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La Rochelle, situated halfway along France's Atlantic Ocean coastline, is ranked among the country's most unspoiled seaside communities. Many of the same Mediterranean style stone buildings have stood in the city's Old Port overlooking the Bay of Biscay for centuries. Feet and bicycles may be more practical ways to explore the city's equally old narrow tree-lined streets, but car hire in La Rochelle certainly comes in handy for visitors wanting to venture outside the city.
Who to Book With
The small La Rochelle – Île de Ré Airport, situated just over 2.5kms northwest of La Rochelle, is where many visitors get their rented vehicles. A French company called Ada stands alongside Europcar, Avis and two more reputable international chains. Company representatives will personally hand over the keys to each motorist, and online booking is widely available. Many car rental companies give preferential fees to flight ticket holders. Most places which rent vehicles outside the airport are situated on General de Gaulle Avenue in La Rochelle's city centre.
Best time to go
La Rochelle may be located much further north than the French Riviera, but the seaside community's climate usually isn't much colder than several places in southern France. However, August remains the city's busiest month not only for the hot summer weather, but also because this is the month when many French people go on holiday for up to four weeks. Hotel rooms and car hires also cost more in August than any other month. Spring and autumn weather may be slightly too cold for sunbathing, but prices and crowds also plunge dramatically after the summer.
Need to Know Essentials
The following documents are needed for collecting your car hire:
- Proof of insurance
- A valid driver’s license indicating the motorist is 18 years or older
- A passport or some other photo identification
Visitors will find walking or taking advantage of one of the world's first bicycle sharing systems, les vélos jeunes, much easier ways to explore La Rochelle's narrow streets than driving. Driving does, however, become much more practical once motorists leave the city centre. The E602, E601 and A837 are the main roads connecting La Rochelle to the main A10 motorway to Paris and Bordeaux.
Visitors wishing to travel longer distances than possibly by cycling or walking will discover La Rochelle has reasonably priced taxis and city buses. It takes local buses about 10 minutes to drive the 2.5kms to La Rochelle – Île de Ré Airport. High speed TGV service to Paris, Bordeaux, and Nantes is also available.
La Rochelle's main SNCF rail station is an elaborate building on Joffre Boulevard. Each day, passengers can board between five to seven TGV trains to Paris or six to eight two-hour rail journeys to Nantes or Bordeaux. It takes about three hours to reach the Paris Montparnasse rail station from La Rochelle.
Bus number seven is the Autoplus bus which travels between La Rochelle and its airport every day but Sunday. Visitors can also board buses for Port des Minimes, Plage de Châtelaillon, Ile de Ré, and Aytré from the place de Verdun bus terminal. Single Autoplus tickets cost £1.05 each, while 20 unit tickets for frequent users are £16.81.
The taxi rank outside the main La Rochelle – Île de Ré Airport is among the most likely places in the city where passengers can board taxis from reputable establishments like Abeilles Taxi and Oxygene Transport. Although most taxis seat only four people, larger minivans capable of seating up to eight passengers can also be arranged upon request. Several taxi drivers speak English and all vehicles, like elsewhere in France, are metered. Daytime fares are cheaper than those on Sundays, nights and public holidays.
La Rochelle's main tourist attractions are its picturesque Old Port and the three defensive towers which have guarded the harbour since medieval times. The city is also home to one of France's biggest aquariums. Visitors can easily drive across the 3km-long bridge which has connected La Rochelle to the island of Île de Ré since 1988. Hiers-Brouage and Rochefort are two more worthwhile day trip destinations.
Île de Ré - Less than 3kms separate the picturesque Île de Ré from mainland La Rochelle. Although motorists can easily drive across a bridge to the island, bicycles are the most common way to travel on Île de Ré itself. The population of the island, which enjoys just as much sunshine as the South of France, increases more than tenfold during its busiest summer season.
Hiers-Brouage - This Bay of Biscay village was established in 1555 and fortified to defend itself against attacks from nearby La Rochelle during the early 17th century. One of this small village's most famous sons, explorer Samuel de Champlain, established the French settlements of Acadia and Québec in present-day eastern Canada. Many of the stained glass windows in the local church were installed by Canadians to commemorate Champlain and other influential New France historical figures.
Rochefort - Located just over 27kms from La Rochelle, and is best known for its namesake bridge. This seaside community's other attractions include the world's biggest begonia collection, the Palmyre Zoo, and a national marine museum.