One of the most fascinating towns of Poitou-Charentes with its maritime heritage attractions, elegant boulevards and eclectic museums, Rochefort is tucked inside a loop of the Charente river. Rochefort was a quiet fishing village until 1666 when ‘Sun King’ Louis XIV ordered the building of a royal dockyard and arsenal, it became a place of ‘refuge, defence and supply’ for the French navy.
Between 1666 and 1669 the king had the ‘Corderie Royale’ (at the time, the longest building in Europe) constructed to make cordage (ropes) for French war ships, production ceased in 1867, but today the royal rope factory is a unique (and very long) interactive museum.
Rochefort is also home to the exciting re-build of the Hermione – the ship that took Lafayette across the Atlantic in 1780 to assist General Washington in the American Civil War. In 1997, the vast and fascinating rebuilding project to bring the Hermione back to her forma glory began. Fifteen years later, this summer her impressive hull was launched, surrounded by a nautical extravaganza – a boat parade along the Charente River accompanied by one thousand children beating drums – quite a spectacle! The project is costing over 20 million Euros and is due for complete in two years time. On a visit to Rochefort, make sure you visit the shipyard to comprehend the enormity of the task and perhaps cheer on the hard-working craftsman!
Just off the Atlantic Coast between Rochefort and La Rochelle, Aix is an enchanting Island with only 200 people who call it their home. Car-free and just 3km long and 600 metres at its widest point, you can hire a bicycle or even tour in a horse-drawn carriage to absorb the stunning views, including Fort Boyard in the distance – a striking fort completed in 1857, now a listed building (sometimes known for gameshow ‘Fort Boyard’ in the 90’s and being shown currently).
Historically, Napoleon Bonaparte spent his last days on French soil on this Island in July 1815. Today you can visit his house where he surrendered to the English. You can also visit the Mother of Pearl House – La Maison de Nacre and discover the island’s only craft industry. Visitors to Aix ultimately enjoy the rugged, coastal landscapes and the chance to get back to nature – is it the perfect hideout for those escaping the hustle and bustle of everyday life and best of all – there is no traffic!
Contributor: Ali Bedford
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