Cruise passengers calling on La Rochelle will encounter a charming French seaside village that is considered one of the best-preserved port towns in France. Dating back to the 10th century, La Rochelle serves up a generous portion of interesting heritage sites, restaurants, and activities within the town to keep cruise visitors busy.
Situated off the Atlantic Coast in France’s Bay of Biscay, La Rochelle is on the west coast of France between the cities of Nantes to the north and Bordeaux to the south. La Rochelle is the capital of Charente-Maritime department in the Poitou-Charentes region.
Cruise ship passengers wishing to set off for a day of adventure in the old fortified port of La Rochelle will enjoy walking around exploring the city’s landmarks of the old harbor and nearby city center.
Those choosing to explore away from the town will find plenty of options available. Interesting excursions to nearby regional islands are easy, or take a trip inland to the town of Cognac, approximately 80km away by motorway.
The Port of La Pallice is the industrial harbor of the city of La Rochelle. The La Rochelle Harbor Port Authority, which was created in 1890, is responsible for operations. Since the city’s old harbor is too shallow for cruise ships, passengers will arrive at Môle descale, a berth with ample shuttle service to La Rochelle’s popular attractions, but 6 kilometers from the city center. The Port Authority usually has hostesses at the cruise terminal in charge of the taxis and to answer questions from the passengers, according to Marie Guegan, in the communications department for the Port Atlantique La Rochelle.
There are many highlights found in this historic town. To navigate the city on your own, plan to begin at the Old Harbor, the City of La Rochelle’s Old Port, which is the oldest part of La Rochelle.
- Standing guard at the entrance to the Old Port are three relics of the past. The three towers of Saint Nicolas, Chaîne and Lanterne were constructed to keep hostile warships from attacking La Rochelle. These impressive medieval fortifications are worth the time to explore. The oldest tower, Saint Nicolas, was built between 1371 and 1382. Enjoy a view of the town and harbor. Be sure to take a panoramic photo of La Rochelle. From the tower top, you can see the whole old town and Ile d’Oléron.
- Near the Old Port, the Maritime Museum of La Rochelle features an impressive collection of ships, including The Calypso, the ship used by Jacques-Yves Cousteau as a mobile laboratory for oceanography.
- From the Old Harbor, continue to explore by walking into the tight streets of the Old Town. Use the market district as a destination. Be on the lookout for La Rochelle Central Market, which is open every morning. From here, you will be in close proximity to other popular attractions and heritage sites.
- Close to the Central Market area are some wonderful museums: The Museum of Natural History, Museum of Beaux Arts and the Nouveau Monde Museum. If spending the day at a museum is not your thing, at least check out the buildings. The Museum of Beaux Arts is in an Episcopal palace built in the mid-18th century, and the Nouveau Monde Museum is in an 18th-century town house.
- The city’s Town Hall, l’Hôtel de Ville, was built in the 14th-century. Guided tours are available (in French only) for those wanting to get inside to see the Henry II staircase. Nearby is the arcaded street, Rue des Merciers, which runs from the corner of the Town Hall to the market square.
- North of the old city, The Port des Minimes, La Rochelle’s marina, holds one of Europe’s largest collections of recreational vessels. Close to the Port des Minimes is the Aquarium. Discover approximately 10,000 species of flora and fauna from the oceans of the world, living in recreated natural habitats.
In addition to organized guided tours to the attractions mentioned above, cruise ship passengers will have plenty of shore excursions to choose from:
- Explore the ancient city of Saintes on a guided walking tour in the countryside of the surrounding Charente-Maritime. Situated on the banks of the Charente River, the town of Saintes has many historical points of interest: the Romanesque St. Eutrope Church, the first-century Roman amphitheater, the stately Triumphal Arch and the 19th-century Abbey aux Dames.
- Beach escape to Rivedoux Beach on the nearby island of Ile De Re. Take a 30-minute drive to the Rivedoux Beach for some fun in the sun.
- Visit Cognac and the world-famous Hennessy brand cellars for a tour and brandy tasting. Learn the intricate process for making cognac.
- Nature lovers can explore the marshland of Poitou-Charentes, called the Green Venice. Cruise guests take a motorcoact to Port d’Arçais, where they board a touring boat for a one-hour tour of the marsh area. The marshland is the largest on the Atlantic Coast and the second largest in France. Plenty of birds, such as herons, plovers, swans, snipes, pewits and geese, call this area home.
Boat trips from the harbor to nearby islands are popular – including trips to Ile de Ré and Ile d’Oleron. Discover the islands of Aix, Oléron and Ré on the horizon. The island of Ré offers wonderful beaches, great cuisine and biking trails.
Step back in time and enjoy the quiet seaside village of Fouras and the Fouras Peninsula. Fouras is 30 km from La Rochelle. There are some interesting medival fortifications. Try your luck at finding some oysters.
Drive south from La Rochelle and explore the fishing port of Rochefort. Once an important naval base built in 1666, this is the town where Napoleon, in 1815, surrendered himself to a British warship off Rochefort. Other popular attractions include: The Royal Ropeworks, Pierre Loti’s house, The National Maritime Museum, The Museum of old shops, The old Naval School of Medicine. In recent years Rochefort’s Eurothermes have become popular, making Rochefort a spa town.
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