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La Rochelle France would not normally have been on our radar for a tourist visit, but we are here to pick up our new home and adventure-mobile, Starry Horizons, our Fountaine Pajot Helia 44. Like all things related to boat buying, the process wasn’t quite as it had been explained to us, so we have some free time to explore this beautiful seaside town.
The small seaside town of La Rochelle is a 5-hour train ride away from Paris, or an hour and a half flight, both for roughly the same cost.
There are hundreds of AirBNBs in La Rochelle. You can even stay on a boat! We definitely recommend staying near La Rochelle’s main feature, the Vieux Port, or the inner harbour of the town.
Almost all the French people we have meet say that French people don’t speak English. However, almost everyone we have talked to knows at least a bit of English. My french extends to just the basic vocabulary words – mange, chien, merci!
We stopped at SFR Mobile to pick up SIM cards and pay-as-you-go plans. The French SIM cards were 10 euros each. This gave us a French phone number and 5 minutes of phone time. In addition, we bought for 15 euros a 1 hour credit for calling Europe and Africa (which is good for 1 month) to make local calls. Additionally, we got four 1GB cards for data (each is good for 7 days). Overall, that’s 70,80 Euros for our cell phone needs while we are here. We have internet in our apartment, and I think we will have internet at Les Minimes, but we want to make sure we don’t get lost while walking around and running errands (especially if we separate to accomplish our tasks).
We have found that being in La Rochelle during the offseason has its advantages and disadvantages – one advantage is that La Rochelle is not very busy, but a disadvantage is that public transportation isn’t at full throttle. The passenger ferry from Minimes to La Rochelle only runs on the weekends, as opposed to every day during the busy season. In addition, the same company that runs the ferry, Yelo, also has bikes for rent all over the city. Unfortunately, in the offseason, they use a different processing machine than in the peak season, and in the offseason, foreign credit cards don’t work. Crazy right? So we are unable to rent bikes from Yelo at an hourly rate.
First we walked to Les Minimes, which is the largest marina in Europe for pleasure boats. It’s HUGE! A great way to see it is to walk along the water – there is a breakwater pier that extends out to the entrance of the marina, and from the inner harbor it is a 25 minute walk out to the very end of the pier. On certain days, you will see the sailing schools out in abundance.
If you want to walk further, continue out to the Pointe des Minimes, where you get a view looking out over the Le Phare du Bout du Monde, or lighthouse at the end of the world. Next door is the Minimes beach.
This was an important trip for us, as we were also checking out all the services and facilities available for yachties. We popped into the Accastillage Diffusion chandlery to scope out the selection and stopped by Uchimata to meet Pierre and his team, who will be doing most of our outfitting work in La Rochelle.
We took a break back in the apartment and then went out for shopping. La Rochelle has a very busy pedestrian area in the City Centre which is full of shops. We walked for quite a ways and got a bit lost and then found our way back, as you should do in any confusing European town.
Definitely the highlight of La Rochelle is the Vieux Port, or Old Port. Guarded by three towers, Vieux Port has an incredible medieval atmosphere. In fact, La Rochelle is very well preserved, even though it was heavily occupied by German forces during WWII. Walk along the promenade as duck or nighttime to enjoy the towers of La Rochelle all lit up.
The harbor has three distinct towers in it. The first two are obvious – the Tower of Saint Nicolas and the Tower of Chains guard the entrance to the inner harbor. The third tower is the Lantern Tower, just a few minutes walk from the harbor entrance. Tours are offered in the towers, but the highlight is seeing the Vieux Port, including the towers, lit up at night.
The Port of the Two Mills is an interesting older building, but while walking there don’t miss the sculpture by Bruce Krebs called From Generation to Generation. Bruce also has two other works nearby and an art gallery. If you continue walking west on the north shore, you will also find a beach and several parks.
Since we will be spending so much time in La Rochelle and provisioning Starry Horizons for the first time, I made sure to scope out the markets. While there are Carrfoures aplenty, every day the big Marche du Centre Ville is open. On Wednesday and Saturdays, the market overflows its venue, and spills into the streets. French markets are almost always spectacular, so be sure to make the market a high priority.
La Rochelle also has a Maritime Museum, a Natural History Museum, and an Aquarium, just to name a few of the other attractions to see there. A short drive from La Rochelle is Ile de Re, another summer holiday town in France. In fact, France is full of small French towns worth visiting.