La Rochelle, on the Atlantic coast of France, has been an important port since the 12th century, and during the 17th and 18th centuries it was crucial in the sugar and fur trades—and slave trade as well, at least until 1794 when France abolished the practice in its colonies. It was also a common departure point for settlers headed to the New World. During World War II, the Germans had a submarine naval base here, and the city has the distinction of being the last in France to be liberated, in May 1945. Visitors can explore La Rochelle’s rich history at the Maritime Museum (home to France I, a retired weather ship, and two other ships) and the Museum of the New World.The entrance to the ancient harbor is guarded by two medieval towers, and the white limestone buildings that line the quaysides date back centuries. The main market sells traditional staples of the Charente region, from butter and cheese to the daily catch. The area is known for its excellent seafood and oysters such as the lusciously large Marennes-Oléron, and for a fine afternoon activity after a few hours of sightseeing, nothing beats sitting down to a large platter of fruits de mer and a local Muscadet.