La Rochelle

Stock up on festive goodies on a mini-trip to the French seaside hotspot
I love bringing home souvenirs from trips abroad, and naturally, France is a great place to pick up gourmand goodies to savour.

La Rochelle, capital of the Charente-Maritime department in western France, is paradise for foodlovers, especially its old port. So I went shopping and I bought…

A bottle of pineau. This delicious aperitif, a combination of grape juice and cognac, is slurped by locals before dinner. The Cognac region isn’t far away, so you’ll also ­ nd bottles of undiluted amber nectar to take home.

A box of salted caramels – you can buy salted caramel ice cream, too, to be enjoyed as you shop.

A bag of sea salt – natural or ƒflavoured with herbs – from nearby l’île de Ré, makes a nice stocking-­filler for friends who love to cook.

Fromage galore. Cheese made from cow’s, ewe’s and goat’s milk is available in an astounding number of varieties. Buy it at the daily market. Les Halles in the old town is stuffed with fresh local foods and most shops and stallholders positively encourage you to taste before you buy.

Travel-Nov07-02-590Head to the Old Port for dinner

Shopping done, for dinner, the Old Port has dozens of restaurants serving succulent seafood – oysters, lobster, prawns, you name it.

Les 4 Sergents is popular, with a stunning, orangerie-style interior, and nearby L’Entracte is also really good. Most eateries offer a range of set menus to choose from, depending on how hungry you are and your budget.

Don’t miss tea and a sitdown at the gorgeously elegant Café de la Paix in rue Chaudrier.

And there’s pleasant sightseeing to be done between meals. La Rochelle’s iconic three towers – de la ChaÎne, Saint-Nicolas and Lanterne – date back to medieval times.

Do pay a visit to The Bunker, the secret base of German U-boat commanders during the Second World War, and learn about the extraordinary acts of bravery of the local French Resistance.

Travel-Oct03-03-590Left: try before you buy at Les Halles. Right: the popular Les 4 Sergents

Aquarium La Rochelle houses more than 12,000 specimens, from sharks and turtles, to teeny seahorses and multi-coloured tropical ­ shes of all shapes and sizes – it has a good restaurant, too.

You’ll need a comfy bed by the end of the day – the place to stay is Vue sur Cour, a charming B&B tucked away just a few steps from the Old Port area, with lovely, characterful rooms and welcoming hosts. You can even walk there from the train station in 15 minutes or so.

Rooms at Vue sur Cour from €120 per night:

Train fares from London to La Rochelle from £109 per person return: 0844-848 5848,

For more information on La Rochelle and the Charente- Maritime region:

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