A seaport situated on the Bay of Biscay, the city of La Rochelle is the capital of the Charente-Maritime department in Western France. The town is sometimes referred to as La Ville Blanche, “the white city”, because of its many limestone facades which sparkle a luminescent white in the coastal sunlight.
Domestic and international flights service the city’s airport. The train line also provides links from Paris, Bordeaux, Poitiers and Nancy amongst other numerous regional destinations.
A strong local tourism industry thrives thanks to La Rochelle’s beautiful Old Harbour and township as well as its location on the Atlantic coast which makes the town an excellent launch pad for boating trips and for visiting Île de Ré which is accessible from the mainland by bridge.
With its long history, the town itself features cobblestone streets, gargoyles, arcaded walkways and half-timbered houses with slate tiling to protect is from the sea air. Many buildings also feature limestone facades topped by towers dating back to the 14th and 15th centuries.
La Rochelle was founded in the 10th century and became a significant habour by the 12th century after the victory of Duke of Aquitaine over Isambert de Chantelaillion led to the destruction of the nearby harbour of Chatelaillon. The Knights Templar developed a strong base in La Rochelle from this time. The town fell under Plantagenet rule as a result of marriage but was retaken by the French in 1224. Again during the Hundred Years War the English came to control La Rochelle but were soon defeated by the French and Castilians who also gained control of the Channel for the first time following the naval Battle of Sluys in 1340. The city prospered as a trade port with the new world from the 16th century, and although devastated by the Wars of Religion, again flourished in the post-war period as a node in the triangular trade between Europe, Africa and the New World. In the late 18th century La Rochelle became one of France’s leading towns in the production of faience (glazed ceramics). Due to its strategic location, during WWII control of La Rochelle fell to the Germans who utilized the harbour as a submarine base.
Tourists are drawn to La Rochelle’s picturesque Old Harbour, Vieux Port, featuring narrow streets and well-maintained buildings dating back centuries. Three medieval towers surround the harbour, and are accessible to visitors. The harbour itself is lined with restaurants and is popular for boating and water sports.
Within walking distance of the harbour is a large aquarium which offers self-paced audio tours in a variety of languages. The nearby island Île de Ré boasts stunning beaches and food. Inland from the town are the beautiful regions of Cognac and Pineau.