11th July ~ Le Vieux Port
La Rochelle, meaning Little Rock , was founded as a fishing village in the 10th century and began to expand in the 12th century through the wine and salt trades. However, this has given way now to tourism in the main and it is certainly on the list of destinations for yachtsmen from all over Europe.
Time to go down memory lane!…………
We set off with Musetta to motor the short distance to our previously reserved berth in the locked basin. We arrived in time for the first opening of the pedestrian bridge to allow us to enter the basin.
We had ringside seats as it were, overlooking part of the newly reconstructed harbour wall and walkway and beyond to an endless array of restaurants of all types! We also found some Dutch friends whom we had first met last season. They moored alongside us in Bourgenay and we enjoyed a glass of red wine with them aboard Musetta there and so this time they reciprocated on their boat, a very pleasant few hours!
Views of the Vieux Port
La Rochelle has changed so much since we last here, eleven years ago, so much so that apart from the iconic medieval towers which guard the port entrance and the masses of restaurants around the harbour walls we hardly recognised it! Wandering around the old streets, trying to remember where things were, this building reminded us of the lovely old hotel we stayed in when we were last here! We didn’t ever find that hotel?!
There has been and continues to be a huge amount of development and reconstruction of areas that suffered badly as a result of a huge storm in 2012 which destroyed much of the Les Minimes marina and so a large part of the redevelopment is concerned with flood protection.
Some information on the Three Towers……
The Lantern Tower ~ dating from the 12th Century
This tower whose walls at the base at least, are 6 metres thick and contrast with the elegant octagonal spire which sits on top, served different purposes in the Middle Ages. Firstly it was in charge of the control and disarmament of all ships entering the port. Secondly it combined the functions of being a navigation landmark and a lighthouse. It has been a prison firstly for priests and then until the 19th century it held English prisoners captured from their ships, and prisoners from the Vendée region, seized during the Vendée wars.
Today, in the Lantern Tower visitors can see the graffiti engraved on the walls, left by the prisoners of all kinds during those years. The Lantern tower remains the oldest lighthouse on the Atlantic coast!
The Saint Nicolas Tower and the Chaîne Tower ~ dating from the 14th century.
The Saint Nicolas Tower and the Chaîne Tower
Together they form the majestic gateway into the old port of La Rochelle. The Saint Nicolas Tower, named after the patron saint of sailors, stands 42 metres high and leans slightly, was connected to the Chaîne Tower by a huge chain which was raised at night to prevent ships entering the port. They too were used as prisons and the Chaîne Tower was also used as a powder magazine! Today, they are full of memorabilia from times past but mainly stand as the iconic, beautiful buildings which make La Rochelle instantly recognisable.
Our visit coincided with the 34th edition of the FrancoFolies (hence all the tented areas which can be seen in my photos) a huge festival which spotlights the latest in French popular music! It was loud and continuous with a large amount of ‘rap’ and with 9 different stages we were surrounded!
Music in the streets!
Friday 13th July ~ Time to Leave!
We had acheived our aim of returning to La Rochelle in our own boat one day and so now it was time to set off for Spain! Thank you France for all your hospitality, it has been superb exploring your Atlantic Coast!
6am Departure from Le Vieux Port!
Bound for Bilbao!