LIFE moves a little slower in La Rochelle.

Nothing is rushed, and everything is done with care and attention to detail.

In fact one of the most surprising and appealing things about the area is how serene it is.

Even by the harbour on a busy Saturday night, La Rochelle avoids the hectic nature of other seaside cities.

A main road near the city walls is closed to traffic at weekends, meaning the worst you have to watch out for as a pedestrian is the occasional tinkle of a cyclist's bell if you stray on to a bike path.

Its diminutive size means that almost every attraction is within walking distance, and many journeys can be shortened by hopping on a cross-harbour ferry.

Given its location on the Bay of Biscay, it will come as no surprise that seafood is a strong presence on menus at almost any restaurant.

But it has other strings to its bow beyond the usual seaside attractions.

Now, a question – have you ever fancied sipping cognac from the barrel served by a master blender?

The good news is that it's just as appealing as it sounds – and you can experience it just minutes away from the city centre.

La Rochelle's unhurried nature is personified by Edouard Normandin-Mercier.

As he leads you round the beautiful Normandin-Mercier cellars it becomes clear that this was a man born to do his job.

The cellar is piled high with enormous barrels full of various different strengths, and he is delighted to expound on the differences between each different blend and drink.

Unlike other spirits and alcoholic drinks, the production of cognac is tightly controlled.

This means that only certain regions are allowed to create the drink.

At Normandin-Mercier, Edouard mixes and matures the best produce from the Grande Champagne and Petit Champagne regions (not to be confused with the historic province in the north east of France).

Although its name may not be as well known as Remy Martin, Courvoisier or Martell, Edouard has come up with an innovative way of promoting the Normandin-Mercier brand – its roof.

If you look carefully as you arrive at the site, the brand's name, along with its foundation date of 1872, are visible on the roof.

It might be difficult to spot from ground level, but it is much more visible to people looking out of the window of their plane as they prepare to land at La Rochelle airport.

Fortunately, cognac is just the beginning of the city's charms.

The harbour itself is an attraction, offering a glimpse of hundreds of boats and a beautiful reflection of lights across the water.

There are appetising restaurants just a stone's throw away, including Le Bar André and L'Atelier des Cousins.

For those looking for food to make themselves, there is a more adventurous option – the city's thriving open market.

On a Saturday morning the streets come alive with stalls and customers eager to get their hands on fresh products including seafood and vegetables of all kinds.

In the covered section of the market there's even the chance to try oysters, but be warned – it's hard to hide it if you don't like them!

In keeping with its geographical location there is a huge focus on the sea, whether that be in terms of food or other tourist attractions.

For anyone interested in marine life, Aquarium La Rochelle is a must-see during any trip to the city.

A specially-designed route through hundreds of tanks gives information on thousands of underwater species, and even includes a piranha tank (don't put your hands in!).

The darkly-lit set-up creates an unusually relaxing and peaceful atmosphere, even when staring curiously at fearsome-looking spiny lobsters or enormous sharks.

The exotic creatures originate from oceans across the globe and range from the famous orange clownfish – immortalised in the film Finding Nemo – to the more unusual yellow tang and giant frogfish.

For those more interested in history, the maritime museum may provide a more immersive experience.

It includes a wealth of information on the city's past, as well as the chance to try your hand at activities.

Anyone who a team game can try their hand at a sailing form of shuffleboard, and there is an educational section giving instructions on how to tie various knots used in seafaring.

All these attractions are just an hour and 20 minutes from Southampton on a Flybe plane, and the city centre is a 15-minute taxi journey from La Rochelle airport.


Flybe operates regular flights to La Rochelle from Southampton Airport, with fares starting from £39.99. Book at

Aquarium La Rochelle Quai Louis Prunier 17000 La Rochelle

Cognac experience: Domaine Normandin-Mercier 1 Imp. de la Peraudiere, 17139 Dompierre-sur-Mer

Maritime museum: Place Bernard Moitessier 17000 La Rochelle

L’Atelier des Cousins restaurant 10 rue Chef de ville 17000 La Rochelle

L’Ardoise des Cloutiers 7 rue des Cloutiers 17000 La Rochelle

Le Bar André 5 rue Saint-Jean-du Perot 17000 La Rochelle