See the ocean from multiple angles in this medieval seafaring city, which features beaches, an aquarium, a maritime museum and one of Europe’s largest marinas.
The 10th-century city of La Rochelle, has always been centered on the ocean. Originally a fishing village, La Rochelle developed into one of France’s most important ports, sending off the first French settlers to Quebec. Learn about La Rochelle’s seafaring past in its museums, see the grand structures of its Old Port and dip your feet in the Bay of Biscay on one of its several beaches.
Start out at the Old Port, where you will find the two towers that are La Rochelle’s most iconic landmarks. Tour de la Lanterne guards the port and has a 70-foot-tall (21-meter) spire. Climb to the top for views of the city and the Île de Ré Bridge to the north. The westerly Tour de la Chaîne also has wonderful views from its top. Tour Saint-Nicolas, a third tower identical to Tour de la Chaîne, stands farther west.
Wade in the water off Concurrence Beach, a small stretch of sand west of the Old Port. The larger Minimes Beach lies south of the city.
Head to the harbor to find the Maritime Museum. This consists of eight historic boats floating in the water, three of which you can board and explore for a fee. Learn about the waters around the city at La Rochelle Aquarium. Spanning all three stories of the building is one gigantic shark tank, featuring nurse and reef sharks among others.
The city’s other museums include the Natural History Museum, featuring a wide array of marine fossils, and the Musée des Automates, which exhibits more than 300 animatronic figurines. Check out the Museum of Fine Arts to see a broad collection of European art with an emphasis on the French realist painters from around La Rochelle.
Get around the compact city of La Rochelle on foot and by bus. Reach the city through its regional airport, which is served by inexpensive airlines from many cities around Europe. Otherwise, for the most appropriate experience, enter the city by ferry boat.