Tuesday, October 4, 2011

La Rochelle

Spontaneity is becoming a habit on weekends.  With almost no planning, no reservations and no packing, we had a wonderful weekend.  Friday morning we threw together a suitcase, then packed the diaper bag, a bag of toys, a bag of snacks, the baby backpack and the stroller and were out of the house by 11am, which surprised even me. Destination; La Rochelle. Why? Proximity to the ocean and several other beautiful spots described in the Michelin Guide (tMG). The trip took a little longer than expected as there are no large highways and so the choices are either to make a loop around on a highway or wind through the countryside roads. About an hour out (of the 5.5 hour trip including stops) we called a place listed in tMG and made room reservations. This was a quaint little “isolated old farm… surrounded by stone walls and its inviting garden… full of flowers and trees,” exactly as described. For a very reasonable price (48 euro/night including la petit-déjeuner) we didn’t expect room service (and correctly so; my big recommendation though is to bring your own bar of soap as there was none provided) but received a two-room, three-bed space with a mini fridge and lots of room for Lauris. If you’re willing to stay at more out of the ordinary lodgings, I would recommend Chambre d’hôte Margorie in Dompierre-sur-Mer.

Once settled and having stretched, we drove the very short distance to La Rochelle. Pleasantly surprised by the old fortified fort guarding the entrance to the old port and the picturesque streets of the Old Town with its arcades and squares, we spent more than a few hours wandering around. Of the many architecturally significant buildings my favorite was the Hôtel de Ville, built in the 15th and 16th centuries with an interior courtyard that currently sported a garden exhibit, with much of it planted in and on the carcass of an old truck.

Roberts liked the arcades (he said "reminds me of Torino") and the ramparts encircling the Old Town. I already mentioned the old fort, which was the entrance for ships into the old harbor. One half, Tour St-Nicolas was built in the 14th century and has an interesting pentagonal footprint. The 42m/138ft tower is actually leaning, although we didn’t notice this at the time, nor do I know how recent a development this is. Across from it stands Tour de la Chaîne, which owes its name to the heavy chain that used to be stretched across the harbor mouth at night. Also built in the 14th century, it used to be a powder magazine. And farther west along the ramparts is Tour de la Lanterne, which is not as old as the other two, nor as aesthetic (except the spire and lantern), for it was built with military imperatives in mind. I liked the Porte de la Grosse-Horloge, a pedestrian entryway into the Old Town with a giant clock at the top of a Gothic tower. *

We ate dinner at one of the many restaurants along rue Saint Jean du Perot. Our initial stop was a more touristy spot on the Cour des Dames esplanade, but after 20 minutes of waiting for any attention from one of the multiple waitstaff we left, and this decision turned out to be a stroke of luck for Baïtona had excellent service, and the atmosphere was ten times better. I was in the mood for a steak, and although my meal was delicious, I need to make it a rule to always order seafood when I’m so close to the coast; my meals over the next few days were all seafood, and all delicious.

After a romantic walk along the edge of the water back to the car we returned to our little countryside retreat. Day one of our impromptu long-car-drive trip was a success!

* There are many more historically and architecturally significant buildings, to learn more about them I would suggest the “French Atlantic Coast” Michelin Guide, it has various walking tours that visit a selection of locations as well as a good overview of the history of the city and area.


  1. That sounds like a great weekend. I've never been to La Rochelle, but it's on the list for next year! ;)

  2. Somehow your spontaneous day trip is overshadowing my upcoming trip to the beach. sigh.

  3. Dear Barbara and GG - just wait for the post on Il de Ré, that's the one that ought to go on the list! (But please do enjoy your trip to the beach, GG... I would feel bad if you didn't!)

  4. Fantastic! Sometimes spontaneous plans are the ones best laid. Love it XOL

  5. //La Rochelle La Rochelle....!//


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