Side trip to Saint-Émilion and La Rochelle

Les Minimes (Port de Plaisance des Minimes) in La Rochelle is the largest pleasure boat marina in France (5000+ boats!)

We left Hondarribia, Spain, in the Basque Country, on October 13 heading for Saint-Émilion, 35 km northeast of Bordeaux, and a three hour drive away.  Saint-Émilion’s history goes back to prehistoric times and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with churches, ancient structure,  and ruins stretching all along steep and narrow streets.  It is one of the principal wine growing areas of Bordeaux.  We arrived on a sunny and warm Saturday afternoon and the streets were crowded with tourists.  It rained almost continuously the next day and the streets were empty save for the puddles.  We still squeezed some walks through the picturesque streets in between showers, and did a quick wine tasting at a vineyard outside of town on the drive north the next day.

View of Saint-Émilion
View of Saint-Émilion
Vineyards near Saint-Émilion

From Saint-Émilion we drove two hours north to the beautiful city of La Rochelle on the Bay of Biscay in the Charente-Maritime department.   La Rochelle has special meaning to us.  It is the place where Sabbatical III was built by the Amel shipyard, and this was our third trip to this lovely town.  Our fond recollections of La Rochelle arise not only from the thrill of taking possession of the boat that has been the center of our lives these past 15 years, but also from the charming and authentic nature of this town of 75,000 and, perhaps strangely, from the unforgettable Soupe de Poisson at Bar André  on the waterfront.  The Amel staff took us to Bar André during both of our visits in 2003 and introduced us to the Soupe de Poisson.  It was our “go to” meal during the chilly weeks of late October and early November 2003 when we were living on-board the brand new Sabbatical III in the nearby Marina Les Minimes.

So on the 15th birthday (to the day) of Sabbatical III, we had another wonderful stay in La Rochelle.  The Soupe de Poisson was as good as we remembered and the town was even better in unusually warm and sunny weather.  We stayed in a quiet hotel located within the long narrow park in town and found that we could walk almost everywhere from there.

We arranged a test sail of the new Amel 50  on a beautiful but almost windless day.  A hostess aboard cooked us a multi-course meal as we slowly sailed from La Rochelle to the nearby island of Île de Ré.  The boat was fantastic with the easy sailing pedigree of previous Amel boats like our Super Maramu but also new features and interiors creating more light and space.

Mark about to enter the electric ferry that crosses the old harbor of La Rochelle to the  Marina Les Minimes
Small boats from a sailing school for children return to port, La Rochelle
Lunch aboard a new Amel 50 while anchored off Île de Ré
Laura relaxes on our test sail of an Amel 50
Entrance to the old harbor, La Rochelle
Entrance to the walled city of La Rochelle

We also visited the Amel factory and viewed the process of building an Amel 50.  Plus, I finally got to meet Maud Touillet, the “service after sales” representative that I have been dealing with for the past few years via email.  Who is this caring and efficient person who answers my emails with the information that I need and sends me parts to where ever I might be?  Now I know.

Mark poses with Maud Touillet, service clientèle person at Chantiers Amel, La Rochelle
Building a new Amel 50 at Chantiers Amel, La Rochelle
View from the beach promenade, La Rochelle
Marche du Centre Ville, La Rochelle

On our last day in La Rochelle, we drove over the bridge to Île de Ré, described as the “Martha’s Vineyard of France.”  The island has a network of cycle tracks, and many residents rarely use cars for transportation. They are famous for their oysters, mussels, and fish.  We walked for miles on the northern shore promenade, had a wonderful lunch, then walked along the long, wide beaches of the southern shore before returning across the 3 km bridge to La Rochelle.

Oysters and Soupe de Poisson starters in Île de Ré
Beach in Île de Ré
Mussels (Moules-frites) at Bar André, La Rochelle, Vieux Port

We left La Rochelle on October 20 and drove all the way back to the Basque country in one day.  We flew back to Lanzarote Island the next day and returned to Sabbatical III at the Marina Rubicon, where we still remain.