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The Best of Sète
Sète is on the Mediterranean, but too far west to be in Provence, it is part of the Occitanie Region. It is situated on a large lagoon (Étang de Thau) to the West, and the Mediterranean Sea to the South. Because of this ideal situation, it is the home of large bird populations (YES! Pink Flamingos!), and large oyster farms as well, if you’re into oysters on the half shell, this is the place!
Unlike other more famous cities around the Mediterranean (Nice, Cannes, Saint Tropez, Saint Raphael, Antibes, etc.), Sète is not an exclusive place where the rich and famous like to congregate. It is a family resort, a place for the common man, settled by lots of Italian immigrants, and with a strong Italian vibe.
Sète is very busy over the summer months and because of it’s tiny down-town area, it can quickly feel like it’s unbearable. But if you visit outside of July and August, it will be more manageable. If you want to be there during the Jousts (there are events all of August and early September), definitely reserve a central hotel well in advance and don’t plan on using your car.
Not To Miss in Sète
- Mont Saint Clair and Notre Dame de la Salette. Scenic views, the walk up is strenuous. City bus line #5 will also get you there. There are a few parking spots for private cars also.
- Étang de Thau. This is where the Canal du Midi ends. It is best to plan a day to drive around various towns around the lagoon, see below.
- Canal Royal. Small scenic area, almost always crowded, but worth battling the crowds.
- Chez François restaurant. This is a very busy place most of the time, stop by or call a couple of hours before meal time to make a reservation, they hardly ever have room for walk-in customers.
- Espace Brassens. This is particularly wonderful for people who know this singer-song-writer and speak French. But even if you don’t, you will enjoy him as a character. There are audio guides in English.
How Sète Was Born
There was a mention of the fishing village of Sète in the time of Ptolemy, first century AD. The Romans mentioned it too. But at the time, it was only known as a fishing village.
The canals date back from the times of Louis XIV. The original name of the Canal du Midi was “Canal Royal en Languedoc”. The French Revolution gave it its current name. The King, Louis XIV came to this village for the inauguration of the canal, and this is how Sète was born. The city grew slowly and today it is a medium-size French city and the second largest fishing port in France, the biggest on the Mediterranean.
These are delicious, you MUST try them! They come in various sizes, and all the restaurants in Sète will serve them. The restaurants that face the canals are lovely, but they are over-run by tourists most of the time, which means they are meh. Don’t order the daily special at any of those restaurants. Spend a little more and go à la carte.
The best rated restaurant on the gorgeous canal is a place called Chez François (8 quai Général Durand). But they are too busy most of the time to take walk-in customers. Stop by or call a couple of hours before your meal to make a reservation. Reserving the day before is even safer. Don’t try to reserve months in advance, it’s not that kind of place.
Because Chez François was full (I make the silly rookie mistakes so you don’t have to!), I ate at a place called Le Cabestan nearby (24 quai Général Durand). It was OK, but nothing to write home about. Take the time to reserve at Chez François!
Market day in Sète
The main outdoor market is on Wednesday, you will find the food market on rue d’Alsace-Lorraine and rue Gambetta and the flower market is on the city center plaza called Léon Blum. There is also an indoor market every morning.
Cimetière Marin in Sète
It was originally reserved for sailors but is not any more. Poet Paul Valéry, who was born in Sète in 1871, is buried in this beautiful seaside cemetery, and he wrote one his most famous poems about it:
Ce toit tranquille, où marchent des colombes,
Entre les pins palpite, entre les tombes ;
Midi le juste y compose de feux
La mer, la mer, toujours recommencée
Ô récompense après une pensée
Qu’un long regard sur le calme des dieux ! …
Georges Brassens is other famous, and talented, son of Sète. He is also buried in this illustrious cemetery and one of his songs is called Complainte pour être enterré sur la plage de Sète.
From the cemetery you have a wonderful view, and on a clear day you can see all the way to Montpellier.
Water Jousting Competition
If you happen to be visiting Sète in August, you will be able to enjoy the jousting contests. Annie was wrong, they do let women joust.
Cycling or Driving Around the Étang de Thau
If you have a car, take a the 63 mile drive drive around the Étang de Thau. Along the way you will visit the towns of Balaruc-les-Bains, Bouzigues, Mèze, and Marseillan. Make stops along the way. This will take a whole day and is worth it. If you’re not sure if you’re up to driving in France, check out Episode 16 on Driving in France.
If you’re more adventurous, take a bike ride, it’s fantastic. This is a map that shows cycling paths in green. Not too difficult to do and very scenic is between Sète and Marseillan.