Cycle by day, eat by night: La Rochelle provides the perfect active holiday, writes Katrina Conaglen
We all know the glories of a city break to France: it’s a quick hop to an instant injection of better weather and delectable cuisine.
But a jaunt to La Rochelle is something altogether more than that. Located in New Aquitaine, Southwest France, this compact portside town boasts sporty fun to suit every taste and gastronomic pleasures to make the most discerning of foodies rapturous with delight. Play in the sunshine, dine in the moonlight.
With 230 km of cycle paths in the area there’s something for the once a year pootler to the Tour de France wannabe. Bike rental at Chalet Yélo starts at just 3€ for two hours and up to five hours for 7€.
While the coast and ports provide spectacular views and smooth cycling, it’s well worth taking a detour across the bridge to the much-beloved island of Ile de Ré. A preservationists paradise, Ile de Ré boasts more than 100km of rugged cycle tracks. You can wend your way through salt flats, oyster farms and vineyards, and twitchers will be delighted with the local bird life. The paths crochet across the island between ten picturesque historical towns, offering plenty of opportunity to pitstop and nosh on the celebrated oysters.
Take a futuristic soar across the sea
Flying high above exotic locales with a jetpack strapped to your back used to be the stuff of Bond movies, but in La Rochelle it’s a thrilling reality. Head down to the beautiful Minimes Beach to try your hand at ‘flyboarding,’ the latest extreme sport craze that will make you a literal rocketman. Wearing that aforementioned jetpack, high-pressure water jets will propel you up: you’ll swoop, soar and loop-de-loop above the water. There’s a choice of either hoverboards or the oh-so-futuristic jet boots to hire. For more information, visit http://www.amr-locationbateau.fr/
Stretch your sea-legs
A surprisingly inexpensive means of injecting some glam into your La Rochelle jaunt is to head out to sea on a king-sized catamaran. These famously smooth-sailing boats offer a luxurious and relaxing means of exploring the town’s famous bays. Kapalouest Catamaran runs trips to nearby landmarks such as Fort Bayard for as little as €25 a head, or fork out a little bit more to take a sunset cruise while enjoying a lavish meal.
Dine on your feet…
There’s much joy to be found in an active holiday, but surely one of the greatest consequences is generating a mammoth appetite. In La Rochelle, that hunger will be handsomely rewarded. As you’d expect for a coastal town, the seafood is sublime. Quayside seafood is particularly fine: converted boats sell fruits de mer fried straight out of the water, cheap and delicious. If you’d sooner partake in produce from the land, head to the covered central market early doors. You’ll find red eggs from Marans… a divine delicacy for every taste, or try the local Grillons charentais, washed down with a glass of Le Pineau des Charentes a. Round it all off with a visit to the simply wonderful ice cream shop “Ernest” on Rue du Port.
…or refuel in style
For a sit-down affair, wander down Rue St-Nicholas and you’ll find Prao, a cooperative restaurant that prides itself on freshness and provenance (no freezers or microwaves here). It’s a hipster haven in an otherwise gastronomically traditional town: their black butter samosa is a revelation.
For no-holds-barred luxury, the two Michelin-starred Christopher Countanceau is a sea-fronted bistro that will provide a definitive tour of the region’s cuisine with creative flourishes. It has retained its double-starred status since the 80s, testament to Chef Countanceau’s dedication to endless innovation.
Sink a sun-downer like a local
No self-respecting gastronome would explore a city’s cuisine without also investigating the tipples to accompany the food, so in La Rochelle it is mandatory to visit La Guignette on Rue Saint-Nicolas. You’ll quaff the eponymous (and teeth-shrivellingly sugary) liquor while revelling in the heady historic atmosphere and cowering slightly at the gruff bar-keep: consider their saturnine posturing all part of the authentic Gallic charm of the place.
Flybe operates flights to La Rochelle direct from Birmingham, Manchester and Southampton. For more information or a full route, schedule, click here.