Sète: A Well-Kept Secret

September 26, 2012 by

Day Trips, Sightseeing, Things To Do, Top Attractions, Travel Tips


Sete, France. Photo courtesy of Bear Clause via Flickr.

It’s one of the most unspoiled places on the Mediterranean, a well-kept secret so don’t tell anyone but do head there as soon as you can!

Sète is a genuine fishing village and trading port . It’s not full of fine churches and monuments and medieval, renaissance, baroque buildings you must see, or world-leading galleries you can’t miss; which might be a bit of a relief after the rest of Europe. It’s full of fishermen and canal-front bars and beachfront and sunshine.

Sitting on a narrow strip of land with the Mediterranean Sea on one side and a salt water lagoon on the other, Sète is crisscrossed by canals which connect the two areas. So it’s a city where people own boats and use them to go shopping. The Canal Royal is the main water link and connects the sea to the Thau lagoon.

Established in the 17th century, Sète was built as the port linking the Canal du Midi with the Mediterranean Sea. The Canal du Midi is the southern half of the Canal des Deux Mers, a canal system which runs across southern France linking the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. The 150 miles (240 km) stretch of the Canal du Midi officially begins at Toulouse and ends at Sète. Hence Sète has always been an important port town in France.

The lagoon side provides one of the real gems of Sète: mussels and oyster beds. Be prepared to eat a lot of fresh shellfish and fish when you are in Sète. Also to drink great wine – this is after all the Languedoc region of France.

The Languedoc coast is known to be flat – except at Sète. Here a single mountain rises which the township wraps itself around: Mont St-Clair. When I say mountain I mean hill really, at 600 feet; it is a steep climb but is worth it for the view. If you aren’t fond of the idea of walking the hill you may catch the number 5 bus.

When you’ve explored the town, eaten the oysters and climbed the hill, hop on a number 9 bus along the Corniche, the spit of land that separates the sea from the lagoon and enjoy 8 miles of unspoilt beaches in that Mediterranean sunshine.

If you’re in Sète during August don’t miss the saint’s feast day on August 25. Saint-Louis Church was consecrated in 1703 and from then on Louis IX became patron saint of both the port and the town. The annual celebration has the usual fireworks and music with the added quirk of canal jousting on the Grand Canal. Jousting standing on a boat with a huge lance! Madness – fabulous.

The nearest airports are Béziers or Montpellier and then you can catch a train to Sète: about half an hour from Béziers town center and a bit less from Montpellier. Or you can catch the train from Paris, Toulouse, Marseille or Bordeaux. There are also car ferry links to Tangier in Morocco all year around with the trip taking around 36 hours. The ferries are like floating hotels and have nightclubs, shops, beds and restaurants. In summer additional ferry services run from Sète to Nador in Morocco.

- Philippa B.

Planning a trip? Browse Viator’s French Riviera tours and things to do, French Riviera attractions and French Riviera travel recommendations. Or book a private tour guide in Monaco or Nice for a customized tour!

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