La Rochelle, Atlantic seaport and capital of Charente-Maritime department, Poitou-Charentes region, is situated on an inlet opposite Ré Island. The town, which has straight, regular streets, a large park and shady promenades on the sites of its old fortifications, grew considerably after 1946, especially to the west. The old commercial harbour, too shallow for large ships, has been modernised and is now one of the foremost French fishing ports. It is directly connected to a renovated fish market. The entrance to the old port is defended by two massive 14th-century towers. The pentagonal Saint-Nicolas Tower, the larger of the two, is an imposing fortress with crenellated walls and a keep. Opposite it stands the Tower de la Chaîne, so named because at night a big chain was strung between it and Saint-Nicolas Tower to close the port. In the 15th century a third tower, the Tower de la Lanterne, a round base surmounted by an octagonal spire, was built as a lighthouse. Other buildings of interest are the Gothic Porte de la Gross-Horloge, the Renaissance Hôtel de Ville and the 18th-century Hôtel de la Bourse. The rue des Merciers is typical of the old streets. Many of the 16th- and 17th-century houses, built over arcades, are decorated with gargoyles and strange allegorical figures. What to see: The old port; the ramparts and the three towers; la Porte de la Grosse Horloge; the shopfront arcades; the Renaissance architecture; the town hall; the richly carved Henri II-style house; l'Hôtel de la Bourse; the 15th century woodfaçaded houses; the Charruyer park, the Mail promenade; Neptunea, the floating maritime museum; the museum of the New World; the museum of la Tour de la Chaîne; the natural history museum; the Musée d'Orbigny-Bernon; the perfume bottle museum; the art gallery; the aquarium; the port des Minimes and the automaton and scale model museum. What to do: Guided visits on foot or by horse-drawn carriage; boat trips to Ré, Aix and Oléron and to Fort Boyard; coach trips to the isles of Ré and Oléron, also Saintes, Cognac and the Marais Poitevin; sea fishing. In the area: The île de Ré; the fortified church and the mussel-growing museum at Esnandes; cruises on the Sèvre Niortaise from the port of Marans; the 18th century château de Buzay at La Jarne; the Romanesque church at Surgères.