Time to wave bye bye to our adopted home of one week and get ourselves back to Milton Keynes again.
The drive was, as I remember it, a bit boring and a bit busy (especially at the toll booths). It was also a long way. Funnily enough, it was the same 430 miles it had been on the way down.
We stopped en route in the service stations at Les Herbiers and Alençon – the latter being named after the local lace product (Dentelle d’Alençon). Both were busy.
At least the good thing about French motorways is that unless you’re queuing for a toll station you generally get to drive at the speed limit, and the speed limit is a fairly generous 130 km/hr, which works out at a fairly healthy 81 mph. 430 miles from La Rochelle to Calais can therefore be done quite comfortably in 6 hours of actual driving.
We arrived at the Channel Tunnel early enough to go have a sit down and some dinner in the big shopping centre next to the terminal. I think we bought a case of wine to take home as well, but it might have been cheaper to get it in La Rochelle.
For our final full day we couldn’t really decide what to do and in the end we plumped for returning to the Île de Ré to do a bit more exploring. When we’d been earlier in the week we literally drove to the western end, walked around the lighthouse, and then drove home again. There are a few other bits that are worth doing.
So we drove over to Saint-Martin-de-Ré to see what we could find.
We found a lovely little town with a nice pedestrianised central area (where we had some lunch) and a little harbour surrounded by some old fortress walls. The place has quite a lot of history, apparently, including a siege in 1627 in which a bunch of English troops surrounded some rebel French ones in the hope of relieving some of the pressure on the royalist French troops who were kind of stuck in a siege in La Rochelle. It’s all very complicated.
Also just outside Saint-Martin-de-Ré is a bigger fortress area that was converted to a prison at some point.
So we had a good day of walking around, taking photos and taking breaks for food, drinks and ice cream. It was a good way to spend our last day before having to spend another whole Saturday negotiating French motorways.
Every holiday we have abroad has at least one day where we don’t really do a lot. It’s a bit of a tradition for us.
This was that day.
I know we didn’t do much because whatever we did, it didn’t involve taking any photos at all, so I guess we didn’t go anywhere or do anything really. The photos below were taken a couple of days earlier, but I don’t like doing pages with no images at all.
After the ridiculously hot day we’d had at Château de la Roche Courbon the previous day I’m guessing we’d had enough and just decided to mooch around the gîte and relax.
In the afternoon and evening we went into the centre of La Rochelle. It was warm again. We walked around the old port for a little while and then retired to a bar so we could grab some dinner and watch England beat Trinidad and Tobago 2-0 in their latest group game in the 2006 FIFA World Cup. The match was held in the Stadion Nürnberg at 6 pm, so by the time we were in the pub, it was definitely late enough for dinner and beer. England were a bit drab and scored twice in the last 10 minutes.
The Château de la Roche Courbon is a really rather spectacular historic monument just over an hour’s drive south of La Rochelle. We set off fairly early in the morning to make our way down there. It’s mainly motorway with 20 minutes of Route Nationale at the end.
There are a number of things to do when you’re there, including tours inside the castle (which we didn’t do), walks around the gardens, and a slightly longer walk to the grottoes. The walk to the grottoes was good because it was partly in the shade.
The Château is privately owned and has limited facilities inside (i.e. there isn’t a massive cafe with a selection of fine foods and some clean toilets) but there’s some passable mobile food just by the entrance gate.
Of all the days on this holiday I remember this as being the hottest, although that may just be because we chose to go somewhere that afforded very little respite from the heat, and I remember we had to keep stopping for drinks and ice creams, and at one point we just had to sit down or lie down in the shade under some trees to let Ami cool off a bit. She was suffering more than the rest of us, seemingly.
We were quite glad to get back into the car and the air-conditioning for the drive home again.
A wander around the old port area of La Rochelle.
Followed by a quick walk around La Rochelle’s rather excellent aquarium.
Our third full day and our first trip into our host city of La Rochelle. We’d uncovered information that the centre of town is quite pretty to walk around, especially around the old harbour, and also the Aquarium was supposed to be rather good, as such things go. We did both things on the same day, and therefore by definition, it must have been a long day. The weather was very, very hot again. Whilst it’s nice to see some good weather, there is such a thing as “too hot”, and most of this week was like that.
As I remember it, we parked up by the Tour de la Lantern and set off for a walk, taking in most of the old port and its immediate backdrop first of all, then wending our way around to the Tour St Nicholas (which we went into), through the area known as the Gabut, and around to La Rochelle Aquarium, which we went into briefly to get out of the heat if nothing else.
The Gabut is an area of the old port that’s been redeveloped as a series of traditional-looking buildings (but presumably modern inside) which are clad in wood and painted in various bright colours. Near to here is also the Maritime Museum, which is on a ship sitting in the harbour. We didn’t go aboard but it is quite photogenic.
The Aquarium features a lift which gives the impression of descending through water. It’s a neat trick even though you actually only go down about half a floor. It was air-conditioned and in shade, so a welcome break from the heat. Once we were all fished out, we walked back around this side of the harbour and caught the small boat across the harbour back to the Cour des Dames, and so back to our car. We had various meal, drink and ice cream breaks during the course of the day, as you do.
“Venise Verte ?” Surely that just means “Green Venice” doesn’t it ? Yes, it does.
The Venise Verte in question is more properly named the Marais Poitevin, or just the “Poitevin Marsh” if you’re a stickler for translating it into English.
It’s an area of marsh lying in between Niort, La Rochelle and Fontenay-le-Comte which is now heavily farmed, but towards the Niort end there’s a little bit that is essentially still full of little canals which are used primarily for tourism. This is the part known as the Venise Verte.
I’m not sure where we read about this area, possibly in our Lonely Planet guide to France, but it looked like somewhere that might keep us busy for a day, so off we went. The weather was fiercely hot (again).
Our first stop was the village of Coulon, which sits nicely on a bit of canal that is quite broad and open (by local standards) and which houses a load of very photogenic little boats, which presumably can be hired out if you’re that way inclined. We weren’t.
We walked around here and took a few photos, which kept us busy until lunchtime. I seem to remember we sat in quite a nice restaurant here to grab some lunch, and that during a part of that I held a fairly creditable conversation in French with one of the other patrons. A lot of the discussion was about where we’d come from, and a lot more of it was about Ami, who was doing her best to be cute and not at all irritating to other customers.
After lunch we took a bit more of a walk in the area of Coulon, which involved walking over a couple of fields, sitting down for a bit (because it was hot) and spotting some cows.
From here we moved over to the village of Arçais, which is in the “proper” hard of the wet bit of the marsh. Arçais has a number of little piers where you can rent a small boat or punt for a few hours and go for a wander around the canals. We decided to give it a go here and were rewarded with a pleasant couple of hours punting around a series of small and confusing canals, not really going anywhere but enjoying the fact that the canals all had overhanging trees and so were mainly in the shade. Lush !
Once we’d finished in there we needed to let Ami run around a bit, so we disembarked from our boat and she had a run around on a open paved area near a tourist information centre in the middle of town, which was also close to some old small-scale dock loading machinery.
It turned out to be an excellent if rather hot day.