France, Travel

Rocking La Rochelle With Kids – Our Top Spots

Our First Trip to La Rochelle with Kids

We find the winter time in the Dordogne a little quiet and bleak so we’re always looking to find somewhere new to escape to and to explore during the month of January. Research usually takes place in November time and on this occasion Mr Den found an amazing deal with Novotel in La Rochelle: a family room with breakfast for 4 at €55 per night. Bargain.  So there we had it… deal done… we booked up two nights for the forthcoming January 2015. We were all set to discover La Rochelle with the kids.

Our Accommodation

La Rochelle is only 3 hours away from the Dordogne region and was most definitely doable for a week-end trip away. We stayed at La Rochelle Novotel hotel and arrived on the Friday night just in time for some dinner. The 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.

Goats in the park at La Rochelle
Some sibling rivalry at the animal park 😉

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.

The Aquarium

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 as well as Finding Dory before your visit!

Fish at the Aquarium in La Rochelle
Ooo, I think we’ve found Nemo AND Dory!

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.

Image of the sea wolf at the aquarium at La Rochelle
This delightful fish called the sea wolf, loses and renews its teeth each time it reproduces.

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.

Fish in tanks in the aquarium at La Rochelle
You lookin’ at me?

Transport with a difference

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.

Self-driving bus in La Rochelle
The bus that drives itself!

There are several eco-friendly initiatives in place in La Rochelle. Get fit and hire a bike or for some fun, cross from one side of town to the other on one of the town’s electric solar powered boats. The fare for the crossing is €1 per person and children under 5 travel free (correct at time of writing).

Bike & boat scheme in La Rochelle
Jump on a bike or boat!

Street Art

There is some amazing street art in La Rochelle. We happened upon it quite by chance. You will find it in an area called Le Quartier Gabut – it’s the old fishermen’s neighbourhood. It’s a short walk from the harbour and is definitely worth the detour. The works of art are ever-changing, ephemeral. 

Face - graffiti art - La Rochelle

Our visit to la Rochelle came in the wake of the terrible Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris. Local artists had chosen their own ways of expressing their feelings and paying homage through their incredible graffiti. It was very poignant.

Graffiti art in Quartier Gabut in La Rochelle

Quartier Gabut, La Rochelle

The Beach

We visited the local beach which the kids adored. The sun was out in all its glory and made for perfect beach weather. We loved the fact that the beach is situated just a stone’s throw from the town and is so 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 dabbled 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. I love these chance conversations.

The beach and land art at la Rochelle
Andy Goldsworthy eat your heart out!

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!

Reading heads, sculpture by the old harbour at La Rochelle

Reading heads collage 2

Musée Maritime

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 and happened upon the Maritime Museum which was closed at this time of year.

Maritime Museum

Musée des Automates and the Musée des Modèles Réduits

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…

Musee des Automates in la Rochelle
Did JK Rowling draw her inspiration for Harry Potter from this little chap?! (bottom right)
Anti-smoking campaign at the musee des automates in la Rochelle
Anti-smoking campaign

The Old Harbour 

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 spring to explore further. On our list are a visit to nearby Ile de Ré, the Ile d’Oléron, a boat trip to Fort Boyard and other islands. The kids are already asking to go back to the Aquarium!

Terraces La Rochelle

Top Spots in La Rochelle

Here is a brief round-up of the 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!

Top spots - La Rochelle

What’s your favourite seaside resort? Do you prefer high season or quieter, cooler shoulder season?

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