Fondly referred to as the Venice of Languedoc, Sète is yet another charming town in Mediterranean France. Perfect for a day trip from Montpellier, this seaside escape is sure to capture your heart. After passing though the town countless times on the train from Perpignan to Narbonne, I finally had the chance to explore the colorful port on a misty June day.
The town once known as Cette has a boatload of nautical history. However, it gained prominence in the 17th century when Louis XIV decided it would be the location of the Canal du Midi’s outlet to the Mediterranean. Today Sète is still an important port, but also popular tourist destination in the Hérault department. It’s also the hometown of singer Georges Brassens and poet Paul Valéry. If you’re visiting the Languedoc area, keep reading to find out why you should take a day trip to Sète.
Le Mont Saint Clair
For sweeping views of the town below, head up to Panoramique du Mont Saint Clair, a 175 m high hill and ancient volcano . If you’re feeling sporty, it’s about 20 minute walk from the Tourist Office. There is also a parking lot, so it’s possible to drive. Unfortunately, it was a cloudy day when I visited, so I couldn’t see much, but still got some glimpses of the port from behind the fog.
Le Musée de la Mer
Another free activity to do in Sète is to visit the Musée de la Mer, the museum of the sea. This museum features exhibits about the history of the port, shipbuilding, and local culture. The museum only had panels written in French, but even if you can’t read the language, it would still be interesting to visit because of the photos and artifacts.
I especially appreciated the models of the barques catalanes, which can be found in the Pyrénées-Orientales department where I live. According to the museum, the Catalans were the first fishermen in the port of Sète and their vessels were some of the most beautiful.
La Joute nautique
One of the most interesting exhibits in the museum was one about water jousting, la joute nautique. This sport dates back to ancient Egypt and became popular in France in the Middle Ages. In this sport, there are two teams on small wooden boats. One man from each team stands on a platform and tries to knock his opponent into the water with a lance. There seven (sept) water jousting societies in Sète and a festival is hosted every year in August (except during some times of war and during the most recent pandemic). I’m not a huge sports fan, but this looks like it would be a fun event to observe in person.
Seafood is of course one of the main attractions of Sète, and the most well known dish is probably tielle sétois , a French take on savory hand pie filled with chunks of octopus and a spicy tomato sauce. I’m a vegetarian so I didn’t try it, but my boyfriend did and he said it was delicious. You can get them fresh from la Cettoise.
If you have a sweet tooth you might want to try les zezettes de Sète, boat shaped biscuits flavored with vanilla and rosé. You can find even more local specialties and fresh food at le marché des halles.
For another perspective of the port, you can climb the lighthouse, le Môle Saint-Louis. Entry is 3,50€ and free for kids under 12. It’s 650 m high, so not as much of a climb as Mont Saint Clair, but the staircase it quite narrow. Luckily, we were able to get a little clearer of a view this time!
To end our day trip to Sète with a bang, we took a little cruise through the canals and nearby lagoon with Sète Croisières. The option we chose was 1.5 hours and 15€ for an adult ticket. There are a couple of other options with varying routes, prices, and times, but all depend on the weather. We wanted to do a shorter canal ride, but the one we ended up on was nice too.
L’étang de Thau
After cruising through the canals, we headed into l’étang de Thau, the largest lagoon in the region. In the lagoon we spied some interesting wooden frames, which used in oyster harvesting. Our guide even tied up our boat to the side of one of the structures to show us what the oysters looked like on the end of the rope. It was a nice little boat tour, but I was definitely envious of all the sailboats I saw. Sailing in the Mediterranean is now on my France bucket list!
Thank you so much for reading and stay tuned for more adventures in France!
À la prochaine,
P.S. Want to see more of Sète? Check out my Sète Travel Vlog:
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