France 2010

Visiting La Rochelle – France 2010

Our first proper trip away in the motorhome this year was to the south-west of France, including parts of the Atlantic coast, some of the highlights of the French Pyreness and some of the towns and cities that lay on our route north from Toulouse back to Calais.

Our stopover guide for the whole trip was Vicarious Books’ All the Aires France, which is recommended although certain details were out of date in a few places. Despite this, we used it to find a stopping place for every night but one, when we wild camped. Most of the aires we used were free.

The trip started with a drive down from Calais to La Rochelle, which we broke for the night in the town of Oissel. Both aire and town seemed in excellent order and in the aire’s case, was free and with full services, although parking was limited to around five motorhomes.

Oissel Aire du Camping Cars, France
We were the first (and one of only two) to arrive at the aire at Oissel

The weather was colder than expected and not much fun in our van, which has no heating, so we were keen to press on further south. Unfortunately heavy rain and low temperatures kept us company most of the way to the Ile de Re, our first port of call en route to La Rochelle. The island was a curious mixture of holiday camps, empty villas and St Martin de Re, a contrastingly upmarket and very attractive town with a substantial marina.

Access to the Ile de Re is via a toll bridge
Access to the Ile de Re is via a toll bridge, which cost us about €10 for a small motorhome and two people
The harbour at St Martin de Re
Part of the harbour at St Martin de Re

All of St Martin’s historic buildings had been beautifully preserved and restored – a trait we noticed in many of the places we visited in France – and the town obviously caters to a wealthy and fashionable crowd during the summer season – it reminded me a bit of St Ives, in Cornwall.

Shops along street in St Martin de Re

Access to the Ile de Re is via a toll bridge and overnight camping for motorhomes is strictly controlled. We didn’t stay the night but instead made our way back over the bridge to La Rochelle, which has several aires, including a reasonably-sized one near the city centre. It’s free (May 2010) and is within ten minutes walk of the Place de Verdun and the city centre. It isn’t the most salubrious location but has all services and seemed safe enough – it was full the whole time we were there. I don’t know when the best time to arrive is – people were constantly coming and going in search of a space the whole time we were there. Click here for a short video of the aire.

Camping car aire at La Rochelle
Although it looks a bit grim in this photo, the main aire in La Rochelle is alongside a park and only 10-15 minutes walk to the city centre.

We stayed at La Rochelle for two nights and spent the second day exploring the city and relaxing. The historic port area is very attractive and tours of the three towers are available for those who are interested. The whole of the city centre is impressively well-preserved and very clean – well worth a visit.

The towers marking the entrance to the old harbour at La Rochelle
The towers marking the entrance to the old harbour at La Rochelle
A pedestrianised street in La Rochelle city centre
A pedestrianised street in La Rochelle city centre

We also noticed that La Rochelle has some kind of shared-use electric car scheme – we saw cars hooked up to charging points in several places around the city centre:

Liselec La Rochelle - self service electric car scheme
A self-service electric car in La Rochelle - subscribers get an access card and PIN enabling them to use all of the cars without restriction for €5.50 per month

These are obviously older cars that have been converted to electric cars, and on further investigation it appears that the Liselec scheme is a self-service, shared use scheme that residents of the city can subscribe to. For €5.50 per month, they get a card that will unlock all of these cars and allow them to be driven away. Each of the pickup/dropoff points has dedicated parking and charging facilities, so it’s quite an attractive idea. La Rochelle has 50 cars and 7 charging-cum-parking points, all of which are available without booking, 24/7.

11 thoughts on “Visiting La Rochelle – France 2010

  • Frank Shaw.

    very interesting. love the pic’s

    • Thanks, Frank. We were surprised at how much we liked La Rochelle – although the outlying areas are home to some grim-looking apartment blocks, the historic centre really is quite fine.


    • Loved your diary– wondered whether your camper was right or left hand drive and if right hand was it a problem driving around europe

      best wishes -Shay

      • Hi Shay,

        Thanks for your comment! Our camper is right-hand drive. I’ve done quite a lot of driving in Europe over the years and right-hand drive is not usually a problem. There are times when being on the wrong side of the vehicle reduces your visibility at junctions, but you can usually position yourself to prevent this and of course if you have a passenger, they can see what you can’t.

        Having said that, there is an advantage to having left-hand drive, especially with bigger vehicles, but you can certainly manage without easily enough.

        Best wishes, Roland

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  • Hi there,
    I will be leaving next week to tour South-West France, leaving from Biarritz. We will only have seven days…We will take our bikes and the dog along, and I thing going up to Arcachon, or maybe La Rochelle, would be enough. It will be our first motorhome experience. Any suggestion?

  • Iwan Pritchard

    I have bought a motorhome and plan to use it this summer to visit western France. I also have an apartment in La Rochelle which I bought 5 years ago. It’s a graeat city, with so much to do. There is an excellent costal path which is great for walking or cycling, we often cycle to the lovely seaside town of Chateaullaion about 5 miles south.
    The town has so many bars and restaurants that we are yet to sample them all.
    I know of three free Aires in La Rochelle within 15 minutes walking distance from the centre (veiux port). They are in the Les Minimes area close to the new marina which is one of the largest in Europe.
    Av. Des Minimes has a large Aire which is free but only open in the summer months during the French school holidays.
    Quai du Lazaret is on the marina and is also free for motorhomes
    Rue Virginie Heriot has an Aire close to the Aquarium and maritime museum
    Av. Michel Crepeau has a municipal campsite (not free but with showers, electricity etc) there is a free service point/dumping station on the opposite side of the road to the campsite entrance.
    If you need any more advice or information, please feel free to text or call me on 07976650797

    • Hi Iwan,

      Thanks for such a detailed comment – you can’t beat local knowledge.

      Regards, Roland

    • Hi there just read your response on a motorhoming blog and noticed you spend time in la rochelle area, are you familiar with winter weather in that area at all? If so do you have any idea what it may ge like in la rochelle/ile de re during january please?

      • Hi Becky,

        I’ve not visited this area during the winter, I’m afraid.

        Regards, Roland

      • Iwan Pritchard


        I do visit in January and it is quite chilly but not as cold or wet as the UK. The town is generally much quieter than in summer with some restaurants and shops clsed. However, the majority are open and we always manage to enjoy our visits there.
        Beware that some of the motorhome parking areas I mentioned earlier will probably be closed, but there is usually ample space at Quai du Lazaret in the new marina. You can get an electric boat/ferry into the centre of town from this location for about £2.50 it takes 10 minutes with no rough seas! Crossings every hour in winter I think

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