Crowded outdoor cafes in a genuine historical setting makes La Rochelle a great place to visit. As one of the most popular tourist spots on the Atlantic coast, this coastal city is a haven for good coffee in a great atmosphere.
Drinking coffee in France is a laid-back activity. There aren’t many places, except for Paris perhaps, where you can get coffee “to go” the American way. Instead, you buy your cup of coffee and linger at the bar, meeting your friends, chatting with the server or reading a newspaper.
The coffee lingo in France is not as difficult as the language itself. The simplest thing is the word cafe, which means you have ordered an espresso. Do you prefer your coffee with milk? Ask for a cafe creme or simply just a creme. If you instead order a cafe au lait (literally coffee with milk), you will most likely get your steamed milk on the side and you can pour however much you prefer. In France in general, you drink your coffee black or with milk, there are no choices of almond, chocolate, etc. And don’t be fooled by the noisette, thinking it is coffee with “noisette” or nut flavor. It is simply an espresso with the tiniest bit of milk.
When drinking coffee in France, you usually get a small biscuit or a piece of dark chocolate. For your afternoon coffee, this is just what you need to keep going to eight ‘o clock when the French have dinner.
The easiest way to find a place where they serve good coffee in La Rochelle is to visit Vieux Port, the harbour located in the center of the town. Here you always find people, vacationers and locals alike, relaxing at one of the many bars and bistros along the quay. People sit for hours on the year-round outdoor terraces, drinking their coffee and enjoying the view.
To enter the city centre from Vieux port, walk under La Grosse Horloge, the Great Clock Tower. Inside, the street is buzzing with people all day long. There are several walking streets, which connects most of the downtown area. Even on rainy days you can get around without getting soaked. Several of the sidewalks are covered with archways that give perfect protection for the rain. Under one of these archways, outside a crowded shop window on rue Chaudrier, D’Jolly is located. A cafe and bakery known for its artistically looking pastries, there are as many people sitting inside enjoying their treats as people gazing in the window, amazed by their creations.
Following rue Chaudrier away from Vieux port about 500 meters, you reach Place du Verdun, where you find the central bus station. Don’t be appalled by the noise from the buses, there are still several pleasant bistros to sit at in the summer and watch the children take a ride on the antique-looking carousel. Here you find Cafe de la Paix, which is a treasure in interior design. It is like you stepped into one of the rooms at Versailles. With large mirrors on the walls, candelabra light fixtures, gold-framed paintings and roof paintings that remind you of Michelangelo’s frescoes, this is a place to simply savor with all your senses.
Cafe de la Paix
Imagine you are an aristocrat in 17th century France, this is the place you would go for your afternoon coffee. Nowadays, the clientele is the regular Rochelaise stopping in for a coffee after work or after a shopping spree. On the weekend afternoons, the place gets very busy and the waiter impresses by taking several orders at once without writing anything down. Even though the cafe seems crowded, there is plenty of room in the back and the turnaround of customers is swift. In the summer there are tables set up on the sidewalk, facing Place de Verdun. After a coffee break, the cinema right next door is the only one in La Rochelle that regularly shows films in their original language.
Along the many side streets in La Rochelle you can easily find a bar where you can get a good cup of coffee and mingle with the French. There is a cafe, or actually a tea house, called Le Jardin, on rue Gargoulleau, located between Place du Verdun and Place du Marche. Hot chocolate is their specialty but their coffee is just as good. Their creme has just the right proportion of milk compared to coffee and it is served in relatively big size cups. If you are in the mood for a small snack, they have wonderful crepes and a good variety of pastries. The Jardin, or garden, as the place is named for is a glassed-in veranda where you can sit even on cooler days and feel like you’re outside. The glass roof let you enjoy the blue sky above and the greenery in the small courtyard that makes up the Jardin.
It is a true treat to drink coffee in La Rochelle, there are plenty of bars to have a coffee or stronger drink at and enjoy beautiful architecture, people watching and city life. In La Rochelle, most bars take pride in always serving a good cup of coffee using beans of high quality and high tech machines to always make a perfect espresso. Bon degustation!
La Rochelle espresso
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- A Coffee Break with French Vacationers: La Rochelle, France - June 1, 2007