Published: June 17th 2008June 17th 2008
Excellent weather made our 2 day stay in La Rochelle memorable. Friday the 13th was indeed a good day. We met at the train station in Tours for a 7.45 departure for La Rochelle--about a 3-hour trip on TGV. On arriving there we walked to the Youth Hostel (one of the best I've stayed in-very clean, new, and comfortable). It is about a 15 minute walk from the old town centre, on the ocean. There is a bus service and also a boat service.
We dropped our bags and walked back towards town where I had the best mussels ever (including the ones we harvested ourselves on the West Coast of Vancouver Island!). These ones were very small, sweet, and full of flavour. Of course I had them with frites and a glass of vin blanc. When I asked the waitress for mayonnaise, she winced, but I assured her is was for the frites, not the moules.
We met at the Tourist Office where a guide took us around the old town for an excellent tour (about 1 1/2 hours). She spent a lot of time explaining the connections between La Rochelle and Quebec. It is the 400th anniversary of the establishment of Quebec (which is considered the first real white settlement in North America since the ones in Nova Scotia failed, and of course the Mayflower came later). Not only did many of the explorers leave from La Rochelle, but once colonies were established, there was regular trade back and forth. Also, to populate the New Colony, there were the orphan girls taken from La Rochelle to Quebec, called LES FILLES DU ROI.
Again, it was so amazing to have our guide point out many buildings, and monuments that dated back to the 1500's. Original slate roofs (our modern roofs seem to last only 25 years!) were common. La Rochelle became very rich because of the good trade back and forth, so we saw evidence of very luxurious building.
For our 2nd day, our leader had arranged for us to take a boat to the Island of Aix (about a1 hour boat ride) where we rented bicycles and rode all around this charming island. It reminded me a bit of our Gulf Islands, but it was settled in the Middle Ages, so there were a lot of old stone structures remaining.
All in all, it was a fabulous experience. I would certainly go back to La Rochelle. The centre of town is very easy to negociate--lots of very old structures in a relatively small space. The weekly market was in swing Saturday morning, so we had a glimpse of some great seafood and produce.