December has rolled around, and Christmas is around the corner, yet I still can’t shake off the feeling that comes with summer travel in Europe. Our holiday was so memorable and our first as a family of four, and in the attempt to make it last forever, I have decided to give it a permanent spot here on the blog.
Because it’s never too early to start thinking about summer, here is the first post of my French Summer Travel Series. I will share our highlights, tips and recommendations for visiting La Rochelle, Biarritz, the Basque Country, and Chambord with kids. Happy planning.
La Rochelle is a coastal town in France, right on the Atlantic. It is about a five-hour drive from Paris. If you haven’t heard of this city, you should know that it is rich in history, delicious flavours and beautiful sights. We spent four days here with the kids and fell in love.
We drove to la Rochelle from Brussels with our four-year-old daughter and 15-month-old son. We left at about 2 am to get as far as possible while the kids were asleep. Once they were up, we had to stop multiple times, so a nine-hour trip took us over twelve. We could have chosen to fly or take the train, but with the kids, we love having our car and being able to tweak our schedule according to their needs. Plus, this was our first stop on our trip to Biarritz, where we would spend most of our vacation.
If you travel to France from overseas, you will probably land at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport. After that, you can take a train or bus or rent a car to get to la Rochelle. Click here to check out your options. If you are flying with small kids, check out this post first.
Where We Stayed
Since we were only staying for three nights, we booked an Airbnb right in the city center, which is an excellent base for experiencing everything la Rochelle has to offer. We wanted to make the most of our time and not have to drive everywhere since parking was not the easiest. In the past, we have made the mistake of staying further to save on costs. With kids, this means more commuting or walking, and at the end of the day, you want to make it home asap. Being close also meant we could stay out later and still get the kids to bed at a reasonable time. Our place was right next to the Ferris wheel and across the street from the Aquarium.
What to do
Take of walk in the old port
La Rochelle was once a wealthy merchant city where French ships would sail to trade with Canada, the West Indies and the rest of Europe. It was also, sadly, a port that participated in the exportation of enslaved people, mainly to Saint- Domingue, today’s Haiti. Being of French Canadian and Caribbean descent, it felt like I was at a crossroads with my ancestors who, on both sides, might have passed through this port to cross the Atlantic during the 17th century.
The old port of La Rochelle is lively at all hours of the day. You can watch the boats enter and exit de marina, walk past the three famous towers dating back to the 14th and 15th centuries and enjoy a drink on a terrasse or delicious Italian-style ice cream. There are also many shops and street vendors selling their art and crafts. In addition, you can ride on the Ferris wheel for 5 euros to get a stunning view of the old port from above.
Eat all the seafood
If you are a fan of seafood, then you have come to the right place; there are so many excellent restaurants. We ordered takeaway at Le P’tit Bleu, a boat kiosk by the marina. We had mussels and oysters and died and went to heaven. Everything was delicious, fresh and reasonably priced.
A great spot to find a fantastic restaurant is Rue Saint-Jean du Pérot. With so many incredible options, it is hard to choose. We ended up eating at La Boussole (the compass in French). The food was great, and the staff was accommodating and kind. It was kid-friendly, and the service was quick (meltdown averted). I definitely recommend it.
Visit l’Ile de Ré
Right off the coast of la Rochelle, you will find l’Ile de Ré, a beautiful island with beaches, salt marches and picturesque towns. We spent half a day exploring Sant-Martin-de-Ré, the island’s tiny capital with its beautiful harbour and 17th-century walls. This small town is laid back with so much charm. Don’t miss the “Anes en Culottes” (or donkeys in pants) right next to the lighthouse. They are an emblem of this tiny town, and the kids will love them.
We spent the rest of the day chilling on the beach. We chose Plage Sud in Rive-Doux Plage. Of course, there are more beautiful beaches, but this one was next to a playground, so it was a win for us. There are so many amazing things to experience on this island. A great way to visit is by bike; you can rent them on-site.
You can take a ferry or drive across the bridge to the island from la Rochelle. It is definitely worth the trip. Check out this site for more info.
For the kiddos
The carousel was a major hit with our kids, and right next to it was a playground, perfect for them to run around after walking or sitting in the stroller for long periods. We bought ten tickets on our first day; our daughter is obsessed with rides, so we knew we would be back. Plus, the more you buy, the cheaper it is per ride, and you will avoid lineups.
You can also visit the Aquarium. It is located in the old port and takes under three hours to see. Boasting 12 000 animals from 600 species, you’re sure to learn something new; plus, it’s a great way to get the little ones out of the summer heat for a couple of hours. You can also buy your tickets online to avoid lineups.
Our time in La Rochelle was brief yet memorable. The city’s vibe left a lasting impression on us, and we will be back for more.
Are you planning a trip to La Rochelle? Check out this site for more info.