During the holidays my sister and family came to stay with us. The weather here in France has been absolutely beautiful for months, clear blue skies and mild temperatures so we had a day trip to the coast and the aquarium at La Rochelle our county town here in the Charente Maritime.
The aquarium in La Rochelle has been a regular place for us to visit over the years with the children, ever since they were really little, it has been a firm favourite ever since and often the choice for a birthday treat. It is also one of our top ten recommended places to visit for our families who stay in our holiday accommodation during the summer months, tying it in with a stroll around this famous French city and a delicious seafood meal.
We booked our tickets online as there is a slight reduction in the price and on very busy days (and it can get really busy during the summer) this avoids the need to queue, so definitely worth doing. Here at La Grange du Moulin and Les Vallaies We are happy to print your tickets for you but you can access the confirmation bar code on your phone too.
Our visit was in the morning, at this time of year it opens at 10am and is not too busy; in summer you really need to get there before it opens as the queues can extend out of the building and down the street if you arrive later – to be honest, if this happens it really isn’t worth queuing as it will be so busy inside you’ll have difficulty viewing everything and its no fun for anyone – far better to go for lunch, visit the town then go back in the afternoon or evening when it will be much quieter. In July and August it’s open until 11pm !
The visit starts with a descent to the depths of the ocean (in the lift); when our two were very young (1 and 3yrs) this bit scared them as the ‘submarine’ lift shakes a bit and the ‘windows’ show the water level rising. So hold onto the little ones. The doors open into an underwater tunnel filled with jelly fish – water surrounds you, below your feet and above your head it’s a lovely start to the ‘tour’ .
The direction of the visit is well signposted and the different areas well laid out, so although you can wander freely and view as much or as little as you want, following the route means you’ll see everything on offer. The visit around La Rochelle aquarium is split into five main areas: The Atlantic coast; Mediterranean; Caribbean; Indo Pacific and Tropical rain forest.
Many of the tanks reach down to the ground, so ideal for younger children . There is lots of information about all the fish and sea creatures and their habitats if you have time to read everything but we found the most popular thing with the children is just being able to run around freely.
There is a lovely childrens tunnel that takes them behind a huge tank so you can take a photo of them from the other side pretending to be a fish; or the interactive projection on the carpet is another firm favourite where they can try and chase the ‘fish’. We also enjoy sitting on the benches in front of the shark tank just watching these magnificent fish gliding by.
The final tropical area is also popular with our kids as although there arn’t many fish (a piranha tank with a big warning sign not to put your hands in !!) the wobbling rope bridge to access it is fun, as are the bamboo tubes with different tropical smells to guess. There is an audio guide designed for children aged 4 to 10 years and an app you can download before your visit to get them excited about it and prepare them for the experience.
Practically wise there is good disabled access and lots of toilets along the route (always a necessity with young children) Lighting is quite low so at busy times you’ll need to keep a good hold of little children so you don’t lose them – we’d always recommend visiting the aquarium at quiet times if at all possible with young children and toddlers as it is far more fun if they can run around discovering things for themselves.
At the end of the tour there is the ubiquitous gift shop – we always know when our families have been when they return with cuddly Nemos and sharks ! On previous visits we have eaten lunch in La Rochelle at one of the many seafood restaurants on the port (usually Andrés) but this time because it was already quite late for lunch we decided upon the aquarium restaurant /café .
This was a really pleasant surprise. It has stunning views across the port, is light with windows all around and the service was excellent. The choice of food was very good, several fish dishes and steak too. All simply but well presented, even the childrens steak haché frites (burger and chips) was served with wrapped green beans and the chips were homemade. Very reasonably priced, particularly considering the location – take the boat taxi across the port and you’ll be paying twice as much. Highly recommended.
A superb day out when staying at our family friendly holiday cottages in the Charente Maritime in France.
content by Wendy Blakeman