15 best things to do in Rochefort, France
Developed in the 17th century by Louis XIV’s right-hand man Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Rochefort is a sophisticated former naval town brimming with history. Next to the wide river Charente is the Royal Arsenal, which by royal decree was to become the largest but also the most beautiful shipyard in the world. With foundries, a rope factory, dry docks and a neoclassical hospital all preserved and restored, you have to say that Colbert was successful. The outlying islands at the mouth of the Charente River testify to the strategic importance of Rochefort, all manned by batteries and forts to prevent enemy fleets from reaching the docks where hundreds of French ships were assembled. Allows you to explore the best things about Rochefort :
1. Arsenal Quarter.
Source: Wikimedia Corderie de l’Arsenal-a Rochefort In the 1660s, Louis XIV chose a section of once-empty marshland for his royal shipyard, which he ordered to be the best and largest of all. Over the next three centuries, 550 ships were built, equipped and launched from these docks, and many of the factories and colleges now house fascinating museums about the golden age of the French navy. It’s a fabulous area to stroll through, studded with grand old mills, foundries and other fascinating traces of historic shipbuilding activity. See the capacious dry docks dug into the muddy banks and equipped with water pumps to do the painstaking work on the ships’ hulls.
2. la Frigate Hermione
Source: flickr La Frégate Hermione The first Hermione was a frigate launched in 1779 and known for taking General Lafayette to America to assist in the American Revolutionary War against Great Britain… The ship ran aground and crashed four years later, but in 1997, members of the International Center de la Mer set out to create a giant replica project… It took 17 years, and in 2015 the new Hermione completed the same crossing of the Atlantic as the original in the 18th century. The ship is moored in Rochefort, so take a tour of this ship, made from 400,000 individual pieces of wood and with 2,200 square meters of canvas for its sails. Check out the recommended hotels in Rochefort, France
3. National Marines Museum
Source: enterprises National Marines Museum A place where you can satisfy your curiosity about the history of the French Navy. This museum is a collection of sample ships, sketches, magnificent figures, maps, navigational instruments and other naval accessories. Everything is accompanied by detailed descriptions, and the museum does not shy away from the grim story of the “bagnes,” the grim prison ships where many hundreds of revolutionary prisoners died. The museum setting, the Royal Hotel Cheusses, is seductive and several decades older than the rest of Rochefort, built in the early 1600s. It was built on a U-plan by Adrian Lausere, the first “valet” of King Henri IV.
4. Cordery Royal.
Source: Corderie Royale Corderie Royale The centerpiece of Louis XIV’s plans for the Rochefort shipyards was the rope factory. To be able to produce rigging for warships, this building had to be very long, but you would still be amazed at the size of the Corderie. Dating back to 1666, it stretches 374 feet and was a real achievement because the ground beneath it was swampy and the building rests on oak rafts. The museum inside tells the story of hemp growing and will show how these fibers were twisted into a 200-meter-long rigging 200 years before the advent of metal cables.
5. Musée de Commerce d’Outrefois
Source: monnuage Museum of Commerce d’Autrefois The 19th-century warehouse has 22 galleries recreating ateliers and sales halls that are now a thing of the past. So you will enter a blacksmith shop, an old apothecary, a fedora hat store, a garage or a cognac factory. What makes the museum so fascinating is a ton of original artifacts from the early 20th century. This collection includes the largest collection of French advertising materials in the country: beautiful vintage posters, advertisements and signs adorn the walls, complete with containers, tools and appliances from 1900 to World War II.
6. Fort Boyard.
Source: sock-studio Fort Boyard You may know the name of this naval fort in the Pertuis d ‘Antioche Straits. It’s a set for a television adventure-themed game show that aired for 27 years in France and appeared on screens around the world during the ’90s… Cordoned off at sea and built between 1805 and 1857, the Ovular Fort could support 250 men, but advances in artillery meant that by the time it was completed it was obsolete. Nevertheless, there’s something alluring about this strange monolith, and from Foure you’ll head out into the Straits on a boat tour to get around the fort and learn some of its secrets.
7. The National Museum of Traditional Medicine named after. Navale
Source: Musee-Marine National Museum of Ansel Naval School of Medicine A ticket to the Naval Museum includes this exhibit about a compelling, if not stomach-churning, tale of medicine on the high seas. Like many of Rochefort’s attractions, this place is outstanding, and it’s the neoclassical southwest pavilion of the Naval Hospital. You’ll learn about the core of 19th-century science by examining all the materials that were used to teach medicine at this world-leading institution… The library has 2,500 volumes, and you can browse herbs collected from around the world, antique medical instruments and, not for the faint of heart, real human tissue samples in old vials, including embryos.
8. Rochefort-Martru Transporter Bridge
Source: commons.wikimedia Rochefort-Martroux Transporter Bridge This 66-meter-high steel monstrosity is a true achievement in 19th-century design and engineering. It was conceived by engineer Ferdinand Arnodin and was one of the first transport bridges in the world when it opened to traffic in 1900. Cables suspended on a cart 50 meters above the water pull the gondola for pedestrians and cyclists across the river… The bridge was replaced with a newer version in the 1960s and then became obsolete due to crossing roads, but since the 1980s it has been restored to working condition and has become a cherished part of the skyline…
9. Navale Aviation Museum
Source: tripadvisor The Naval Air Museum Retired fighter pilots are ready to show you around the old Rochefort Naval Air Station on Tuesdays and Saturdays, an opportunity no enthusiast will want to miss. There are 33 aircraft in the hangar, some of which you’ll find in many aviation museums, but others, such as the World War II-era Dewoitine D.520 and the “flying banana” helicopter, are much rarer. There are also 1,500 models on display, from airships to stealth aircraft to World War II rocket planes.
10. Conservatoire du Begonia
Source: aujardin Conservatoire du Begonia Rochefort played a major role in the importation of all kinds of exotic plants to Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. One man responsible was botanist Charles Plumier, who discovered the begonia and named it after Rochefort’s intendant, Michel Begon. The Begonia Conservatory’s long greenhouse is a lasting remnant of that past, with more than 1,500 species and hybrids of this flowering plant, the largest assortment in Europe. Come for tours between spring and fall.
11. The Garden of Returns
Source: Cordery-Royal Jardin des Retours Right next to the shipyards near Charente is a park that was first landscaped in the 17th century, but they were neglected until a rope factory was renovated in the 1980s. The park has separate gardens with a nautical theme and is named after the ships that would return from the New World with exotic plants. Jardin de la Galissonnière is a paradise garden of magnolias, named after the man who first brought these seeds to Europe from America in 1711. The Jardin des Amériques is a yew tree maze dedicated to the legendary French naval battles.
Source: flickr Madame The first of two islands at the mouth of the Charente River, the uninhabited Ile Madame is connected to the mainland by a kilometer long pebble and sand… The easiest way to make the crossing is by bicycle, and this way you can also dart around the interesting sights of the island. You’ll need to check the tide time so you don’t get stranded! Before you make the crossing, there is a plaque commemorating the many priests who died on prison ships off the southeast of the island during the Revolution. On their mass grave is a cross made of pebbles, and you can fiddle around a small 18th-century fort built on Ile Madame to prevent British raids.
13. L’Île d’Aix.
Source: flickr L’Île d’Aix Take the ferry from Foure for a 30-minute trip to the larger Ile d’Aix, which is still small by any measure and has no more than 200 inhabitants… The joy of this island lies in its forests, vineyards, long beaches and secluded sandy coves. The village, too, is charming: single-story houses that in summer are almost flooded with colorful reeds in their front gardens. They are protected by formidable fortifications that remind you that Rochefort’s vital arsenal is only a few steps from the river. The island was also Napoleon’s last refuge at the end of 100 days in 1815. He hoped to escape from here to America, but surrendered to the British aboard the HMS Bellerophon on July 15.
14. Brouage Citadel
Source: Foura la Maison Brouage Citadel In the 16th and 17th centuries, La Rochelle in the north was a Huguenot stronghold. Thus, at this time, the village of Brouage was turned into one great fortification by Cardinal Richelieu as a stronghold of Catholicism. It is now a grandiose “Grand Site de France,” a label enjoyed only by 32 other places around the country. Walk through the huge system of bastions, watchtowers and walls, which at one time was a base for 4,000 men… The village inside, on a grid of cobblestone streets, is unlike anywhere else in France. Take a bike ride from Rochefort so you can stop and watch herons and egrets among the salt farms and oysters beside the road.
Source: flickr oysters The low-lying land around the mouth of the Charente River, a place where fresh water mixes with the sea, is ideal for oysters and other shellfish. Seafood lovers will be in heaven because scallops, mussels, pupusas, morsels and clams couldn’t be fresher. They are cooked in a Charenteuse sauce consisting of crème fraîche, a dash of curry powder, cognac and garlic and are great with a nutmeg wine. As for oysters, there’s a whole culture surrounding this delicacy, and you can find more than 100 farms on both sides of the Charente. If you want to learn more, you can tour some of these farms, find out how long it takes to grow the perfect oyster (four years!), AND taste one straight from the water with a glass of fresh white wine.