It was November time and we needed something in the diary to look forward to come 2015… so… hubby found an amazing deal with Novotel in La Rochelle – a family room with breakfast for 4 at €55 per night. So there we had it… deal done… we booked up two nights for the forthcoming January 2015.La Rochelle is only 3 hours away from the Dordogne region and was most definitely doable for a week-end trip away. We arrived on the Friday night just in time for some dinner. We have stayed in Novotel hotels on many occasions and have found them to be a great option for families. They are very child-friendly – upon arrival, children are presented with a small gift at reception, there is usually a playroom for the younger ones (including books, kapla) and an area for teenagers (free use of an X-box). Children generally eat breakfast for free which is a great little bonus.
Here is a brief round-up of our top spots we discovered during the course of our week-end. We hope to go back in the summer time to explore further as there is clearly so much to see and do in the region!
La Rochelle Novotel hotel is a short walk away from the centre through a lovely park – we were delighted to discover that there was a play park and a free animal park within. We spent ages watching the kids (in this case baby goats!) wrestling each other off that rock! There were lots of other animals to look at including deer, cows, goats, some very large donkeys (Baudet de Poitou) called Cajou and Bijou.
Some sibling rivalry at the animal park 😉
The weather was a little overcast on the Saturday morning so we decided to head to the Aquarium. It is one of the largest private European aquariums. Our children absolutely loved it and I can’t recommend it highly enough – be sure to watch Finding Nemo before your visit!
We spent a couple of hours there and it was money really well spent. As we visited the various parts of the aquarium, the children’s excitement was palpable… “Mummy come and see this, mummy look at the spotty fish, mummy come and see the purple fish, mummy look at the giraffe fish, the lion fish, the wolf fish, the zebra fish.” And of course their enthusiasm and excitement was contagious.
We watched a film which provided a behind the scenes peek at the running of an aquarium. The restaurant, with its stunning views towards the harbour, looked fantastic, although we ended up opting for a picnic on the beach.
La Rochelle is embarking on several eco-friendly initiatives, one of which, includes an electric self-driving bus!!! We had to have a go on that – it was still in its testing stages and I can confirm that there was actually a person on board who could control the vehicle if required. It was a rather odd sensation I must say… It is the only one of its kind in France and apparently it will be rolled out to 6 or 7 other cities in France.
They have undertaken several eco-friendly initiatives and you can find bikes for rent dotted about the town. Also, you can get from one side of the town to the other across the water using the electric solar powered boats (costs €1 per person and children under 5 travel free).
Our visit to la Rochelle came in the wake of the terrible Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris and local artists had chosen their own ways of expressing their feelings and paying homage through their incredible graffiti. It was very poignant.
The area is a short walk from the harbour and is worth the detour.
We visited the local beach which the kids adored. The sun was out in all its glory and made for perfect beach weather. The beach is a stone’s throw from the town and very easily accessible. There is a lovely seafront promenade and coastal walk. We watched the world go by. The children collected many oyster shells on the beach and indulged in some land art. The people were friendly and open. A lady struck up a conversation with me explaining that the Siberian geese were migrating and were waiting for high tide to eat lichen off the stone. Apparently they travel 8000kms and stay until April.
On the Sunday, we walked into town, by the Old Harbour and spotted this fantastic sculpture by artist Bruce Krebs. I love it! Why don’t you see if you can find it on your next visit to La Rochelle!
We took the electric solar-powered boat from one side of the Old Harbour to the other and walked towards the Musée des Automates. We got a little lost trying to find the museum, however, and happened upon the Maritime Museum which was closed at this time of year.
Once we found our way, we bought a ticket which gave us entry to two museums – the Musée des Modèles Réduits and the Musée des Automates. The first, the model museum was rather quaint and old-fashioned but somehow endearing. Our favourite of the two was the Automates one – a puppet museum – it was a simple, fun museum reminiscent of a bygone era…
Parents with young children will require a good dose of sangfroid around the old harbour as there are no barriers and some very steep drops in places. French health and safety at its best 😉 The terraces were teeming with people enjoying their afternoon tipple of choice. We can’t wait to go back during the Spring to explore further – visit to nearby Ile de Ré, the Ile d’Oléron, boat trip to Fort Boyard and other islands. The kids are already asking to go back to the Aquarium!