Known as La Ville Blanche (the White City), La Rochelle's luminous limestone facades glow in the bright coastal sunlight. One of France's foremost seaports from the 14th to 17th centuries, the city has arcaded walkways, half-timbered houses protected from the salt air by slate tiles, ghoulish gargoyles and a fabulous collection of lighthouses – all rich reminders of its magnificent seafaring heritage. The early French settlers of Canada, including the founders of Montreal, set sail from here in the 17th century.
This 'white city' is also commendably green, with efficient public transport and ample open spaces. Its hôtel de ville (town hall), built in 1606 and famously the oldest in France, is rising from the ashes after being the victim of a huge fire in 2013. La Rochelle's late-20th-century district of Les Minimes was built on reclaimed land, and now has one of the largest marinas in the country.