Known as “La Ville Blanche” (the White City), La Rochelle is a delicate concoction of pale limestone, warm light and sea air. The city was one of the most important ports in France during the Renaissance, and its rich past is visible in the city’s grand arcades, turrets and timber-framed houses. Due to the foresight of mayor Michel Crépeau, the city’s historic centre and waterfront were wrested from developers, and its streets freed of traffic in the 1970s. Controversial at the time, the policy has since been adopted across the country – even surpassing Crépeau’s successful yellow bicycle plan, imitated in Paris and London.
The Vieux Port, where pleasure boats are moored, is the heart of the town. You can stroll very pleasantly for an hour or more along the seafront in either direction from the harbour: down to the Port des Minimes, a vast marina development 2km south of the centre, or west, along a promenade and strip of parkland, towards Port Neuf. Away from the centre, the area around La Rochelle is ideal for young families, with miles of safe, sandy beaches.