After a quick return to Angers and a brief stay in Poitiers to meet up with my next travel buddy, Heidi, we set off for some sunshine and sand in La Rochelle.
Along the western coast of France in the Bay of Biscay, La Rochelle is a small port town and a major vacation destination for people all across Europe. It was suggested to us that we visit if we wanted a summer-like destination and we were so happy we went.
The train ride from Poitiers to La Rochelle took a whole of 2 hours. We found a great deal at a hostel along the water and after dropping off our bags, we sought out to see a bit more of this little town.
Walking along the streets by the water, soaking up the French sunshine, was the perfect way to ease some stress that had been building in my joints.
The more I saw of La Rochelle, the more it reminded me of family trips to the Outer Banks, particularly Ocracoke Island. Street performers and vendors spotted the stoned streets along the port, tempting and teasing the eyes of passersby.
One of the more unique aspects of La Rochelle are the Harbour Towers the line the main port. The towers make a set of three and have stood witness to centuries of war and revolution. Today, visitors can climb the towers to view the city for a small fee, but Heidi and I decided to enjoy La Rochelle in our own (free) way.
We spent a major chunk of the afternoon walking up and down streets, perusing through shops and stores, and making mental notes of things to come back to buy before leaving.
Given that it’s along the Atlantic Ocean, it’s no surprise that La Rochelle is a major producer of seafood. Sardines and tuna are among the top fish, much to my excitement. I loved visiting the huge stores that were stocked from floor to ceiling in tins of canned fish. Of course, I ended up buying a few samples of sardines to bring back home. (They were very tasty, I’ll add.)
As with practically every city in France, high-class chocolateries weren’t difficult to find and we found ourselves stopping in each one we passed by. One in particular had gorgeous chocolate sculptures in the window displays along with an island along the center of the store, fully lined with countless flavors of macaroons. I mildly regret not purchasing a few boxes to enjoy…
After searching nearly every street in La Rochelle, we grew hungry and tired of walking and decided to make our way back to our hostel and grab some dinner.
We stopped at a grocery store to grab some sustenance and found a nice bench along the boat harbor near our hostel where we dined on delicious French treats as the sun went down. It was a truly picturesque and wonderfully enjoyable meal.
After we ate, we were curious about the beach and decided to check it out. We were all-around pleased by what we discovered. The sand was that thick, grainy, yet so soft, dark sand that is my absolute favorite kind of sand. The water, even as it neared 8pm, was luke warm — such a surprise to a girl whose used to the cooler San Diego oceans!
We made our way further along the coast and admired the rocky edge of La Rochelle as the sun finally made its way to the other side of the world, telling us that it was time to call it a day.
Our plan the following morning was simple: go to the aquarium! I LOVE aquariums and was so excited to visit one abroad. We grabbed our tickets at the hostel and avoided the crazy lines of toddlers and their families and enjoyed our morning gawking over the colorful array of sea life. This aquarium was very impressive, profiling three floors of tanks, sharks and turtles, and a greenhouse for exotic plants and insects. I would have been happy spending the rest of the day there, as well.
After the aquarium, we changed into our swimsuits, grabbed some lunch to-go, and headed out to the beach to soak up some rays. Of course, it’s important to remember that Europe is not as conservative as the Westernized world and that it is quite common for women to go topless on public beaches. At first, I was a bit taken aback at seeing so many bare breasts laying in the sand, but upon further contemplation, I decided why-the-hell-not and stripped off my top as well. Heidi followed suit and soon enough we were living like the French! It was surprisingly liberating. I suggest all you women try it at some point in your life — in a legal setting, that is…
Once we’d earned ourselves a bit of color (an a some pink, in my case), we spun back by the hostel to rinse off before heading out for our final evening in La Rochelle. On our walk towards the Old Harbour, we came across a pretty collection of street art. Maybe I’m romanticizing it a bit, but the art seemed to be a bit more tasteful than what I’d witnessed in the States. Nonetheless, we shot a few photos before making our way onwards.
We were delighted to discover that the nightlife along the harbor is much more lively than the daytime, with fire breathers, dancers, acrobats, and live statues filling up each open space along the road. The street vendors also seemed to multiply and brought out their collections of handmade goods and treats.
We knew that for our final meal in La Rochelle, we wanted moules (mussels). Every restaurant along the harbor advertised their moules plates and we doubted that we could go wrong, so we chose the cheapest deal and sat down to order. The dinner included a towering bowl of moules, a generous portion of fries, a small bucket of baguette, and a carafe of rosé. It was a feast! And we were so excited to dig in.
And if that weren’t enough to fill us up, we had our choice of three different desserts, but both of us settled on the chocolate cake, which, when it arrived, proved to be more of a molten cake with a melted chocolate center with a huge dollop of fresh whipped cream on the side. It was absolutely divine. It is no myth that the French are masters at cuisine, particularly their desserts. Wow…
We spent the rest of the night wandering through the crowds and watching the shows put on by the entertainers. We even bought (somewhat) matching rings to commemorate our trip together.
La Rochelle is a beautiful town and I would absolutely return there were I given the chance. I highly recommend it to anyone who will be in the area. You will not be disappointed!