Colbert, Louis XIV’s navy minister, built Rochefort in the seventeenth century to repel the English and watch over Protestant-leaning La Rochelle. It remained an important naval base for centuries, with its shipyards, sail-makers, munition factories and a hospital. Built on a strict grid plan, the town is a monument to the tidiness of the military mind. Place Colbert is just as the seventeenth century left it, complete with lime trees, and cobblestones brought from Canada as ships’ ballast. The banks of the Charente river are beautiful, dominated by the eighteenth-century Royal Ropeworks and the stark, majestic Transporter Bridge, built in 1900.

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