La Rochelle, France
Centuries-old timbered and flower-decked stone houses promise a wonderful stroll, and a call to the Hennessy Distillery is a must; it will reveal the secrets of the distillation of white wines from the Charente region, and the story of an Irish army captain who established it in the mid 1700s.
The town has been a harbor since the twelfth century, when it established itself as a center for trade and fishing. Two hundred years later it had become one of France’s most prominent ports and it remained so for three centuries.
Its old harbor is guarded by two towers that also dominate many postcards here. Tour Saint-Nicolas stands on the east side and the imposing Tour de la Chaîne on the west, the latter named as it housed the huge protective chain which that was drawn across the water at night during the Middle Ages. A number of lighthouses speckle the coast here as another reminder of its maritime traditions.
The Vieux Port, La Rochelle’s old harbor, is a fabulous and atmospheric place to explore. Cafés offer a wonderful view across to the towers, the old boats and the picturesque buildings.
In the Old Town, the Renaissance Town Hall and the Cathedral Saint-Louis, with its lavish ceiling frescoes, are major landmarks amidst the attractive half-timbered houses and passageways covered by 17th-century arches.
An hour or so drive outside of La Rochelle lies the National Park of Marais Poitevin, a sprawling marshy wetland that’s known as the ‘Green Venice,’ whose waterways can be navigated by flat bottomed boat. You could also use your visit to explore the low-key chic of the Ile de Ré, a favorite getaway of well-to-do Parisians, connected to the mainland by a bridge, with its dunes, bicycles and green-shuttered houses.