The story of La Rochelle's aquarium all started off with the dream of one man.
This is one of the town's best features, and is the result of René Coutant's dream to create an underwater world on land. He spent the majority of his life on the project and even passed his passion on to his children.
It all began in the 1960's, when René Coutant built his first aquariums fitted with closed circuit filtration systems. Boosted by this experience, he opened a 250m² aquarium in 1970 in the La Ville en Bois area of La Rochelle.
Eighteen years down the line, René Coutant passed the baton on to his children, Roselyne and Pascal, and a few years ago they opened the biggest aquarium in France (with a surface area of over 1600m² and a volume of 550,000 litres of sea water).
On December 21st 2001, they celebrated the opening of the 'Nouvel Aquarium de la Rochelle' (New Aquarium of La Rochelle). This one is six times larger than the one that opened at Les Minimes in 1988, offering an immense space given entirely over to the sea and presenting a unique view of the underwater world from all over the globe.
La Rochelle Aquarium consists of several spaces, each designed to represent a different underwater habitat.
The Caribbean room, for example, is an explosion of colours and tropical magic, with balloonfish, angelfish, parrotfish, and green morays.
Next come gentle meditation and ambient music at the heart of the Lagoon, where the Napoleon fish shelter in a secret, reconstructed inlet.
Sea urchins, tri-coloured sea cucumbers, Bermuda blue angelfish, and clownfish come together in the oasis of the Indo-Pacific Room.
All at once, it is nighttime.
However, in this kind of night, you can gradually make out thousands of colours of coral, lapping up against an ultraviolet light.
In this silent world, colours speak volumes... All at once though, everything takes flight when who should appear in the middle of this tank holding 1.5 million litres of sea water but the tiger of the sea: the shark!
Provided you escape his sharp teeth in time, you leave the underwater world to discover the tropical greenhouse.
This room can be crossed using a bridge made of creepers that twists its way between the wall of water and waterfall. The scents of jasmine, vanilla, and lemon trees are never far away as you approach the next feat of human engineering: a 360 degree tunnel enabling you to walk on water.
This amazing construction is home to a natural marvel, a ghostly kind of creature that has been doing its stylish dance on earth for 400 million years: the jellyfish.
Finally, we are back in territory that at least appears more familiar: the Atlantic and the Mediterranean.
Grand Aquarium de la Rochelle
Quai Louis Prunier, BP 17002 La Rochelle cedex 1, France
Tel.: +33 (0) 5 46 34 00 00
Open every day of the year
Open from 10:00am to 8:00pm from October to March; from 9:00am to 8:00pm from April to June; from 9:00am to 11:00pm in July and August, and from 2:00pm to 8:00pm on 25th December and 1st January
Average visit time: 2 hours
The aquarium is fully accessible to people with reduced mobility
Single adult entry: £11
Single entry children (3 to 17 years) and students: £8
Single child entry (under 3 years): free
Adult visit with audio guide commentary: £14
Child visit (3 to 17 years) with audioguide commentary: £11