The explorers Pierre Loti – alias novelist Julien Viaud (1850–1923) – and the Lesson brothers haunt Rochefort’s Musée d’Art et d’Histoire at 63 rue de Gaulle, which houses exotic objects brought back from expeditions, and nautical artworks. The Maison Pierre Loti at 141 rue Pierre-Loti is closed for renovations at the time of writing, but once it’s open a visit is essential. It’s part of a row of modestly proportioned grey-stone houses, outwardly a model of petit bourgeois conformity, inside an outrageous and fantastical series of rooms decorated to exotic themes, from medieval gothic to an Arabian room complete with minaret. You can see how the house suited Loti’s private life: he threw extravagant fancy dress parties and, rather more scandalously, fathered more children with his Basque mistress, kept in a separate part of the house, than with his French wife.

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