La Rochelle-La Pallice Cruise Port

Port of La Rochelle-La Pallice: An Overview

It's a shame that more ships don't call on La Rochelle, because it can easily keep history buffs, museum mavens, shopaholics and foodies busy for a full day. What's more, it's the gateway to shore excursions that take you oyster-tasting, cognac-sipping or paddling down the otherworldly canals of the Marais Poitevin park, known as France's "Green Venice."

A major Atlantic port since the 13th century, La Rochelle first traded in wine and salt, then was part of the triangular trade with the New World. Evidence of merchant wealth is everywhere in the ancient center -- from medieval slate-roofed half-timber houses, to the fine stone carvings on 16th-century facades, to the arcaded streets where wares were once displayed. However, most of the town's fortifications were destroyed when the staunchly Protestant town was besieged for 13-months by royal Catholic troops in 1627-28.

The Old Port is guarded by three remaining 14th to 15th-century stone towers (clear that photo card!), which stalwarts can climb for great views. You'll also find historic graffiti carved into the walls, including detailed sailing ships, etched by prisoners of war who were once jailed in the towers.

Don't Miss

Cafe Culture: We really advise you to be a flaneur, someone who just wanders, perhaps stopping at an outdoor cafe for an icy platter of shellfish washed down with crisp white wine. Grab a table on the terrace at Andre, right on the Old Port, and check out the interior rooms, too, for the interesting decor at this historic restaurant. (5 rue St-Jean du Perot; 33 5 46 41 28 24; open daily, except December 25, 8 a.m. to midnight.)

Old Town: If you want to dig deeper, there are plenty of attractions around the old town, such as an impressive aquarium with more than 12,000 marine creatures and a multistory rain forest environment or a WWII German bunker that was a nerve center for submarine operations.

Museums: Museums include the fascinating New World Museum, where the collection of paintings, sculpture, old maps and more gives you a look at how La Rochelle's traders viewed America (10 rue Fleuriau; 33 54 64 1 46 50; opening hours vary); the dockside Maritime Museum, with a flotilla of old boats (Place Bernard Moitessier, Bassin des Chalutiers; 33 5 46 28 03 00; open daily 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. from April 1 through October.); the Fine Arts Museum, housing a collection spanning the 15th to 20th centuries (28 rue Gargoulleau; 33 5 46 41 64 65; 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 1:45 p.m. to 5 p.m., closed Tuesday, 2 to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday); and the Museum of Natural History, with a collection that started in the 18th century. (28 rue Albert 1er; 33 5 46 41 18 25; closed Monday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday to Friday, 2 to 9 p.m. Saturday and 2 to 7 p.m. Sunday.)

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

The currency in France is the euro; for current currency conversion figures visit www.oanda.com or www.xe.com. There are no ATMs at the port, which is in an industrial area north of town, but they are plentiful at banks in La Rochelle. Credit cards are usually accepted at most businesses.

Language

The language is French, but locals who interact with tourists speak at least some English, as do tourist office staff.

For More Information

On the Web: La Rochelle Official Website

Cruise Critic Message Boards: France Ports

The Independent Traveler: France Travel Guide

--By Gayle Keck, Cruise Critic contributor

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