Aire/Stellplatz: LA ROCHELLE P+R Ave Jean Moulin (Poitou-Charentes)
GPS Decimal: 46.15219 N -1.13977 W
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Per night: 10 Euros pay at booth (2010), includes two-way P+R ticket
In France, P+R means 'Park & Relais' (relay), which actually makes more sense than its English counterpart expression. If you stop here, the price includes a two-way bus ticket to the centre of town for up to 5 people, which is pretty good value really, even if only two people use it. If you don't want this service I suggest you head for the free La Rochelle Aire at Chemin du Rempart, but you'll have to compete with a lot of cars for a parking spot if you don't get there early enough.
Access to the Aire is through the normal entry barrier where you collect a ticket. Don't be distracted by camper vans lurking near the service point ahead and to your left - where you need to turn is right, and then head towards the grassy parking area at the back of the car park, where the majority of vans will be. If you go all the way up to the riverside you might even be able to find a riverside parking spot, but this will also be closer to the flyover, so it's your choice. The mainline SNCF station is very near to this Aire, so overnight there will be train sound effects and bing bong platform announcements wafting your way on the breeze. I personally didn't find this too bothersome, and didn't find myself dreaming I had a lead role in 'Brief Encounter' either, which is just as well really as Trevor Howard isn't my type.
Once you've found a place to park, if your knowledge of the French alphabet is nothing special, write your registration number on a bit of paper then take it and your ticket to the pay booth (Acqueil) by the bus pull-in. You pay up front for however many nights you wish to stay, then they'll ask you for your registration number and validate your ticket for use at the exit barrier. You'll also be handed a bus ticket for the Park and Relay service which runs regular services to the Domus Blanche on the Quai de Maubec, near to the main harbour area. The bus picks up from this stop too.
Third-party information on the French CCI website suggests that entry and exit through the barriers is not possible between 2100 and 0600 the following morning, and that entry is not possible between 2100 on Saturday and 0600 on Monday, although exit with a validated ticket is. We were not in a position to confirm this as we stopped mid-week and didn't need to leave overnight, so be mindful of it.
La Rochelle is a distinctive town, with a substantial harbour area fed by a long channel that runs out to the sea between two of its three historic defensive towers. All three towers can be visited and explored, but not for free, and a queueing system operates at some of them on busy days. You can buy a ticket for all three if you wish, but you'd have to be seriously turned on by spiral staircases if you did. We went up the Tour Saint-Nicholas, which offers pretty much everything in terms of views and vistas that its counterpart on the opposite side of the harbour offers, so we didn't feel the need to repeat the expenditure or the vertical spiral staggering. On a clear day you can see as far as the Himalayas, oh all right then, the Isle d'Oleron, and the telescope at the top of the tower is both free to use and in need of a good lens cloth. Those of you who are oversensitive to your camper van being slightly off horizontal when you can't get the chocks right will experience a similar discomfort in the Tour Saint-Nicholas, which has a slight lean due to past subsidence. It's nothing of Pisa dimensions but you'll definitely know it's there.
My better half reliably informs me that the range and variety of shops in La Rochelle is very good, and judging by the amount of time she spent wandering among them I find it hard to disagree with her assessment. Fortunately on this occasion I was sat by the harbour with my nose in a good book while she got on with it. A stroll along the walls beyond the third tower will take you to a sort of beach should you wish to stretch out in the sun. I say 'sort of' because it has sand and it's vaguely coastal but it doesn't pass muster as a fully-fledged beach in my estimations. Other major attractions in the town centre include an Aquarium and a Nautical Museum. Harbourside restaurants are present in large numbers by virtue of the harbour's size, but many of them have busy roads running between them and the watery boaty bit. The more tranquil and car-free eateries can be found along the Quai du Gabut, should you wish to dine out. It's fair to say that with a brisk start and a bit of organisation and determination it would be easy to 'do' La Rochelle in a day. It isn't just another quaint port with bustling streets of the old town etc, it has a character of its own and it's worth diverting to for a look round.
On your departure from the Aire you'll notice the exit is quite well hidden. As you drive out of the grassy parking area, work your way towards the right - the exit lane is behind the camper service point. The service point offers the usual emptying and refilling facilities at no extra charge, but no electric hook up. You'll need your validated ticket to use in the exit barrier as you leave, a bit like in an NCP.
On the plus side: Couldn't be more convenient for visiting La Rochelle. Well-managed and easy to use.
But: Some overnight noise from the railway station, P+R apparently closed on Sunday, and night time exit restrictions.
Alternative Aires: Chemin du Rempart, as described above.
Around La Rochelle: click thumbnail for bigger picture:
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