Just outside La Rochelle, take the footpath or the bicycle path along the Rompsay Canal. Whether you are on foot or cycling, you will enjoy a country escape at the heart of a preserved nature.
A delicate flow just outside La Rochelle
The Canal de Marans à La Rochelle flows for 24 km between the villages of Villedoux, Saint-Xandre, Dompierre-sur-Mer and Périgny. It is also known as the “Canal de Rompsay” between Dompierre-sur-Mer and La Rochelle. Originally created in the 19th century to connect La Rochelle by waterway, nowadays the charming canal offers a green breakaway just on the outskirts of the city.
After enjoying an afternoon sunbathing on the beach, a stroll along the Rompsay Canal will take you to a whole other scenery amidst the soothing feeling of peaceful nature. Numerous species living in the waters and on the banks of the canal can be observed under the shade of ash trees and young elm trees. You can see white little egrets searching the water with their beaks, swans gliding through aquatic plants and tree frogs and dragonflies teasing the waterhens.
Today, part of the canal is protected as a classified natural site, with numerous remarkable landmarks, leisure areas and picnic sites. It is also the scene of summer events such as the “guinguette éphémère” and the “trail du canal”. From La Rochelle, the Rompsay Canal also uses the bicycle routes of the Vélodyssée and the Vélo Francette for the delight of bicycle riders.
An easy trip between La Rochelle and the Marais Poitevin
While the canal’s calm waters are particularly suited for family rides, the more athletic among you can easily reach the Marais Poitevin. Why not rent a canoe to sail up the canal’s waters?
A family ride along the Rompsay Canal
Take out the scooters or strollers to enjoy a lovely spring afternoon and a family tea along the water. From Périgny, walking along the canal leads to a little play park where you can enjoy the swings!
A day-long hike
There are several sections to walk along the Canal de Marans à La Rochelle from village to village. The Rompsay Canal footpath begins near La Rochelle station at the canal holding pond and leads to Dompierre-sur-Mer. The round trip can be done in a day, walking 6 hours over 18.5 km in total.
Canoeing on the Rompsay Canal
From the Lockmaster’s house in Périgny, you can rent a canoe or a kayak for a fun trip with your friends. You can go for a two-hour ride on the Rompsay Canal or for a longer trip for the day! The navigable waterway which starts at the lock can be used to sail up the canal up to Mouillepieds station through Saint-Léonard tunnel. The 6.5 km waterway offers calm, current-free navigation that’s accessible to all!
Cycling along the Vélodyssée itinerary
Follow the Vélodyssée cycle route to discover the Rompsay Canal by bicycle. The Marans-La Rochelle leg (or vice versa) offers a 25-km section along the canal green lane. Long-ride enthusiasts can also pick a bicycle loop from La Rochelle to Marans going back through the Aiguillon Bay.
The Rompsay Canal also offers a perfect alternative to get from the villages surrounding La Rochelle to the town centre of La Rochelle without using the car.
Jogging along the canal
For running enthusiasts, the Rompsay Canal offers the perfect site. It remains a spot of choice for those wanting to run in La Rochelle in the shade of the trees. Park your car near Rompsay bridge (near Lycée Doriole) and go towards Périgny / Chagnolet / Dompierre-sur-Mer.
The canal, a work of art built by Napoleon
The Canal de Marans à La Rochelle was built throughout the 19th century in order to deliver goods to La Rochelle inland, but eventually became obsolete with the arrival of railway. Waterway traffic ended after the Second World War before the canal was finally decommissioned in the fifties.
78 years of works for a 24-km canal
The original project was to connect Niort to La Rochelle over 42 kilometres. When Napoleon I ordered for it to be built in 1806, the construction was only supposed to take four years! However, the project took on a gigantic scale and it was decided to reduce the connection to 24 km between Marans and La Rochelle. It would take until 1884 to complete the works, almost a century later!
Saint-Léonard tunnel, an exceptional underpass
The main difficulty encountered during the works would lie in Saint-Léonard hill, located in the centre of the route. Since it was impossible to go around it, the only solution was to build an 810-m long tunnel! Workers, as well as convicts and war prisoners all contributed to the excavation of the long underpass.
In Dompierre-sur-Mer, at the end of a steep footpath, Saint-Léonard tunnel offers a surprising underground walk. The site was even used for one of the scenes in the film “Irréprochable” with Marina Foïs.
While waterway navigation only actually lasted about thirty years on the Rompsay Canal, the site now offers the perfect setting for an excursion in nature just on the outskirts of La Rochelle.