La Rochelle is an attractive port town on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean that exudes a modern laid-back, relaxed atmosphere, while embracing its several-hundred-year-old history. Many settlers boarded ships here bound for "New France" – modern-day Quebec – and reminders of this past can be found around the town.
At present, there is only one youth hostel located a 15-20 minute walk from the center of town in the area known as Les Minimes. Although not located in the center of town, Les Minimes is a picturesque area complete with restaurants, a beach and one of Europe's largest marinas. While La Rochelle is full of restaurants, cafes, and bakeries, visitors traveling on a budget should visit the main market building and indulge in the many affordable delights, which range from potatoes and chicken to fresh fruits and vegetables. For those wanting to experience La Rochellais restaurants, more affordable ones are to be found further away from the harbour.
For those who don’t fancy the walk from Les Minimes to La Rochelle, a speedy and highly-affordable water bus plies the route with frequent departures. The ‘bus’ is eco-friendly, and is solar-powered. Regular buses also run to the marina from La Rochelle, and the narrow, winding streets in the centre of town lend themselves to exploration by foot. More athletic visitors can work off some of their market lunch by renting a bicycle and meandering through the town.
The more historically-minded should pay a visit to the three towers that dominate the entrance to the port, as they house exhibits about La Rochelle’s early citizens. La Rochelle is also home to a magnificent aquarium, and visitors young and old are sure to enjoy it. Ask your hostel if you can buy a ticket at your La Rochelle hostel or accommodation – they often offer discounts, and by buying your ticket before arrival at the aquarium, you can bypass the often lengthy lines.
La Rochelle is an ideal base from which to explore the nearby Ile de Ré. Comfortable, air-conditioned coaches known as the Rébus depart regularly from the central railway station in La Rochelle and stop at a number of small, charming towns on Ré. Return tickets are valid all day. During the summer, Ré is home to iconic donkeys that ply the salt marshes decked out in stylish blue or red-and-white striped trousers. These can be quite a sight to see if one is not expecting them! Ré is also home to a fabulous ice cream parlour that serves such flavours as oyster and white cheese.
All in all, La Rochelle is a charming little town and well worth a visit.