La Rochelle, the prefecture of Charente-Maritime, has made the most of its many attractions to charm visitors. The Vieux-Port quarter, the city's most emblematic district, has inspired many painters and photographers. Its three towers, listed as Historic Monuments since 1879, are remains of the medieval fortifications. The Lantern Tower, also town as the "Four Sergeants Tower", dating from the 15th century, served as a lighthouse before becoming a prison, into whose stone walls Huguenots, corsairs and foreign sailors etched around 600 graffiti. At the very top, you can enjoy a lovely view of the city and the harbour!
The other two towers, built at the end of the 14th century, were used to defend the port for five centuries. The tallest, the St. Nicholas Tower, is 42 metres tall and offers an impressive view from its wall walk. The Chain Tower, which closed the channel to boats, is connected to the Lantern Tower by a curtain wall. The Great Clock Gate (Porte de la Grosse Horloge), topped by a belfry, was added in the 15th century to the city wall.
La Rochelle has many more architectural treasures, which you can discover on a stroll along the streets of its old town. Mansions, beautiful Renaissance homes and half-timbered houses enchant visitors with their refinement and elegance. In the pedestrianised area of the city centre, the arcaded streets feature many shops whose charm is undeniable.
La Rochelle City Hall is one of the city's architectural gems and is a listed Historic Monument. Its Renaissance main building, dating from the 15th and 16th centuries, has a Flamboyant Gothic surrounding wall. Its ornaments are numerous: Corinthian columns, gargoyles, faience, crenellated tower...
There are many museums dotted about the city, offering something for everyone! The Maritime Museum invites you to visit a ship once owned by the French national meteorological service (Météorologie nationale) and a fishing trawler. The lively Museum of Automata and Scale Models exhibits a unique collection of more than 300 moving automata, an astonishing reconstruction of a Montmartre neighbourhood in 1900, and a large number of scale models. In the prestigious setting of an 18th-century mansion, the New World Museum tells the story of relations between France and the Americas, while the superb Natural History Museum is dedicated to lovers of nature, ethnology, science and travel. You can also discover the Fine Arts Museum or the Orbigny-Bernon Museum, exhibiting collections of faience, engravings and paintings.
Not far from the Vieux-Port, La Rochelle Aquarium, one of the most popular aquariums in France, invites sea life enthusiasts to discover the fauna and flora of all the world's oceans. You can also stroll along Les Minimes marina, which attracts sailors from all over the world, or enjoy the fine sand on one of the three beaches: La Concurrence, Les Minimes or L'Houmeau.
Culture is also a strong point of La Rochelle, with a wide range of events: International Sailing Week in May-June, La Rochelle International Film Festival in June-July, the Grand Pavois international boat show in September-October, or La Rochelle Jazz Festival in October. As for the Francofolies music festival in July, it's been an unmissable gathering for fans of French popular song since 1985!