Category: France

Useful tips and tricks for travelling in France, including what to see and do.

La Rochelle – Famous Pubs

With the exception of Paris, I never have particularly high hopes when visiting France. So we went into La Rochelle with quite low expectations.

Because the ‘international cruise terminal’ is actually a working dock, you need to get a transfer bus into the city – fortunately these were laid on at no additional expense by Princess Cruises. From our balcony we watch dozens of coaches start lining up on the dock as the ship comes into port.

After breakfast, the chaos of boarding begins. In the plaza area of the ship, guests are given tickets with a group name – as the name is called, they are herded down the gangway and off the ship to a waiting bus. As a show of their post-Brexit ire, French border officials force every single passenger to make a detour through the immigration hall – and then do not check a single passport.

Eventually Lin and I make it on to a coach and we’re driven to a spot just outside the centre of the town. The journey takes around 12 minutes – not 25 as the cruise director assured us. Then it’s a short walk in the gusting drizzle along the seafront and into the centre of the old town.

As we pass the Chain Tower, we come across a number of boats offering tours out to Fort Boyard (€20 each). We seriously consider it for a while, but decide we should explore a bit of the town instead, especially as the rain has stopped.

We wander up a few lanes and take a look at the ‘famous’ market. It’s OK. Then we run out of ideas – the local escape room hasn’t responded to my queries, and it’s a risk to catch a bus out of the centre of the town without confirmation they will be open. So we wander around a few more old streets, heading back to the old harbour.

Afterwards, a stop at ‘The Famous Pub‘ on the quay for a beer. We snag a seat on the patio and in my crappy GCSE level French order a Kronenbourg (Lin) and an Atlantic Grand Cru (me) for €14. Mine tastes like cider. Then it starts to rain. Heavily. We retreat indoors to finish our beers.

Beer drunk, we give up on La Rochelle and head back to the ship. We head down to the main dining room for afternoon tea – sandwiches, cakes and scones – served at record speed. We return to the cabin stateroom to watch as we leave port – and the ship is delayed while we wait for one of the private hire tour groups to return.

Afterwards we grab a drink and head to the Princess Theatre for the early showing of Rock Opera. As you would expect, there are lots of rock songs performed operatically – and a few opera songs sung in a rock style. The men’s acapella rendition of Simon & Garfunkel’s Sound of Silence is a particular high point.

Overnight, the captain will be spanking the Sky Princess – we’re due to dock in Getxo (Bilbao) by 7am…

Grey Town

Today we’re in Le Havre, what appears to be a relatively industrial enclave on the Normandy coast. The ship docks within seeing distance of the city centre – but it’s at least a mile to walk into the town.

The city is overwhelmingly grey, undoubtedly a result of post-war reconstruction that heavily favoured concrete. This is not a pretty town – if you want something more visibly attractive, Honfleur is supposed to be nicer and it’s not too far away by bus.

Top tip: The Normandy coast saw some of the most vicious fighting towards the end of WW2. Dark tourists may want to check out the D Day landing beaches which are located to the south of the city.

On the way into town we grab a few geocaches, including a fun one in a puzzle box under a bridge. Sadly there’s not much by way of sights in the town – and we have arrived near lunchtime as all the stores shut for an hour or two. The place feels deserted.

Top tip: Most cruise lines advertise this port as Le Havre – Paris. Don’t be fooled – it’s almost two hours drive to the French capital. Even the cruise ship excursion staff have a hard time selling their trips because you have almost no time to see anything in Paris. Our advice? Don’t bother.

We make our way to the faithfully restored Cathédrale Notre-Dame which still bears some scars of bombing and fighting in 1944-45. However, inside we discover something quite incredible:

In one of the side chapels is a fairly standard crucifix. However, the photograph besides reveals something quite astonishing – Jesus was the only thing to have survived the heavy bombardment of the Cathedral in September 1944. The only damage he sustained? A gash on his side, just as described in the New Testament book of John.

It has to be said, Le Havre does have a more famous church to visit, but we found this undocumented piece of history particularly fascinating.

Afterwards we retire to L’Havrais Bière, a local brewpub serving its own beers. With six to eight ales to choose from, there’s something for everyone – and my cloudy IPA is pretty decent. Then it’s the long walk back to the ship…

Sadly, we’re back in Southampton tomorrow. But we have Norway, Iceland and Poland coming up in May…

Please note that Journey Into Darkness does not select, endorse or control the advertisements shown above. See our Affiliate Disclosure page for more info.