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First built in the early 12th century, La Rochelle became a major fishing, commercial and military port in the 18th century. These days, the old port shows off the importance of the city and is stunning to walk around. Filled with small independent shops, delicious seafood restaurants, welcoming locals and incredible ice-cream. As the gateway to 3 popular holiday islands – Ile d’Oleron, Ile de Ré and the Ile d’Aix – La Rochelle is also the perfect starting point for a beach adventure.
To make the most of your trip here, it’s best to visit in June and September. All the shops are open, it’s warm enough to swim and enjoy the beaches, but the hordes of tourists aren’t there. July and August are the most popular but be prepared to share the town and the island with half the population of Paris!
Here are some of our favourite spots in and around La Rochelle, so you can plan your trip and see as much as possible in the time you have.
The Ile de Ré is a very popular holiday spot in France – awesome beaches, fun nightlife, great cycling routes, old forts, it has everything you may want on holiday. Rent a bike to get around the island, visit the old town of St Martin, with its prison, old port and quirky tourist shops. Spend the afternoon on the beach, and end the day with a plate of mussels or some oysters. For dessert, why not cycle to the Phare des Balaines and enjoy the best ice-cream in France – salted caramel perfection!
If you’d prefer a quieter day with fewer tourists, and just need to get away from civilisation for a day, take the ferry from La Rochelle to the Ile d’Aix. The island is tiny, it you can get from one side to the other in under an hour. Cars aren’t allowed, so hire a bike for the day and cycle around, admiring the old military constructions, pretty beaches and awesome seafood.
For all you history buffs out there, make sure you visit Fort Boyard, a naval base built on a sand stretch between the Ile d’Aix and the Île de Ré. Imagined by Napoleon as a naval defense, it took over 50 years to build (1804-1857), so he never saw its completion.
By Catherine Mertens