La Rochelle Tourist Activities
La Rochelle Airport provides a very important gateway to the city of La Rochelle and the nearby island of Ile de Ré, and handles around 200,000 passengers per annum. The airport’s location is just 2.5km from the centre of La Rochelle, and along the coastline of the Bay of Biscay. La Rochelle, a commune of the Charente-Maritime department of France, was originally a quaint fishing village, but is now a small city brimming with tourist attractions. It has a magnificent ‘Old Harbour’, from where boat trips are enjoyed by locals and visitors alike, and a range of historical, cultural and architectural attractions. It is also directly linked to the island of Ile de Ré, where lovely beaches and other attractions are plentiful. La Rochelle attractions include one of the best aquariums in France as well.
La Rochelle, in western France, is often described as one of the loveliest of the coastal towns in the country, and there are tourist attractions around almost every corner. Much of the well-preserved old town area is a maze of streets ideal for pedestrians, and one of the favourite ways to explore the city is by bicycle. In the city and the surrounding areas, there are about 180km of cycle routes, and bikes can be collected and ridden for two hours for free from the Place de Verdun. The bikes are yellow in colour. After the first two hours, the bikes will cost just one Euro per hour. There are also bike spots all over the town, therefore its easy to safely leave your transport and enjoy a stroll or a bite to eat at one of the fantastic cafés or restaurants along the way. La Rochelle is not known for its beaches, but rather for its Le Vieux Port, however, nearby is the Plage des Minimes, which is a very popular spot for sun-bathing and swimming. On the islands nearby there is a greater selection of beautiful sandy beaches.
The main feature of La Rochelle is the Vieux Port, or the Old Harbour, which is filled with boats of all size and character. The harbour is also lined with lively cafés and restaurants, and its therefore a popular place for all in La Rochelle. It is a heavily fortified port, behind three fourteenth century stone towers, which dominate the area. The oldest of these towers is the la Tour de la Chaine, and its name is derived from the fact that a large chain was once slung from this tower to the Tour St-Nicolas, located on the other side. Within the Tour de la Chaine, there is an interesting exhibition highlighting the history of the first settlers to leave La Rochelle to Quebec. The most interesting of the towers is the Tour de la Lanterne, due to the graffiti on the walls left by captured English seamen. A lovely view is enjoyed from the top of this tower as well. From the Vieux Port, boat trips are a special attraction, and they travel to the island of Ile de Ré, and to many other locations. Another popular La Rochelle attraction in this area is the floating Maritime Museum, found in the Calypso, a boat which was once used by Jacques Cousteau for his expeditions around the world.
On of the best ways to see all the attractions in La Rochelle is by guided tour. There are so many beautiful and intriguing buildings within the city dating back to the fourteenth century. The city is also an interesting mix of Gothic and Renaissance architecture. Usual tours are available during the daytime, but the Les Rondes de Nuit, or the night time tour is something a little more interesting. It is led by guides in costumes, lighting the way with lanterns, and is a very different and atmospheric way to explore the city. Another important attraction is the Cathedral St Louis, which is a national monument of France as well, and its current building was built in the 19th century. The original Diocese of La Rochelle was created in 1648, but the cathedral was only begun in 1742. Attached to the cathedral is also the Late medieval Gothic bell tower of the Church of St. Barthélémy. Museums to visit include the Museum of d’Histoire Naturelle (Natural History Museum), the Musée de Nouveau Monde, the Musée du Flacon à Parfum, the Musée des Automates, the Musée des Modeles Réduits and the Musée d’Orbigny-Bernon, featuring items about the history of the city. The Natural History Museum is particularly impressive, with over 10,000 objects from Africa, America and Oceania.
A more modern attraction of La Rochelle is the aquarium, filled with all kinds of interesting sea creatures. One of the main highlights is the 20m deep shark tank, which can be viewed on three levels. The aquarium is considered as one of the best in the country.
Ile de Ré is by far the most interesting of outings nearby La Rochelle, and since it has no airport or train station of its own, La Rochelle serves as an important entry point for the island. It is linked to the mainland by one of the longest bridges in France. It is a toll bridge, which is quite expensive, therefore it is best to go through early and spend the whole day, or a few days, on the island. Ile de Ré attractions include white, sandy beaches (the best found to the south of the island) and ten towns and villages all filled with their own charm. Saint Martin-de-Ré is the main town, and features a lovely harbour, while Ars-en Ré is a very pretty port village famous for its Saint-Etienne church. Two impressive fortifications can be viewed at La Flotte-en-Ré.
Attractions on the island include the Lighthouse Whales, with the Whale Museum dedicated to lighthouses and beacons. The lighthouse itself dates back to 1849, and was built to replace the older lighthouse, built in 1682. It features a spiral staircase with 257 steps to the top. On the island is also the L’Abbaye des Châteliers, one of the largest Cistercian abbeys in western France, and the remains of a 17th century French fort which played an important role in repelling English invaders. For those with children, the Noah’s Ark animal farm, or the Parc de l’Arche de Noé, has an amazing variety of birds and animals, including Amazonian parrots and monkeys. It features a botanical garden and an insect and butterfly museum as well.
All further information regarding La Rochelle attractions, and attractions found on Ile de Ré, is available from the tourist office at the airport.