What to see in La Rochelle
How to get to the town from La Rochelle airport
La Rochelle is a pretty harbour town on the west coast of France. Visitors to the city spend their days enjoying al fresco meals looking over the water, roaming the cobble-stone streets, admiring Medieval architecture and lazing on one of two sandy beaches. The perfect place for a few night's stay or a long weekend.
Getting into the town centre is easy from La Rochelle airport. As you leave the airport departure area, turn right and walk about 20 metres and there you'll find a covered bus stop on the same side of the road. From Monday to Saturday, the number 7 bus goes into the town roughly every 30 minutes, and the journey takes about 20 minutes. The final stop is at the Place de Verdun right in the centre of La Rochelle. In the summer of 2015 the fare is 1.30 Euros one way. Very cheap. On Sundays the bus service is less frequent and it is the number 47 - if you are travelling on a Sunday, make sure you check the timetable because there is a gap in the afternoon of about 2 hours when there is no service at all. There are lots of taxis outside the airport too, they arrive when a flight is scheduled to touch down.
What to do in La Rochelle
There is a very relaxed vibe in the city - visitors come to take things easy, to slow down and chill out for a few days.
La Rochelle is a very pretty place that is undeniably French. The cafes have plenty of outdoor seating, and a lot of them overlook the harbour. Moules Frites (mussels and chips) are sold in a lot of places and they come with cream sauce, curry sauce, tomato sauce and numerous house special sauces too. When you are here, you have to try it at least once.
One street back from the harbour is a pedestrianised street, called Rue St Jean de Perot which is lined both sides with fine places to eat like Italian, Thai, Seafood, Steak and traditional French restaurants. There are a few ice cream parlours too with 20 or 30 different flavours of 'glace' to choose from.
The town itself has two famous towers which guard the entrance to the town from the sea. You can visit the inside during the day and admire the views from the top. Leading up to these towers are long pathways in both directions which you can walk along for miles. They run on the back of the water front where locals can be seen out on their boats - from small dinghies to huge luxury cruisers.
There is a town beach 'Plage de la concurrence' which is a good sized curve of sand. At the back of the beach is a bar and restaurant, toilets and some benches in the shade. This area is about 10 minute's walk from the famous towers in the harbour.
A second beach can be found to the south of La Rochelle called Les Minimes. It is roughly 3km from the harbour and a pleasant walk past all the boats, which took us 45 minutes. There is also a small electric ferry which charges 3 Euros each way, but they are infrequent and very popular. Cycling is the best way to get there. This beach is a little larger than the town beach and has a great cafe on the back of it, plus a small selection patisseries, snack shops, ice-cream parlours and buckets-and-spade stores just across the road.
For beaches of white sand which go on for miles, hop over to the Il de Re. It can be reached by the long toll bridge. There is a bus from La Rochelle, the number 3, and the journey takes about 45 minutes depending where you get off as the island is quite large.
How do you use the Yelo or Yellow bikes in La Rochelle?
The whole city is accessible by foot, but some parts will take you about 30 minutes to walk to. Many people cycle and you will see bikes chained up everywhere. There is a 'Yelo' bike sharing scheme where you unlock a bicycle for a fee, and ride it to your destination where you lock it up again ready for the next person. It works a bit like the Boris Bikes in London and is a very cheap way to get around, with some short rides costing nothing at all, and others only costing a Euro. If you are not a local person, you have to register and buy a pass to be able to access these bicycles. There is an office at the bus station in Place de Verdun, an office at the railway station and you can also register at the Tourist Office of La Rochelle. For foreigners, you may have to leave your credit card details so they can charge you if you do not return the bike properly. There are instructions on how to make sure you have done this - basically make sure the digitalised system has recognised your bike and locked it in place. In my opinion, this is a really great service - there are places to drop and pick up a bike all over La Rochelle and the nearby beaches, and most of the Yelo bicycles have baskets on the front where you can place your bag, towel and then head off to the sea.
Attractions in La Rochelle
There is a large aquarium in La Rochelle which is on the left-hand side of the harbour. There are lots of sea creatures here to see and it is very popular with families. At the top of the building is a nice lunch-time restaurant which has a terrace overlooking the harbour. You can eat there without going into the aquarium, it is quite reasonably priced but not cheap.
La Rochelle has its own Natural History Museum in a fine building near the hospital. To one side is the biological gardens which you can walk through for free. The gardens are very pretty and the lily pond spectacular - and the trees make it a cool, shady spot for a little quiet contemplation when it gets too hot.
On the western side of La Rochelle is a long park - Esplande du Parc - which is shady and there are places for children to play. There are some animals too at one end, near the town beach.
Shopping in La Rochelle
There are lots of shops here, but most of them are small, boutique stores. They have a very big choice of things to buy, and in between are tiny coffee shops and beautiful pastry places where you can rest awhile and watch the people go by. There are also a lot of furniture shops and places to buy plates, glasses and nik naks for the home. Many are really very stylish with high design products on sale. Even simply window shopping is a joy.
Cost of living
Even with the Euro a bit weak, La Rochelle isn't a cheap place to eat out in. There are plenty of places where the bill isn't too high, and there are lots of Menu Fixe - or meal deals to be had, but even a simple coffee is a bit more expensive than other places. An ice-cream costs about 3.50 Euros, a large beer about 6 Euros and a small bottle of water about 4 Euros.
Hotels can be found on almost every street and there are some inexpensive ones at around 60 Euros a night, but that is for the room only. Hotel bedrooms in France are typically quite small and a balcony is a luxury. Take your own kettle if you like to make hot drinks in the room as most don't have coffee makers - but they do often have a small fridge where you can chill bottled water and a few other things.