finding recommendations for the bar on the boat. This is a museum on many levels with a modern interpretive centre and three boats used for various nautical purposes that tell the story of fishing in the port.
Another leisurely lunch at the new quayside set us up for our return home, which was upon us too soon. But we didn’t have any hassle at the airport as the security and gate are only meters apart. The duty free has a tiny selection of mostly perfumes but prices were cheaper than Dublin. For a perfect weekend away, with or without the neighbours, La Rochelle made a big splash for a little rock!
For more see official https://www.larochelle-tourisme.com/
Direct flights from Dublin and Cork to La Rochelle with Ryanair.com
Michelle stayed at Best Western Premier Masqhotelhttps://www.masqhotel.com/