La Rochelle, France

La Rochelle is the gateway to Île de Ré, and like it, has a charming coastal vibe. It is very walkable, mostly one way streets with lots of cobblestone, with plenty of bus riders and bikers here as well. While this isn’t a city international tourists come to that often, we still found plenty of people who spoke English. We stayed for 4 days and that was plenty of time to wander, relax, and catch up on some work.

Logistics

general

Good to Know

Vaccinations: Routine Vaccinations

Mosquito problems: None during this time. Their windows don’t have screens, so it seems as if there wouldn’t be such a worry

Problems for tattoos: None

Traveling as a woman: Standard Precautions

Getting around

The train from Paris to la Rochelle is very comfortable and passes through scenic farmland. At the station there are signs to indicate the composition of the train, so you can find the train car you are assigned to. The car number is on display just next to the doors and the seat numbers are posted on the space just inbetween the seats. The doors inside the train cars can be opened automatically with either buttons or by flicking the handle.

Within La Rochelle we walked everywhere, even to and from the train station. We only used the bus to visit Île de Ré.

Interesting to note: To validate your Eurail pass in France, look for the yellow machine that resembles a parking meter in any train station. Insert your ticket as far as it will go until you hear the click of the stamp. However, when we took our passes to Portugal, they were confused by the stamp from France and re-stamped our passes with their own stamps.

budgeting

Currency: 1 EUR = 1.15 USD
Tipping is not necessary, but appreciated. Tax is already included in their pricing, so the price you see is what you pay.

Daily Budget

$50-70/person: This was for 3 evenings in La Rochelle with a private Airbnb apartment located in the city center. We had simple breakfasts, cooked most of our meals in and had a couple restaurant meals. You can definitely save more money if you shop the sales at the Monoprix grocery store. Everything in the city center was walkable.

Some typical costs

  • Baguette: 1-1.15 EUR
  • Nice meal (pp): 15-35 EUR
  • AirBnB: $35/night

What to Eat

The lifestyle here is typical of France, in no hurry and mostly revolving around meals. We noticed there aren’t any freezers in any of the apartments we’ve stayed at, so it seems like the thing to do is go to visit the market often and just buy what you immediately need, never overstocking. Again, many places observe a siesta, closing between early afternoon and dinner time. Some establishments don’t visibly post their hours so it can be a lot of hit-or-miss when you’re looking for something specific.

Central Market finds

Central Market

Luckily the Central Market is open every morning of the week and that’s all you’ll ever really need. It encompasses an indoor space as well as the courtyard outside. Do a quick walk through before making any purchases as there are a good number of stalls to look at. There was also plenty of seafood to be had, and I only regret that we don’t have a lot of experience cooking fish, otherwise this would have been the place to do it. We would love to come back to La Rochelle and maybe spend a whole month to really embrace and develop some seafood culinary skills!

Filet de Saint Pierre, Prao, La Rochelle

Prao

prao.biz, 10 Rue Saint-Nicolas, $$

Prao is a pretty neat business; they operate a restaurant, a cafe, a boutique and a studio. The restaurant is known for their “menu of the day” lunch special; a 3 course meal for just 16 EUR. We opted to share the menu of the day and the fish main, with a glass of wine of course.

  • Moelleux de potimarron, maix de pecan et chevre frais, a small fluffy cake of pumpkin and pecan maize with a fresh goat cheese center. Intriguing description and great flavor but rather mild in flavor.
  • Brandade de cabillaud au curry et fines herbes, emulsified cod with curry, herbs, mashed potato mix with a side salad. Savory and filling, definitely a great winter comfort food.
  • Gateau au fromage blanc, maix de coco et ananas, a cheese cake with coconut and pineapple. A much more dense cake that taste distinctly of cheese and not cream cheese like a New York cheesecake, tasty but not a favorite as it was just a hint dry.
  • Filet de Saint Pierre, creme herbes et citronelle, fenouil confit, a filet of Saint Pierre, cream herbs and citronella, fennel confit. The best dish of the meal! Everything on this plate was very well balanced and complemented each other. The fennel was superb and savory, not a trace of licorice flavor that typically comes from fennel.
  • A delicious white wine to drink on its own, though it did not pair that well with the meal of the day: Château Cluzeau, Le Petit Cluzeau Blanc, Bergerac AOP White 2014
Le Panier de Crabe, La Rochelle

Le Panier de Crabes

business.google.com/website/le-panier-de-crabes, 9 Rue de la Fourche, $$

I read somewhere that Le Panier de Crabes is run by fishermen and it sure seemed like it; many of the men wearing the stereotypical dark turtlenecked sweaters and jeans, grinning (not unsympathetically) at our inexperience. We ordered the famous le plateau de fruits de mer, for 2, which in hindsight might have been overambitious. It’s more snails, shrimp, langoustines, oysters, and crab than one would normally eat at any one place and any one sitting, so if that much seafood – or that many snails for that matter – doesn’t sit well with you, it might be best to share one. All of it is simply boiled and served chilled, along with a couple sauces, lemon, and bread and butter. Once committed, we rolled up our sleeves and dug in and managed to finish almost everything except one of the bowls of snails. The servers were attentive; ours checked on us often and even taught us how to break down the crab and how to efficiently twist and pull apart the baby shrimps. It was an entertaining albeit messy 2 hours and it definitely fulfilled our seafood quota for this little town. For wine, he recommended the Muscadet sue lie “vino sense” cépage melon du Bourgogne, which paired very well with all the seafood.

Check out Carl's take on Prao and Le Panier
After our overnight stay in Île de Ré we took the bus back to La Rochelle, a city known for their seafood as it is by the coast. Again, greeted by closed shops and restaurants as if nothing is ever open or their hours are just weird. We are traveling during an off season though, so that could also be it. We did find a great place for lunch called Prao!

Prao Restaurant
Adrienne had the menu of the day which consists of an app, main and dessert. You can also choose only 1 or 2 of the dishes as well for a cheaper price. Knowing that I should try the seafood I opted for the Filet de saint pierre, creme herbes et citronelle et fenouil confit. The Fish was perfectly cooked soft yet had a good bite. I’ve never had this fish before it’s a delicate white fish. The sauce was well seasoned with herbs and a hint of citrus but a bit runnier than I thought it would be and didn’t quite grab to the fish. Fennel confit was the best part of this dish. Never had fennel like this before and I am definitely going to cook it more after this. It was tender and didn’t taste like licorice.

Le Panier du Crabe
We feasted on the main attraction, a plateau – a platter of oysters, small shrimp, big shrimp, langoustines, small snails, large snails and crab. I don’t normally partake in a platter of this magnitude but when in La Rochelle!! Let’s start off piece by piece. Oysters, I’m not an oysters guy at all but I will try them from time to time and usually max out at one oyster. This time I had four of them! No fishy taste or smell nor did it have a strong taste of the ocean. The bite was smooth all the way down and with a sprinkle of lemon juice and a couple drops of red wine vinegar it was quite enjoyable. The shrimp and the langoustine had a wonderful amount of meat in them. They had the perfect amount of sweetness and bite to the meat itself. The smaller shrimp, small isn’t even small enough to describe it but those were funner to peel than to eat! After a few fails one of the fisherman finally showed us how to peel it and from there it was easy and fun. Eating it was a disappointment, although delicious, you do all that work for a nibble! The snails both large and small, again the word small may still not be small enough to describe it, were very good as well. None of the fish we ate had a strong taste to them at all and cooked in a simple way where the seafood freshness itself did the talking. Both sizes of the snail had a stronger bite to it. There was a hint of bitterness but not strong. As always the snails were fun to twist and pick out. Our finisher seafood; the crab. I usually have had crab cooked fresh out of the pot and this was the first time I’ve had it chilled. The meat of the legs and claws were plump and soft as expected from such a large animal. The body with brains and other good stuff wasn’t my favorite. At least while hot all the fat melts and you can just add in you rice (how Filipino of me) or eat it with bread (how Adrienne of me) and eat it like a soup! I found this version to be texturally off putting but flavorful at the same time. It was quite confusing to eat! The texture was pasty and difficult to eat. The platter itself is so big that the meal itself took us 2 hours to and we still couldn’t finish everything. We were too full to keep eating and we’re trying our best to accept the challenge of finishing it but we could not. The atmosphere of the place was playful. The workers who are apparently the fisherman that caught the meal you were eating seemed to love being a host as much as they loved fishing. They say everything in moderation but when you have fresh good food and happy good people around you, it is definitely worth the experience!

What to Do

La Rochelle is known for her towers and the historic buildings, which were interesting but by no means spectacular. Rather, I enjoyed the town in general; all its buildings possess such character with the wear, a pop of color, or a lone straggling plant claiming its territory by a front door.

Parakeet in le parc Charruyer

The loveliest surprise was wandering through le parc Charruyer. We walked beautiful tree lined paths and discovered a little zoo in the Southern end. There were all manner of birds: ducks, parakeets, peacocks, chickens; as well as goats, a cow, and mules. In November, leaves have fallen all over the park, gathering on the pathways and layering the ponds. There were leaves caught in the parakeets’ enclosure and I noticed a few were fluttering from their perch to hang and play with the stems of the leaves. Curious, I found a sturdy looking stem off the ground and inserted it into the cage, and sure enough a couple of them flew over to perch and nibble on my stem, allowing me to observe them very closely.

Where to Stay

AirBnB

Charming apartment in the heart of La Rochelle
Fantastic host and great apartment; plenty of space and it comes with all the essentials, including kitchenware. Beware that it’s right next to a Irish pub that gets rather noisy through the evenings and the upstairs neighbor did break out into song and dance one evening – otherwise it was fine. The bedroom is towards the back and faces away from the street so it’s not too bad.

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