The city of La Rochelle has developed around
its historical centre into a relatively large town by French standards.
With its 100,000 inhabitants, it is without question the metropolis of the
Charente Maritime area. There are four distinct neighbourhoods in La
Rochelle: the historical city centre; the "new town" of Les
Minimes, resolutely turned towards the future; the residential and
industrial inner suburbs; and finally the east of Ré Island, an area
renowned for its relaxing atmosphere, where many of the wealthiest
Rochelais have chosen to live.
A triangle between Place de Verdun, the Porte Royale and the Tour de la
Lanterne makes up the true historical heart of the city, with its narrow
streets and a complicated layout, where you will find the roots of the
town and most of its architectural treasures. This neighbourhood is a true
kingdom for pedestrians as many streets are pedestrianised and on the
whole driving is quite heavily regulated. Head for the tourist information
board, which is in the renovated part of the neighbourhood. Close by, you
will find the Tour Saint-Nicolas, from which you will have a beautiful
view of the vieux port, the true core of La Rochelle. Carry along the
quays, before heading into the narrow streets of the old town. Don't miss
l'hôtel de la Bourse or la Grosse Horloge. From the cathedral onwards,
the streets become wider, and with museums such as le Musée du Nouveau
Monde and le Musée des Beaux-Arts , culture is definitely not forgotten.
This is the first neighbourhood you will see if you arrive in La Rochelle by train, since the station is very nearby. If the city centre neighbourhood is somewhat turned towards the past and the history of La Rochelle, Les Minimes looks resolutely towards the future. "La ville en bois" (the timber town), a large group of modern buildings of Scandinavian inspiration, and many other architectural innovations, are proof enough. It has become famous thanks to its marina, one of the largest in Europe, with more than 3,500 moorings, but also thanks to its large congress centre, located by the sea. Moreover, this is where you will find the different faculties of the university of La Rochelle, as well as the Technoforum, a research and studies centre dedicated to new technologies, and several graduate schools, not to mention the impressive mediatheque buildings. And the sea is never far away: check out the musée maritime Neptunéa and the pleasant beach.
Little by little, La Rochelle has developed and many suburban areas have bloomed, but it is certainly La Pallice and Laleu which have grown most noticeably. La Pallice, with its harbours, is a great place for trade exchanges, fishing and oil especially. You will be able to reach Ré island bridge from this area. The Laleu neighbourhood, also near the bridge, is famous as you'll find La Rochelle airport there.
The island is only three kilometres away and it only takes five minutes to reach it by car. Since the bridge was erected in 1989, the eastern part of the island has become a dwelling place for many La Rochelle inhabitants, who understandably prefer the tranquility of villages such as Saint-Martin or Sainte-Marie, as well as the close by beaches of Rivedoux or La Flotte . The quality of life on the island is without doubt one of the highest in the area.