Where to visit in laid-back La Rochelle

The Connexion advises you to pause for breath in the Atlantic coast’s relaxed ‘White City’

La Rochelle, with its population of around 78,000, including more than 15,000 students, is a vibrant city, and one that is worth exploring.

More relaxed than its coastal neighbour Bordeaux, it is the kind of place where, on warm evenings, stylish young things crowd into cafés clustered round the pedestrianised and cobbled Vieux Port.

Many speed straight through the city heading for the Ile de Ré, but this is a mistake.

The Ile de Ré is unquestionably chic (and breathtakingly expensive) but it does not have the chilled vibe of La Rochelle, the same cultural diversity, for choice of bars and restaurants.

This year, the re-opening of the Mairie de La Rochelle (see opposite) is yet another reason to head to the “White City” – which acquired its nickname in the Middle Ages from British visitors impressed by the pale stone architecture.

The old port is the beating heart of the city and the place visitors should get to know first.

Walk along the cobblestoned quaysides, under the shade of the trees and check out the cafés before strolling underneath the arch of the clock tower into the pedestrianised old town.

The covered market is a foodies’ delight, and the best place for sampling local oysters. They are cheaper here – and because many of the stall holders have farmed the oysters themselves, they are sublimely fresh. Wash them down with a glass of white wine.

Also look out for bottles of Pineau des Charentes, a fortified wine made from fresh grape juice and Cognac eau-de-vie.

The farmers’ ...

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