When I tell people about La Rochelle they often say they have heard of it somewhere, and this is usually because during their school days they learnt about it in the famous “Tricolore” textbooks. That also probably gives away my age, I doubt Tricolore is still around! Anyway if this is all you recall about La Rochelle, let me share with you my perfect day out in this a truly hidden gem of France and you will see why I decided to set up Cooking weekends here.
Where to Start
This pretty, seaside town revolves around its lively harbour. To get your bearings start at the Tour St Nicolas. For sweeping views of the city, climb up the tower, one of the three tall stone towers, the other two being the Tour de la Chaîne and the Tour de la Lanterne. Afterwards, take a walk along the harbour, taking a left along the Quai Duperré passing by busy bistros and seafood restaurants. For seafood lovers this town is a perfect.
Take a right on the Rue de la Grosse Horloge under the 14th century Gothic clock tower which leads to the Rue du Palais. Under the stone arcades you will find speciality shops selling regional produce, especially sea salt which is actually has a pretty strong smell! While you are here it is worth having a browse in France’s most famous department store, Galeries Lafayette.
Carry on walking until you reach the Place de Verdun, a lively square lined with crowded outdoor cafés and restaurants with an antique carousel in the middle. Step back in time and feel like a true aristocrat by taking a coffee break at the Café de la Paix, a grand brasserie with frescoed ceilings, candelabras and golden arched mirrors. Off the square stroll down the Rue Gargoulleau and visit Paul Bossuet, a Cognac shop, that has brandies as well as the local “pineau”, a grape-based liqueur. Our chef, Laurent, loves to add this to his sauces during his cooking classes which take place on this same street.
Carry on until you reach the end of the road and on your left you will find La Rochelle’s indoor market, with several covered stalls outside as well. You will find all the regional delicacies here and the locals doing their daily shop. It is open every day until noon. For a spot of lunch pass the market and stop at Le Thiers Temps restaurant which has an excellent lunch menu. If you have room after your meal, try the warm chocolate fondant.
In the afternoon a trip to the aquarium is recommended. It is one of Europe’s biggest with more than 12,000 marine animals. A highlight is the Sea Turtles. If sea life isn’t your thing and you would prefer dry land activities, I would suggest a leisurely bike ride on the island of Ile de Ré, one of France’s best-loved islands, it is 30km long and 5km wide, with beautiful beaches. It is a popular destination for Parisiens seeking a short, relaxing break. You can hire a bike at a rental shop near the bridge or catch a bus from La Rochelle’s railway station. St Martin, the island’s capital, is an idyll, full of upmarket boutiques and restaurants.
After exploring this pretty island, head back to the mainland and try out a restaurant along the pedestrianised Rue St-Jean du Pérot for dinner. Les 4 Sargeants is a favourite of the locals, and looks from the outside like a large glass conservatory. The décor is beautiful and the food excellent. If at the end of the day you fancy a quick drink check out Baitona, a bar with a great atmosphere and impressive selection of wines.
La Rochelle is a dynamic town with something for everyone which is why I set up Cooking Courses here with French chef, Laurent Kehr. I hope this has given you some ideas for your next trip!