This time around 4 years ago, I was planning my great escape from the grind of 9-5.
As mentioned previously on the blog, having listened to the increasingly loud voice in my head, telling me it was time for a change, I had finally taken the plunge, rented my house out and decided to drive to south west France to get away from it all.
First stop was volunteering in Rochefort with the Noyer family, but what was next?! Well ... it was time for an autumn retreat in La Rochelle and 2 months on my own! Time to recharge, reset and getaway from it all en France.
Of all the places ... why La Rochelle?
The number one response I had to telling people I was heading to La Rochelle was, 'oh like from Tricolore 2b?!' Yes that's right ... arguably for most Brits at least, La Rochelle is best known to many us as the city featured in our French textbooks from the 80s and 90s! But there is so much more to know ...
So .. ou est La Rochelle? La Rochelle is the capital of the Charente Maritime department of France and a beautiful 1000 year old port on the Atlantic coast connected to the stunning island of Ile de Re, and perfectly positioned as a base to explore the region and neighbouring cities such as Cognac and Saintes.
Easily accessible directly from the UK and Europe by low cost airlines or by car, I had visited the region a number of time as a child on our summer camping holidays enjoying picnics on the beach and trips to Ile de Re. However a little research suggested it also might be the perfect place for an autumn getaway due to its cosmopolitan city vibe, packed with art, outdoor spaces, music, culture, food and history ... oh and the beach ... and I do love a beach. There was only one way to find out ...
My home away from home.
So where to stay as for almost 2 months away from it all? I needed somewhere that felt like home, close to everything and was not going to break the bank!
I wasn't too familiar with AirBnB back then, but a little research led me to Rent A Place In France, a website specialising in winter lets and long term rentals in France. A few clicks later and I stumbled across the perfect option ... a small, one bed house in Fetilly, a quiet area near the stunning Parc Charruyer and a short walk into town. For a very reasonable 510€ a month, I was able to rent my own little crash pad with a garden for my morning coffee - the ideal base to explore the city and region.
My retreat from the rat race was all about a need for simplicity and I was in the perfect spot. I quickly established a very low key routine of sleeping late, pottering round doing my jobs, before walking into town to buy some fresh produce at le Marche du Centre Ville and grab a coffee, maybe walking or cycling the coastline, before heading home to cook, work on ideas, read, nap and do yoga ... bliss.
For those looking for a base for a long or short stay, there are also plenty of AirBnB options centrally or in the Fetilly area, as well as many reasonably priced hotels. Plus since I visited, La Rochelle now even has its own coworking spaces, providing the perfect option for digital nomads or those looking for a little office base for a while.
Urban ecology in practice
Something I wasn't aware when heading to La Rochelle, is that the city is widely regarded as one of the world's best examples of urban ecology. The city's environment, transport system and outdoor spaces are all designed to contribute to the residents' quality of life and I soon began to reap the benefits.
The incredible Yelo transport network provides, (what was the world's first) self-service Boris-bike style cycle sharing scheme with 300 bikes accessible in 89 locations around the city; tourist and long term bike hire; electric car sharing; plus a highly efficient public bus and boat (!) network. This infrastructure means getting out and about to explore locally or further afield is effortless and despite having my car from the UK it was very rarely used during the 2 months I was there.
This in itself encourages you to be active as you hop on and off public transport or tootle around on your bike, but once you throw in the stunning outdoor spaces such as Parc Charruyer, Parc de Mireuil and Port Vieux, plus not to mention the stunning beach walk along the Promenade de la Concurrence, and you have almost zero excuse to get out there in the fresh air!
I found myself walking and cycling more and more each day, exploring the city and coastline, feeling myself getting fitter and stronger, and using the much needed headspace to start to think about what might be next in store. In the same way that a yoga retreat creates a space for you to reflect and things start to shift, I found my own retreat in the ancient streets of La Rochelle and its beautiful natural surroundings.
I was beginning to feel more like myself again.
Coffee, city and culture.
Three things the French doing nearly as well as wine and cheese and another big tick for La Rochelle!
As a university city and international port, there is very much a vibrant, cosmopolitan vibe to the centre, making it very easy for a solo-travelling Yorkshire lass to slip into daily life without feeling intimidated.
The city also has a world renowned art and music scene, due in part to its International Film Festival and 'Jazz Between The Two Towers' Festival and as a honorary resident (for a little while at least) there was plenty of entertainment to be found, even on a slightly grey autumn day. My favourite thing to do was indulge in an afternoon film showing (many in the original language) at one of La Rochelle's three cinemas ... a treat I wasn't used to in my 9-5 life.
When the sun sets in the ocean, the city also comes alive and on weekends when family or friends visited this little Yorkshire nomad, we enjoyed aperitifs in the famous Cave de la Guignette and dined on great value set menus in the back street restaurants such as La Cuisine De Jules and Le Thiers Temp. Tres bien.
After 2 months of life in La Rochelle, it was finally time to pack my car up full of wine, cheese and chocolate for the upcoming festive period and set off on my journey back to Leeds.
Since then, many people have asked me what it was like to spend such a relatively long period of time on my own, if I was lonely and what did I learn? That's a story for another day and another blog post, but what I can say is that in La Rochelle, I found the perfect place to retreat from it all and rediscover a quieter pace of life in a beautiful city with everything I needed at my fingertips.