When it comes to coastal cities in France, La Rochelle is a must-see. Commonly referred to as “La Ville Blanche” due to its characteristic limestone facades, this port city sits in the Poitou Charentes region of southwest France, a short 2-hour drive from Bordeaux.
La Rochelle boasts a rich history as one of France’s principal seaports from the 17th to the 19th century. Today, hoards of tourists flock to the maritime city for a long weekend or summer escape. And after wandering around the old port and arcaded passageways, marveling at the half-timbered houses and eating my fair share of fish, it’s easy to see why.
To avoid tourist traps, we looked for restaurants whose menu items are classified as “fait maison” (homemade). This system, created in response to customers’ desire for increased transparency, helped us steer clear of packaged, frozen fish and industrial-style preparation in favor of fresh, sea-to-table options cooked entirely in-house.
Natural sunlight streams through the floor-to-ceiling windows at Le Café de l’Aquarium, a large restaurant with panoramic views of the old port. Their simple, locally-sourced formula menu is anything but boring. Case in point: this king prawn salad with seasonal vegetables, coconut milk, and a deep-red beet chip resting on top.
Le P’tit Amiral is a small, hole-in-the-wall-type restaurant dishing out all-things seafood. Only steps away from the port, it is flanked by a bustling pizzeria on one side and a bar on the other. We were lucky enough to snag a table before the locals poured in for their early-afternoon lunch.
I chose the fish beignets which I proceeded to smother in tartar sauce before washing it all down with a glass of local white wine.
Ile de Ré is an island off the coast of La Rochelle, accessible via a 1.8 mile bridge connecting it to the mainland. The slight chill of early spring and intermittent bouts of rain didn’t stop the locals from taking their bikes out for an afternoon spin through the narrow cobblestone streets.
We spent the day popping in and out of the nautical-inspired boutiques, walking along the sandy beaches collecting sea glass and, of course, eating fish.
Thanks to the ingenious invention of heat lamps, we ate lunch outside at Brasserie La Marine in Saint Martin.
No ordinary bread and butter to be found here. Instead, we were greeted with lightly toasted crips of baguette and a lemon tuna spread.
Cuisine de la mer at its finest with one part curry muscles and homemade fries and another part cod, seasonal vegetables, and chorizo.
But fish isn’t the only way to get a taste of the sea on Ile de Ré.
Salt production dates back to the 13th century with Cisterian Monks farming on the northern end of the island. Today, 60 producers harvest between two and three thousand tons of salt every year, employing the traditional method by allowing the summer sun to dry the salt in pans. Fleur de Sel (flower of salt) is the pure and highly coveted top layer and the first to be harvested.
Although sea salt is sold in copious amounts in its pure form, we also found salted caramel candies, chocolate bars, and ice cream.
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
- Have you ever visited La Rochelle or Ile de Ré?
- Where is your favorite part of France?