Living France - - DESTINATION -

Dom­i­nat­ing the la­goon is Sète, an in­ter­est­ing lively town. Its name it­self de­rives from the Latin word ‘ ce­tus’, mean­ing ceta­ceous, which be­came ‘ ceta’ and fi­nally ‘ cète’. The ori­gin of the town’s name is un­clear but many be­lieve that fish­er­men ap­proach­ing the town from the sea called the city ‘Cète’, an old French word for whale, be­cause of its shape on the hori­zon. As such, the town’s coat of arms fea­tures a whale and it has be­come a sym­bol that can be spot­ted around town.

Sète is also known as ‘La Venise du Langue­doc’. In­deed, labyrinthine canals and mari­nas criss-cross in the cen­tre of town, and with the la­goon on one side and the Mediter­ranean on the other, wa­ter is ever-present in Sète.

In fact, wa­ter is the rea­son why the town was ever built. King Louis XIV wished to link the Mediter­ranean with the At­lantic and or­dered the con­struc­tion of one of the most spec­tac­u­lar engi­neer­ing feats ever ac­com­plished: the Canal du Midi. The spot where Sète now stands was cho­sen as the canal’s start­ing point and the sea bar­rier, pro­tect­ing the la­goon from the Mediter­ranean, was built in 1666.

The first in­hab­i­tants, mostly fish­er­men, set­tled on the Mont St-Clair, nick­named ‘la Mon­tagne’ by the lo­cals. Nowa­days, the fish­er­men’s shacks have been re­placed by pri­vate vil­las, each with their own pool, but they are still owned by fish­er­men – fish­ing can be a lu­cra­tive busi­ness in the area, es­pe­cially if you fish for tuna. Just the sight of the dozen huge trawlers moored up in town is a sign of how well they do: less than 10 of th­ese tuna boats ac­count for about 50% of France’s bluefin tuna quota.

Sète is best ex­plored on foot as the cen­tre is a bit of a tight squeeze. As you wan­der through the cob­bled streets you’ll find plenty of cafés to stop at along the way, while the sound of laugh­ter and Mar­seil­lan: €185,000 Hérault: €204,500 Mèze: €230,000 Sète: €260,000 de­li­cious fresh food smells drift through the air. This is very much a town of the south, where French, Cata­lan and Span­ish in­flu­ences can be seen and heard ev­ery­where you go.

Be sure to stop at the fan­tas­tic cov­ered mar­ket hall, which is open ev­ery day. It’s as much a source of fresh lo­cal prod­ucts as a place of so­cial gath­er­ing, where daily news is dis­cussed and de­bated over a plat­ter of seafood and a glass of wine. Within the mar­ket hall you’ll find Halles et Manger, a de­light­ful lit­tle restau­rant where chef Ma­gali also of­fers cook­ing classes for ev­ery­one to join in.

After you’ve sam­pled the de­li­cious food (and there’s plenty), head down to the quiet and charm­ing fish­er­men’s district called La Pointe Courte. Built in the 1960s to house a large com­mu­nity of fish­er­men who had nat­u­rally con­gre­gated there as it was the most con­ve­nient place to hang their fish­ing nets to dry, it’s a hum­ble but won­der­fully colour­ful area. In 1969, the town mayor sold the land for a to­ken sum so that the com­mu­nity could of­fi­cially set­tle there. The district was off-lim­its to out­siders for a long time, al­though artists such as Ge­orge Brassens and Agnès Varda of­ten fre­quented the area, but, in re­cent years new res­i­dents have ar­rived and vis­i­tors can be seen strolling the streets.

But per­haps what makes peo­ple re­ally fall in love with Sète is the amaz­ing ar­ray of cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties avail­able to them. There are seven mu­se­ums and the cul­tural cal­en­dar counts no less than 10 fes­ti­vals (for about 43,000 in­hab­i­tants), in­clud­ing the BBC’s Gilles Peter­son’s World­wide Fes­ti­val held on the beach. Wa­ter joust­ing is a ma­jor part of life in Sète and thou­sands of peo­ple watch the tour­na­ments held there ev­ery sum­mer.


If Sète is a young city, Mèze is the one with all the his­tory and is in fact the old­est set­tle­ment around the la­goon. Lo­cated

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.