Trip to France West Coast

Details of our trip to France

Where to Stay

Petit Nieulle

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Fiver29 on June 24, 2009

Located in a small village just outside La Rochelle on the west coast of France, this cottage is a lovely base for your holiday.

The cottage is actually located in a village called Nieulle Sur Seudre in the Charente region. The village is very small but without a satnav the cottage would have been rather difficult to find, as the instructions for the final few miles were very basic.

However, once you’ve navigated the small roads of the village the cottage is a very pleasant surprise. It seemed to us that it may once have been two separate cottages that have been joined together, as not only are there 6 bedrooms in the cottage, but there is a studio flat attached where the key holders can be found.

As just mentioned there are 6 bedrooms, one of the three downstairs bedrooms has an en-suite shower room as well. There is also a separate shower and toilet downstairs, and upstairs there are the other 3 bedrooms and a separate shower and toilet. All the bedrooms downstairs are double rooms, and one has a double and single bed in it. The main bedroom upstairs is a double and also has a cot in the room, the second has a bed which is larger than a single, but smaller than a double (so may suit a new love bird couple who still enjoy the closeness, rather than a wizened old couple who sleep at separate ends !) The third bedroom upstairs has a single bed, but it is still a reasonable sized bedroom.

There is one main living room which is very large, it contains a 3 seater settee, a 2 seater, 4 single ‘comfy’ chairs (2 of which are designed for style rather than comfort I think), a dining table and 8 chairs, TV, video and DVD combi, a wood burning fireplace (which we didn’t need, so I can’t comment on that), there’s free wifi, which took a little sorting out, but was fairly speedy and there's a billiard table. There is a 450€ deposit for the billiard table, so we never bothered with that, but it is covered so makes a wonderful junk stop for putting bags, hats, car keys etc. The living room has patio doors out to the garden.

The kitchen, considering the size of the house, is mighty small. Although they have managed to fit in a washer, a dishwasher, a microwave, kettle, toaster and a full sized fridge freezer, but the worktop space is at a premium. Having said that, we did manage to cook meals for 8, and there is more than enough crockery and cutlery to go round.

The linen and towels are included in the rental costs; pets are welcome in the property and most important of all there is a private swimming pool, which has an electric pool cover and a small diving board. There is plenty of space around the pool for 8 sun loungers, and still leave room for kids to play. Next to the pool there is a shower which sprays short bursts of cold water for you to rinse off after coming out of the pool.

The inside of the cottage is very oldie worldie and quaint, the main room has lovely beams across the ceiling, and the furniture is old fashioned. Only on the final evening did we discover that the coffee table actually opens out into a large gaming table, perfect for playing cards, or Pictionary as we were.

The garden isn’t huge, but is big enough for playing badminton and scatch, and there’s also a shed for storing the sun lounger covers and any floating toys for the pool. Anyone visiting now will find a the tree missing a fair few leaves after being bashed by badminton racquets in order to get the shuttlecocks back down again. There’s a wooden table with wooden benches under a vine covered canopy for eating outdoors, plus there are a couple of white plastic tables and chairs for sitting out in the garden. Behind the pool area there is parking for two cars and a grassed area with a couple of washing lines, handy from drying out towels, or I suppose washing some of your clothes to save a job when you get home.

When we arrived we were greeted by the key holders, who were absolutely wonderful, very enthusiastic, and far better at English than we were at French, much to our shame, although we did try our best. They showed us around the cottage and showed us how the oven, dishwasher, etc worked. They also had juice and water ready in the fridge and served everyone a drink whilst they were chatting, and had very kindly bought a bottle of the local wine for us. As the gentleman went off to show a couple of us how to work the pool cover should it be necessary, his wife showed us some of the areas to visit and gave us details about which beaches were manned and safe, and which beaches were without lifeguards and were more dangerous. All in all you couldn’t fault the reception we received, and after such a long journey it was nice to be greeted properly, rather than being thrown a key over a reception counter and left to get on with it.

As the cottage was in such a small village, there was no street lighting, so the rooms were pitch black at night, which I loved, because I cannot stand even a sliver of light during the night, it was also absolutely silent, no raving drunks banging around at night, no cars racing around, absolute bliss. Probably the most noise came from us, with my nephew and niece becoming highly competitive over a game of Pictionary and Monopoly! The beds seemed comfy enough, no one had any complaints about mattresses, but luckily we’d had a good look at the photos on the Frenchlife website, and decided in advance that the pillows looked flat, which indeed they were, so we’d taken our own pillows as extras and they came in very handy.

The cottage is also well situated in the village for walking to the local Patisserie for early morning croissants and fresh baguettes, and the local supermarket. Although we only used the supermarket once as it was just small and a little expensive. A much large (in fact huge) supermarket can be found in Marennes, a town about 15 minutes away by car. The villages all seemed friendly enough, whilst we never had long conversations, they all said hello and gave a smile as we walked past. There’s a small cafe bar, but no restaurant in the village, so if you’re eating out you have to travel by car for about 10-15 minutes.

West Coast

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Fiver29 on June 24, 2009

The West Coast of France around La Rochelle is very unspoilt. Because it's not a huge tourist area, many of the locals only speak French as you'd expect, and many of those who do speak English only speak small amounts. So make sure you swat up on your French before you go.

General Attractions

History Under Your Feet

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Fiver29 on June 24, 2009

In the Charente Maritime area of France just outside Barzan you’ll find a small museum and Roman dig. The site was originally discovered in 1975 when aerial photographs of the area revealed a Roman port town in the village called Le Fâ. The site is believed to be the city of Novioregum, although this is yet to be verified.

This is still a working dig, as there is much of the city yet to be unearthed, and when we visited there were what appeared to be a bunch of university students working on the dig (although that might be stereotyping archaeological types). Apart from the main tower, the major unearthing has been the Roman Baths, which take up most of the area open to the public.

However, before you reach the excavated areas there is a small museum, which begins in the same area as the reception desk.

Firstly the prices, adults are € 4 and children € 2, students with valid student cards pay the child price as well. The day we went the staff spoke reasonably good English, and they have copies of the information for the dig areas translated into English. The museum information unfortunately was only in French, so we missed out a little there, although between 8 of us we managed to cobble together enough French to make sense of everything.

Within the shop/reception there is an introduction to the museum and the site, which has an interactive display showing the eras involved. The display consisted of pressing buttons on the panel to light up the different bits of information.

Moving on you’ll find yourself in the Method of Archaeology, which is exactly as it sounds information about how they approached the dig, and displays of the equipment they use, even down to the toothbrush! This room also has examples of items found which date right back to Bronze Age.

The next room holds some of the examples of architecture. The examples include a Corinthian cornice from the Augustus to Aurelian era (27B.C. to 275A.D). There are also examples of stone work that includes large leaves in the decoration, which was no longer popular during the Augustan era in Rome, but continued to be popular up to the Flavian period in the Aquitaine area.

After the architectural room you’ll move onto a room which has a large mock up of the city in the centre. Again this display is interactive, there are buttons with the names of each area, which when pressed highlight the area on the map/mock up. However, they were only highlighted with a tiny bulb, so depending on which side of the map you were standing, you can’t necessarily see the light (there are identical buttons on both sides). So it actually looks like it’s not working, but someone on the other side can see the area highlighted.

Onward and you have the opportunity to exit the museum and view the dig, but there are still two small rooms in the museum. Firstly the commerce room, which has a collection of coins. Five different currencies have been identified, four of which were Gaullish so they were produced before the Romans arrived, and the fifth currency was produced by Tiberius (although I doubt he actually did the work himself!). Because there are these five currencies it helps to date the different layers as they are revealed.

The final room is a depiction of daily life in the roman era, it has wall mounted information and pictures.

Reversing slightly and we headed off outside. Immediately you are faced by quite a large tower. This bit was a little confusing, because the woman who took our money at the entrance said this was called the windmill, however the map calls it a temple. At first glance it looks like the woman at the reception was correct because it appears to be just a circular stone building. It’s only when you walk down the steps and see the tower from the front you notice there’s more of the building starting to show underneath. Then at the front there’s an information panel showing the building as it would have been originally, and the circular tower is just a small part of the entire thing. At this point we decided that it was indeed a temple, not a windmill. The of course looking back, the tower had been depicted in the mock up in room 3 of the museum, and it was obviously not a windmill. I can only assume the woman got mixed up with her English.

As you walk down toward the baths, you’ll notice a long straight path, part way along the path there’s a clear Perspex image. The image depicts the road as it would have looked at the time, complete with trees and images of people walking along. When you stand directly in front, the image lines up with the path to help you imagine the scene.

Turning to the right there is a row of wooden sheds, a couple of these hold more architectural pieces, and a couple have mosaic pieces. At first we were astounded at how well the mosaics had been preserved, until we realised that the museum run day trips from schools and part of the trip includes recreating a mosaic. The hut at the end is also used by the schools and has a small classroom for presentations, plus they allow the children to try digging for treasures.

Heading back left again, you’ll pass by an area that is still under excavation, the day we visited it was completely covered in black plastic sheets so I can’t tell you what was under there. Then you’ll reach the main part of the dig, the Roman baths.

There are several different sections in the baths, and each area is explained fully in the information you receive when you pay. There are hot rooms and cold rooms, both of which the Romans used for different treatments. There are of course the rooms only available to those of a certain group, for example the circular room was used by sportsmen, and there was a room for scholars. The area where the water was heated is also intact. At the side of the baths there’s a 3D model of the building as it would have been when it was whole. There are a few steps that have been put in place to help people navigate the entire site, but anyone with mobility problems would still be able to view it all from above, rather than step into the rooms.

They have a programme of events throughout the year, with different theatre groups, unfortunately there was nothing happening when we went to visit.

I would say you’d have to have an interest in archaeology and/or history in order to enjoy this site, because apart from the couple of interactive bits, it is basically a place to view and read up on history. There were 8 of us in our group, one of whom studied archaeology at university, and a couple of us who just like history in general, so we enjoyed the visit. The others were a little bored, and were basically just wandering aimlessly around, and as the site doesn’t have a cafe there was nothing else for them to do whilst they were waiting. My two kids have just learnt about Romans at school, so they were excited initially, and determined to outdo each other with their knowledge of the Romans and of the items in the museum. However, they raced around the baths area, having a quick glance at everything and soon decided just to go off to the grassy area at the side to play tig.

I found it fascinating, but then I tend to find the thought of standing in the same place that the Romans did 100’s of years ago a little surreal (I know lots of people do that every day, but I live in a town that was only built in the Victorian era, so it doesn’t have much history). I did like the little extras they’d included, like the Perspex image to help you imagine the scene, and the mock up inside the museum which also helps you put the site in context.

The site is a work in progress, and I can imagine over the years they will add to the whole experience, and I would hope they’ll add a cafe, because once you are outside there is no shade at all, and the day we went it was extremely hot. So I would recommend taking some water with you on sip on the way around.

Well Worth a Visit

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Fiver29 on June 25, 2009

Talmont is a small village on the West Coast of France, according to the leaflet it was originally built in 1284 by Edward I of England who reigned in this part of France during this period. It is well positioned on the estuary of the Gironde River.

The only cars which are allowed in the village are the cars of the residents. For visitors there is a car park just before the entrance to the village, it costs 1€ to park for the day, from there it’s a very short walk into the village.

The main feature of the village is the Roman style church of Sainte-Radegonde which dates back to the 12th century; the church is located on the cliff side looking out over the estuary. The church was once a point on the route of pilgrims heading to Santiago de Compostela. The church was fortified in the Middle Ages and after bombardments from the sea, it was at risk, but was saved by reinforcement work to the cliff, the church is surrounded by a small cemetery.

Moving away from the church and into the village itself, you’ll notice that many of the houses and shops are whitewashed, and it give the village a Mediterranean feel like you would see in Cyprus or Greece. Most of the shops are concentrated in the first few blocks, they are all small shops there’s nothing that could even remotely resemble a supermarket. I think we managed to look in all the shops, and there was some lovely stuff. The clothes which were being sold were beautiful, they looked to be fairly unique, and not the sort of thing you could just buy off the shelf anywhere. Each shop sold something different, whether it was silk scarves or novelty clocks, there was a shop to suit everyone. One of my favourites was a soap shop, which sounds rather odd, but it sold virtually every scent of soap you could possibly imagine, as well as bath salts and bath bombs. The smell in the shop could be slightly overpowering I suppose, but I loved it. There was also a shop selling the more traditional tourist souvenirs as we first walked into the village.

Part of the village was called the Artisan area, and in this area there were shops selling handmade jewellery and other arts and craft type items. Again these were all beautiful and quite unique, but there were also very expensive. The shop owners where quite happy for you to look and browse though, they seemed to be pleased that someone was enjoying their work.

There are also a few little cafes in Talmont; the French of course love their crepes so these were the mainstay of the menus. The cafe we used had mostly omelettes for a savoury dish and crepes for a sweet. There were other items, but they made up only a tiny part of the menu, they also did specials for children which included a main meal, a sweet (either crepe or ice-cream) and a drink (but the only choice was diluted lemon squash).

Talmont is also famous for its hollyhocks, which flower from early spring until late summer. They seem to grow everywhere and it makes for a lovely sight, and adds a bit of character to the village. The lack of cars on the streets also added a bit of character, it was nice to be able to walk around without having to dodge around cars or squeeze against the walls to allow vehicles to go past.

Whilst the village attracts a lot of tourists, especially during the summer months, they haven’t tried to Anglicise it at all. The only person who spoke more than a few words of English was the woman who worked in the information booth just outside the car park. The other residents and shopkeepers could manage a hello and thank you, but if you want to communicate properly you really need to brush up on your French beforehand.

For anyone who likes to shop, especially to shop for something out of the ordinary, then Talmont is a great place to go. Even I enjoyed browsing around the shops and I really hate shopping as a rule. The interior of the church wasn’t very impressive, but you can go and light a candle and have as long as you like to sit and contemplate in peace.

A Day Out in La Rochelle

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Fiver29 on June 24, 2009

La Rochelle is a town on the West Coast of France. It is a large harbour town, and at one point in its history it was the largest harbour in France.

Driving into the town is relatively simple, the car parks are well signposted, and we decided to park right on the harbour front. The charges for the car park were very reasonable, at least compared to car parks where I live; it was just a couple of Euros for a full day.

From the harbour car park we walked approximately 10 minutes into the shopping precinct. There was a small outdoor market in the centre, mainly selling fruit and vegetables. There was also an indoor market which also has fruits and vegetables, but also a selection of stalls selling all manner of cheese. Meat stalls with cooked and raw meats, including chickens that looked extremely unappetising due to the fact they still had their feet attached! Best of all, the market had a lovely selection of sweet and chocolate stalls. These were not cheap by any stretch of the imagination, my daughter bought herself a chocolate rose which was about the same diameter as a 50 pence piece and it cost 2, 50€, whilst my son bought a chocolate bar about the same size and thickness as a Wispa, only when he bit into it, it was marshmallow inside, this cost him 3€.

After leaving the market we took a walk further into the town to the ‘ordinary’ shops. The streets were the nice quaint streets you’d expect from an historic town, a little like the Shambles in York, only not quite as narrow. This oldie worldie feel is spoiled somewhat by the shops themselves, for example as we turned into one street there was a lovely building on the corner which was crafted in a Tudor style (or whatever the French equivalent is called), only to have a luminous Game sign right next to it. Whilst I can understand that companies want to keep the same image the world over, I don’t think it’s too much to ask that they blend their signage to match the local area.

Wandering aimlessly around the narrow streets, we came upon what must be the designer area, the streets gave way to covered walkways, and the prices in the shops rocketed. They were lovely shops to look around, but far too expensive for the likes of me.

Despite the area being a tourist area there were very few souvenir style shops, and apart from Game and a couple of other international businesses, most of the shops were (or looked to be) small stores owned by locals.
Having had our fill of shopping, and after almost getting mown down by a bendy bus, we decided it was time to head back toward the harbour and visit one of the many restaurants that line the harbour front. A lot of the restaurants/cafes specialise in seafood, which is no great surprise considering their location, but we were only after a midday snack, so stopped at a cafe selling baguettes and pastries. The prices in the restaurants all seemed pretty much of a muchness, and our lunch cost 8€ per adult and 6€ per child, and this included a baguette of your choice, a cake or pastry of your choice and a can of pop. The only problem we had was due to our lack of French, and we didn’t know how to say we would be sitting outside, and ended up with our baguettes and pastries in takeaway bags rather than on plates, but we still sat out at the front anyway and no one seemed to bother.

After lunch it was time for a walk around the harbour itself, and a look in a couple of the souvenir shops which were close to the cafes. The shops sold pretty standard fare for souvenir shops, lots of decorated shells, key rings with names on, leather and silver jewellery and maritime souvenirs; because we had such a poor exchange rate they were all rather expensive.

After having a pleasant stroll around the harbour we walked over to one of the harbour towers and decided to take a look around. It wasn’t too expensive at 6€ for an adult, with under 18s and students free (with a valid student card), so we only had to pay for 3 adults. You can also buy discounted tickets if you wish to visit all three towers; however we decided just to stick with Tour Saint Nicolas. Tour Saint Nicolas is the largest of the 3 towers, and is on the south side of the harbour. The inside of the tower isn’t overly impressive, it’s basically solid walls with the occasional stone frieze, there’s a large circular room about half way up, which has some little snippets of information, and a few rooms such as the captain’s watch room and guard room, but none of them have been decorated in any way, they are just bare stone walls.

The first sections are easy to walk up, but then you get to the first set of spiral stairs. Now I’m not keen on spiral stairs because I never feel safe on them and luckily these are not too steep. You emerge on to what must have been the walkway for archers, as there were archery slits all around (I know, I know, but I’m not really au fait with these sorts of things), and the view over La Rochelle was amazing. We actually thought we’d reached the top, until one of the kids shouted down from higher up.

So after doing a full circuit of that terrace we eventually found the entrance to the top level, and if the view from the terrace below was great, the one from the top was amazing, you could see right across the bay and right across the town. They had installed a telescope at the top, but it wasn’t very well positioned for adults. There was a step for children to stand on, and if an adult used this they ended up having to squat whilst using the telescope, standing on the floor though meant that you were too low down and only looked at the sky. The spiral staircase to the top floor was much steeper, and I’m glad there was no one to pass on the stairs because I would not have been able to move over to the narrow section.

We did notice some names scrawled into the walls as we were wandering round, and immediately thought it was your usual scumbags who couldn’t give a damn about anything, but we actually found out that in previous centuries it was used as a prison, and it was actually the prisoners who’d scratched their names into the walls. Further up the tower some of the names scrawled alongside dates from the World War II era.

There are written guides in English to take around with you that give you some of the historical background on the towers and the ownership of the towers between England and France. The entrance and exit serve as a small gift shop as well, but it was ridiculously expensive, cheap plastic swords that you’d begrudge paying a pound for in England were priced between 10€ and 15€.

After our visit to the tower we headed back around the harbour, and found a row of cafes painted in a Balamory style, we stopped for ice creams and they were some of the nicest ice creams I’ve tasted (of course I had to sample the kids as well as my own!). There weren’t cheap at 2, 50€ for a single scoop, but they were really creamy and full of flavour.

By this time we were ready for home, but there were plenty of other things to do at La Rochelle. There were cycles to hire, and boat rides to Fort Boyard (yes, the one from the TV show), there were also guided tours of the town (daytime, evening and gastronomic), and guided tours of the Town Hall and close to the aquarium and the towers is the Maritime Museum, which is onboard two ships the ‘France 1’ the last meteorological ship (weather observation vessel) and ‘l' Angoumois’, a fishing trawler. All the different tours and the Museum cost between 6€ and 11€, the evening tour of La Rochelle being the most expensive at 11€, the boat trip to Fort Boyard was approximately 18€ for adults but as the harbour is tidal you’d have to check the sailing times in advance.

All in all it was a lovely little town, the cost of the Tour Saint Nicolas was worth it just for the view, and there were plenty of lovely little shops for the shopaholics amongst you. Also one of the most noticeable things about the town as a whole was its cleanliness, not a bit of doggy do to be seen and no litter on the streets.

Animal Lovers

Palmyre Zoo. A Lovely Day Out

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Fiver29 on June 24, 2009

Palmrye Zoo is on the west cost of France in the Charente region, it's located between Saintes and La Rochelle. It boasts of having 1600 animal and being 30 acres of the most important zoological garden in France.

Finding the zoo is reasonably simple, unless you have a strange satnav (as we did) who likes to take you on a magical mystery tour first. For people without satnav, the roads are well signposted from several miles out.
General information on the zoo first. The zoo is open all year: 9am-7pm April to September,
9am-6pm rest of year. Sea lion and parrot shows run from April to end of October. The zoo is wheelchair accessible. Parking is free, dogs are not allowed in the zoo, even on leads.

The entry price is reasonable at adults: Euro 14 and children 3-12: Euro 10.

Onto the animals themselves, there is a good range of animals, as you enter the park you are greeted with a flock of flamingoes. There were actually far more flamingoes here than we saw at FlamingoLand in the UK !

My favourite animals are big cats, and they had a variety of cats here, jaguars, leopards and snow leopards, lions, tigers and cheetahs. The cats all had enclosures that seemed reasonably well thought out in terms of shade and privacy, toys and points of interest to keep the animals amused, but they seemed to be lacking a little in space. They were certainly smaller enclosures than any of the enclosures of the British zoos I've visited. We were lucky because we went early in the morning, on a day when the sun was struggling to come out, so all the cats were up an about, they all looked well fed and had sleek coats, except the cheetahs of course who never seem to look sleek, but instead looked rather fluffy. One poor cheetah only had 3 legs, but it didn't seem to be hampered by it, and looked to be quite happy racing around the enclosure playing with the other cats.

Monkeys and apes are also popular in the zoo, they have quite a large population of chimpanzees, orang-utans and gorillas. At the time we were they it looked like they had just finished building a new primate area, because you could walk thought the indoor section, but it was spotlessly clean and looked unused. Again the chimps, orans and gorillas looked in very good condition and had a nicely organised area, with plenty of climbing apparatus and space.

The zoo booklet and all the billboards in the immediate area show the polar bear as the main attraction. And whilst it'd been some years since I'd seen a polar bear, I wish I hadn't seen this one, because it was obviously quite mad. There were 2 bears, one was just calmly sleeping at the back of the enclosure, but the other was in the water, right at the front of the tank and just leaping up and down. It was jumping about 6ft up the side of the tank and then plunging to the bottom, before launching itself back up again. It was quite an horrendous sight to be honest. After trying to fathom out the sign beside the bear tank, we decided it looked like the bear had been rescued from either a circus or another zoo, but even though it is obviously in a zoo which cares about it's animals now, I believe it would be much kinder to put the bear to sleep because it doesn't look happy at all.

Another animal that didn't look particularly happy was the bull elephant. It had been separated from the other elephants by an electrified wire, and was extremely agitated. Later in the day the cows had moved to within 2 or 3 feet of the wire and the bull had calmed down, but again it was still quite distressing to see the bull so agitated earlier on.

There are many more mammals in the zoo, including zebra, rhino, wolves, hippos, lemurs, small monkeys, bats and kangaroos. All of which had reasonable enclosures and looked to be in a healthy state. My daughter's favourites were the baby goats, you can climb over the stile into the enclosure and pet the goats, my daughter for it highly amusing when one started nibbling on her pants. Unlike other zoos where animal petting is allowed I couldn't find any hand wash, so we had to rush past a couple of enclosures to find the toilets to wash our hands, and then back track.

Apart from the mammals, the zoo has a selection of birds, including macaws, flamingoes, ostriches and penguins. The parrots do a show during April to October, we missed the show however, so I cannot comment on how good it was.

The sea lions also do a show, and we caught the tail end of it. Sadly, being stereotypical ignorant English, we couldn't understand a word of it, and can only assume that the seals did as they were told, they certainly seemed to be doing plenty of tricks.

Finally there is a small selection of reptiles, with a few snakes and crocodiles, and some giant tortoises.

The zoo seems to do a lot for conservation and releasing animals back into the wild, which I think is very important in this day and age, the days of a zoo just being entertainment value for the public should be long gone, and they should all be looking at the bigger picture. This zoo is involved in the European Endangered Species Programme, which has breeding plans for endangered species. It has been involved with releasing the golden lion tamarins back to the wild in Brazil, and the scimitar-horned Oryx to Tunisia. It is a founder member of the Conservation of Animal Species and Populations (CEPA, an acronym which obviously doesn't match up, but actually stands for Conservation des Espèces et des Populations Animales). They also support the Kinabatangan Orang Utan Conservation Project, which helps Orans, the Association Européenne pour l'Etude et la Conservation des Lémuriens (European Association for the Study and Conservation of Lemurs), which obviously helps lemurs, and is a financial supporter of WAPCA (West African Primate Conservation Action) helping primates.

As I mentioned earlier we arrived about 30 minutes after the zoo opened, which was great because most of the animals were up and about, unlike as we were leaving about 2pm, when they were all lazing around having a siesta. Not so great was the fact that the keepers were still milling around in side many of the exhibits. Going to see the tortoises and seeing a keeper in there sweeping up around them just spoiled the whole effect.

Moving on from animals, you have the kiosks and restaurants. The souvenir shop was a little small, and the soft toys (which my daughter loves) seemed over priced.

We were a little disappointed when we stopped for coffee and a crepe to find that the crepe machine (surely it's just a frying pan!!) was broken, so the kids just settled for hot dogs, which were huge and in a baguette rather than a bun, for 2.50Euro they were excellent value. The coffee shop was reasonably empty when we went in, which was good news because the chap serving the coffee was certainly not in a rush, and seemed to take an absolute age to make 4 coffees and open 4 bottles of coke, unless someone puts a rocket up his backside, I'd hate to be waiting on a busy day in the height of summer.

There didn't seem to be a huge amount of toilet facilities, I only recall seeing 3 or 4 ( not that I was particularly on the look out), and unless you found the disabled toilets (tsk, tsk) they were the awful standing up style toilets. Which I know are probably more hygienic in the long run, but I just can't get used to them at all. However, they were clean and didn't smell at all. I can't speak for the gents obviously, but never heard any complaints from the males in our party, except once from my son, who refused to use one set of gents because the saloon style doors had been hooked open. He's at that age were privacy is paramount, so he didn't want to be seen at all, luckily my brother in law unclipped the doors and my son was free to go!

Despite the obvious distress shown by the polar bear, the animals seem well cared for and the zoo seems to be doing a lot for conservation. So I would recommend this zoo, I know some people find all zoos awful, but without the money brought in by tourists a lot of valuable conservation work would go by the wayside.
Zoo de la Palmyre

Les Mathes
+33 8 92 68 18 48

Something Fishy Going On

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Fiver29 on June 24, 2009

Aquarium La Rochelle, unsurprisingly is in La Rochelle on the West Coast of France. It’s located in the centre of the town, a few minutes from the station, and within 5 minutes walk of the main shopping area. It boasts 12,000 marine animals, 20 species of shark, 70 aquariums and 3 million litres of water.

Opening Times and Prices
Adults are 13 €, children aged 3 to 17 years (and students with student card) are 10 € and children under 3 years are free
If you want a narrated visit (with audio guide), you need to add 3,50€ to the individual prices.
We decided against the narrated visit and it didn’t spoil the enjoyment at all, because all the notices and information about the different species is written in English as well as French.

The aquarium is open every day of the year, from October to March it’s open from 10:00 am to 8:00 pm, during April to June and September it’s open 9:00 am to 8:00 pm and during July and August it opens from 9:00 am to 11:00 pm.

There is parking just beside the aquarium, but it’s not free, you collect a ticket on the way in and pay as you leave. We were there for just over 4 hours and it cost 1,50€.

Access and other info

The entire aquarium is accessible to wheelchair users as there are ramps and lifts throughout. No dogs are allowed, you can photograph the fish, but there is no flash photography allowed. The building is air conditioned, apart from the Rainforest section.

The Fish

After buying your tickets, you set off through the doors to the Aquarium. You enter a small room decorated to look like the inside of a submarine, and are asked to wait until the doors are opened. We assumed this was to ensure that there was a couple of minutes grace between parties, and the different sections didn’t become overcrowded. We were wrong though, it was actually a lift down to the first section, which was a lovely little detail that was a good example of the thought that has been put into the whole aquarium.

Once the lift has stopped and the doors have opened, you walk straight into a tube which runs straight through a tank of jelly fish. This pleased my niece because she was excited about seeing the jellyfish before we went in and being able to view them in a 360° tunnel was just wonderful.

After the tunnel you move onto the fish of the Atlantic Ocean, the variety of species is vast and includes sardines, soles, rays and sturgeon, and the tanks are all nicely designed, and most have the magnified glass normally associated with aquariums.

Next you move onto the Mediterranean Cave, and again there is an amazing amount of fish, my favourite here is the octopus. Just after the Mediterranean section you can take a bit of a rest and sit and watch the Oceanic Tank, which has schools of barracudas and jacks. The adults in our group found it quite relaxing to just sit and watch, unfortunately the kids wanted to move onwards to see the sharks.

So onward and up towards the shark tank. The sharks are actually in a tank in the centre of the building, and it runs through the different floors, so you get to see the sharks from all different angles. I have to say I’ve never seen such big sharks in an aquarium and never so close up, the sight of this huge shark, with its teeth clear to see is quite astounding.

On the up ramp to the next floor my kids were highly amused by a projection on the floor. It was a projection of a tank of fish, which went you went close they swam away, so needless to say they spent a fair few minutes trying to catch the fish with their feet.

The Caribbean Room is the start of the really colourful fish; there are parrot fish, trigger fish, moray eels, angel fish, and a whole host more. The tanks actually have artificial tides to make them more realistic for the fish. Around the corner is another seating area, where your find the huge Napoleon fish, and again (as long as you don’t have impatient kids) you can while away the time watching a very tranquil scene.

Onto the Indo Pacific Room, which is where you’ll find all the ultra colourful fish, the ones made popular by Finding Nemo. So there are lion fish, clownfish, blue devils a plenty, but there’s also a vast amount of corals and sea urchins.

Next is the dark room, this gives you the opportunity to see the fish under ultra violet light, and see the bioluminescent properties of the fish.

As you move round, you get back to the shark tank, but this time you can see it from yet another angle. There is also a sawfish in this tank, which seems to prefer the higher levels. I’ve never seen a sawfish in real life before, and I was amazed by its size and the lethalness of its snout. At this part of the shark tank there is a seating area, which also has information boards so you can spot the various species in comfort.

Finally you move on and outside to the tropical greenhouse, which has a lovely waterfall, and a large variety of plants and trees. It also has a family of snapping turtles wandering around and across the paths. There are plenty of signs up though instructing people not to touch or attempt to pick up the turtles.

Also in the aquarium you’ll find little side attractions that teach you about the eco system and how the moon affects the tides etc. There’s also an amphitheatre close to the turtle tank, which has a film about the work of the aquarium with giant turtles. The film was all French, so we didn’t stop to watch it. You can see the turtle on your way to the amphitheatre, unfortunately it wasn’t being very photogenic when we went and wouldn’t turn round.

Other Attractions
Once out of the rainforest section you find yourself back at the entry lobby, to you left you’ll see the souvenir shop. They has a good selection of souvenirs, but they were quite expensive, and as with most trinkets they were the sort of items that look good when they’re altogether in the shop, but would look a little naff when put on a shelf by itself when brought home.

The cafe is located at the top of the aquarium and offers a great view across La Rochelle whilst you’re supping your coffee (or should that read café au lait). As with most French cafes there is an outdoor terrace, so you can sun yourself as well. You don’t have to visit the aquarium to use the cafe as the entrance is outside of the aquarium area.

As I mentioned in the introduction there is no flash photography in the aquarium, which isn’t a problem for anyone with a decent DSLR, but an average point and shoot will struggle to get fast enough shutter speeds for any good photos. I resorted to using my point and shoot as a video camera and took a few minutes of each tank, which I can blend together at a later date.

There are plenty of toilets throughout, and for the ladies they are proper toilets, which is a nice change. The toilets seemed to be kept nice and clean, so there were no complaints there.

I would definitely recommend a visit if you go to this area of France, because it’s far and away the best aquarium I’ve ever visited.

Aquarium La Rochelle
Port des Minimes
La Rochelle, France

© LP 2000-2009