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Between the Mediterranean Sea and the Thau Lagoon, lies Sète, an exquisite little French fishing port. Hardly known outside France, Sète likes to keep a low profile and its inhabitants don’t go out of their way to call attention to their home. In fact, they have no time for it. Sète is a busy place where people work hard. There are no glitzy crowds, plush hotels, or lavish shops. Instead, you will discover a town that has managed to preserve the charms of its fishing-village past. It’s definitely worth the detour any season of the year.
Located in the Languedoc-Roussillon region, Sète was built in the 17th century to boost the maritime trade. Today, the town proudly stands as one of the first Mediterranean fishing ports. Set in the heart of town and lined with pale yellow or peach-color houses, the port provides the city with its rhythm and soul.
Take an early morning stroll through the port. Watching the parade of trawlers and tuna boats coming and going while escorted by seagulls is a feast for the eyes. Invariably, the ritual attracts locals who come to buy or sell all sorts of stuff, marvel at the catch of the day, chat with friends, and end up sharing “un café bien serré,” at the bistrot du coin. Next, walk toward the Criée (fish auction market), a treasure trove for the Sétois and restaurant owners. Wooden stalls overflow with freshly caught fish and seafood: white and blue fish or tuna from the ‘Mediterranee’, bars, daurades, oysters or mussels from the Thau Lagoon. Continue along the quays toward the Saint Louis Pier (Mole Saint Louis was originally constructed to protect the entrance of the port.) You will also see some of the fastest sailboats in the world. It is here that the French train for the America’s Cup. And, you must remember to take a good look at the lighthouse, it is the last one in France equipped with a Fresnel lens made from rock crystal!
Later, walk through the lively, tight-packed streets or sit on an outdoor terrace along one of the canals. Crisscrossed with canals that link the Lagoon to the sea, Sete has earned the nickname of “Venice of the Languedoc.” Next, you’ll want to be sure to hike up to the 600 ft. summit of Mont St. Clair around which Sète was built (you may also get there by bus or taxi.) Relax and enjoy a splendid, panoramic view of the town, the sea and the Lagoon.
Take an after-dinner walk around the port or along the canals lit by lampposts. An enchanting sight that soothes the mind. A must!
Beach Day in Sete
Sète boasts 8 miles of fine white-sand beaches that stretch over a strip of land separating the lagoon from the sea. The boardwalk features shops and restaurants. However, I prefer the restaurants located right on the beach. In addition to serving drinks and local food– from entrecotes to salads –, most of them provide chaises lounges and sun protecting umbrellas.
The nearest beach to the town center, the Lazaret Beach, is protected by sea-walls and is safe for kids. Nearby, the Corniche Beach became famous after George Brassens sang that he wanted to be buried there — it did not happen.
Recently widened, The Fontaine Beach, features a family-owned restaurant, L’Esprit Salines. Michel Blancal, the owner, will do everything to please you. His specialty? Grillades (fish or meat) cooked just in front of you on a giant, outside grill.
Where to Stay in Sete
Hotel de Paris 3-Star
One of Sète’s most glorious landmarks, the Hotel de Paris reopened its doors one year ago. You will enjoy staying in one of the 36 rooms, each one tastefully decorated with hip colors and texture and overlooking the town, the garden or the sea.
2, rue Frederic Mistral (in the heart center and near the beach)
Doubles from 95 Euros
Le Grand Hotel and Restaurant 3-Star
Facing the Royal Canal, le magnificent Grand Hotel marries 19th century splendor with 21st century creativity.
17 Quai Marechal De Lattre de Tassigny
Double rooms from 85 Euros
Hotel Port Marine and Restaurant 3-Star
With a spectacular view on the Mediterranee and the fishing port, the Hotel Port Marine is walking distance to the beach.
Double rooms from 75 Euros
Have a Drink and Dine in Sete
This is the land of fresh seafood and fish. Living up to its reputation as a major fishing town, Sète delivers succulent specialties, such as La Bourride –a monkfish dish prepared with a garlicky mayonnaise sauce; or Tielle, an octopus pie with a flaky top and bottom crusts that is chewy, with a pungent seafood filling that hints of bouillabaisse.
Converted into a wine and tapas bar, Le Décor, a former garage, opened its doors only a year ago. It quickly became one of Sete’s ‘in’ places. The best tables are in the courtyard.
41, quai de Bosc.
Tel: + 4-67-18-82-59
Located inside the Hotel de Paris and surrounded by glass windows overlooking the Canal Royal, Le Café de Paris restaurant features Mediterranean gourmet cuisine.
Menus between 17 and 39 Euros
Set right in the heart of town, L’Oranger chef Valery Pignone concocts dishes prepared with great passion. Included is a specialty of sardines tempura stuffed with cheese and herbs or roasted sea-scallops.
Menus from 14 to 34 Euros
5, Place de la Mairie
Les trois plaisirs
Meat is the specialty of Les trois plaisirs, a family owned restaurant. From foie gras to lamb dishes, everything is divine.
Menus from 15 to 35 Euros
6, rue de la Savonnerie
Located in the port area, La Calanque’s cozy atmosphere will charm you. The restaurant serves Sétoise specialties, both fish and meat: bourride, marinated anchovies filets, macaronade de viande – a combination of macaronis and meats seasoned in a tasty tomato sauce. You must try it.
Menus from 17 to 39 Euros
17, Quai General Durand
Getting to Sete
40 min. from Montpellier
1 hour from Nimes
1 1/2 hour from Marseille, Toulouse (Autoroute A9)
3 hours from Lyon, Nice, Barcelona (Autoroute A9)
3 hours and 45 min. from Paris (TGV)
2 hours from Lyon, Toulouse, Marseille (regional trains TER)
For information on train schedules
www.sncf.com (for TGV)
www.ter-sncf. com (for TER)
Written by Brigitte Aflalo Calderon for EuropeUpClose.com