Though the coastal city of Sète may not have been on your original itinerary for a visit to France, this charming place will win your heart over within the first five minutes. From the scenery to the food to the unpretentious, beach casual atmosphere, you will not regret taking a detour to visit Sète.
Characterized by the canals that run throughout the city, Sète in southern France is famous for being a working port. Due to its distinct and strong connection to the water, both physically and economically, shipping and fishing are at the heart of the culture. The city is built upon and around the Mont St. Clair, nestled between Bassin de Thau, an enclosed salt water lake used for collecting oysters and mussels, and on the other side the Mediterranean. This creates not only many attractive views, but also lots of great opportunities to walk around and, of course, eat some delicious and fresh seafood at one of the many restaurants.
There are no major monuments or touristic sites that attract visitors to Sète. It is famous for water jousting and hosts a major tournament there during the town festival of Saint Louis. What probably brings most visitors there is the promise of unpretentious relaxation.
You can spend the day walking through the port and along the network of canals, which connect the Étang de Thau with the Mediterranean Sea. The port was originally built on the orders of Louis XIV in 1666 to provide an outlet to the sea. Today, the canals are lined with boats and fishermen at work. Many of the locals also have boats and even drive them throughout the city instead of driving.
Personally, Sète is my favorite kind of city to visit. It’s small enough to walk around and is essentially the entire attraction within itself. The boats, storefronts and homes are colorful, creating a beautiful contrast against the clear, turquoise waters. The restaurants that line the main canal offer a variety of fresh dishes, and menus of the day (Menu de Jour) starting as low as 12 euros for an appetizer, main dish and dessert.
We stopped at a place along the canals where I dined on my favorite meal in France to date. I ordered a delicious hot goat cheese salad to start and then a freshly caught sea bass for my main meal. We shared a bottle of wine, plus dessert and my total cost were 25 euros (much more than I would normally spend, but definitely worth the money).
If you want to build up an appetite before lunch or perhaps work off all the rich food, it is recommended to take a visit up Mont St-Clair. The hill is 180 meters up, which can be accessed on foot, but also by a bus or taxi. The views from the top are supposed to be spectacular (we didn’t have time to go).
Then, of course, you can’t forget a visit to the beach. Sète boasts a 12 km long beach, which separates the lagoon from the sea. It’s the perfect place to relax like a local and dream up what you’re going to have fun dinner!