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La Rochelle

Wednesday 11th November

La Rochelle, say it to loud and you can’t help but sound like a Frenchman, or woman – it just rolls off the tongue.

We left Isle de Noirmoutier on Monday morning and took the coast road past where we had stayed with Dave and Liz all those years ago and on, and on. 70 miles in all, one of our longest days travel for a while but it was worth it, we found a lovely aire overlooking the sea at Jard du Mer. We even managed to spend all afternoon sunbathing.

Next morning off to La Rochelle. The approach to the town was uninspiring, just how many roundabouts does a town need? Eventually we ended up on a free aire next to the harbour with a sandy beach on the other side. The French do manage to get lots of things wrong (roundabouts, dog poo, shops closed for lunch, shops closed because it is Monday, or Sunday or Armistice Day, etc, etc) but somehow they manage to get free parking for 100 motorhomes right where they want to be and let them park for free. Imagine getting within a thousand miles of the beach in England and how much it is going to cost you.

We’ve never been to La Rochelle (say it again out loud) but are really glad we made it. We had no idea of what to expect which was even nicer.

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The main fortifications consist of three towers, the two above guard the entrance to the old harbour, the Chain Tower is on the left and St Nicholas’s on the right. Both built in the 14th century and originally 50% higher than they are now. Note how St Nicolas’s tower leans to the right, the foundations shifted as it was being built. There would have been chains between these two towers which were winched into place in the evening to prevent attacks from outside of the harbour.

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The third tower is the Lanterne, the oldest medieval lighthouse on the Atlantic coast, originally constructed in the 12th century but transformed between 1445 and 1468. From the 16th century it was used as a prison and below you will see some of the graffiti left by prisoners kept here. The building has two spiral staircases, offset from each other and lots of steep narrow spiral stairs so you can get to the top. The views are fantastic and buying a combined ticket to see all three towers was very good value for money.

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A view of the inner harbour. La Rochelle was one of the first towns in France to be pedestrianised (and bicyclised) amidst a huge amount of local dissent but it has been proved very popular with visitors and is now considered to be a blueprint for other French towns.

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A remnant of the medieval town wall, this tower, originally flanked by two crenelated turrets and two gates (one for carriages and one for pedestrians) was topped by a bell turret in 1478. An extensive alteration of the upper part gave it its present clock tower shape, Louis XVth style in 1746.

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And this is how I can remember all the historical stuff – just take a photo of it and pretend that I’ve done some studying.

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We had a complaint a blog or two ago – not enough knife photos so here it is – the ultimate sad knife worriers dream. A full set of 10 , yes count them, 10 Opinel knives for all occasions, only €100 and no, we didn’t buy them for you Clive, come and get your own knives.

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Inside the remains of the town wall were some lovely buildings.

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And miles and miles of shop arcades like this. I have to admit that we got lost once or twice. If there is a shop that we didn’t have to walk past three times I would be suprised.

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Some of the graffiti inside the Lanterne. On one of the floors was a large block of stone with a couple of little pointy things so you could try your hand at writing your name. If I could have stayed in for three years I may have finished.

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The view from the Lanterne with the outer harbour. Frankie is parked over the far side. There are meant to be 1,000 yachts in this harbour. If you’re in the area pay La Rochelle a visit, it’s a lovely bike ride to the main town and we only had to do it twice!

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Another view from the Lanterne over the rooftops.

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We had to bike it in a second time. The chain tower was closed on Tuesday due to French reasons and we wanted to get our full moneys worth so had to return in the fog on Wednesday.

Having finished all of La Rochelle (say it out loud for the last time) we headed off for Rochefort visiting two motorhome dealers on the way to see if we could get new batteries and a chain for the waste tank. We’d had a look in the chandlers in La Rochelle (sorry, say it again) but they must think that mariners are as crazy as I think mariners are. €230 for a 95Ah battery!! All we can think that they were marine grade (i.e. the customer is well minted and we can have a bit more off him).

Anyway, it is Armistice day and all the shops are closed today, it’s far too difficult for a Frenchman to stay silent for 2 minutes so they have to close the shops all day.

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Rochefort was on the way and it sounded nice enough. Bit of cheese (wrong place) and a bit of history. We found L’Hermione, a reconstruction of the 18th century really famous ship (really famous in France of course).

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There were lots of people just watching it, as if something was about to happen but after two hours we got bored and walked home.

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And the new gates for the Emirates. In 1666 Louis XIV ordered the construction of an arsenal here to support the growing navy. The town is large, there are lots of shops here but sadly most of them are closed. France is different to England in that many more of the shops are independent, there are chain stores but not to the extent that every town looks the same.

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Back at the aire and this guy has got the solar panel that I need. It’s on an arm that rotates and lifts up to face the sun.

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Here is our aire at Rochefort. I try not to take photos of every aire that we visit but this is a nice one (in my opinion. The parking areas each side slope away to the sides so that you don’t need to level up (most A type motorhomes sit nose down and normally need chocks at the front to keep the floor level. It’s clean, the water and services are free and the cost is €3 per night. There are no views but it is a nice walk along the river bank into town and it is very, very quiet. Also we’ve managed to blag another bit of free wifi for the evening (until the batteries give up that is).

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