Ales (borrowed Citroen) and I arrived in Sete France on Saturday afternoon. We rushed to get to the apartment I reserved through Airbnb because my hostess, Nancy, was heading for a wedding in Provence.
Nancy welcomed me to her beautiful home, showed me around, and gave brief instructions about feeding the two cats. Then she was off. I had the place to myself until late Sunday.
After unloading my bags into the bedroom, I walked downstairs, out of the apartment building that faces the Grand Canal. Just a few doors down the street was a Petite Carrefour where I grabbed a Coke Zero, a bottle of water, wine, beer, and a prepared tuna sandwich. In other words, I bought everything I needed to settle in. Did I mention the wind was howling all this time, even though it was a gorgeous, sunny afternoon?
Happily, I spent the rest of the day stretched out on the living room sofa where I enjoyed the apartment and the unforgettable view. The view of the canal through the open French doors was mesmerizing.
Early to bed, early to rise Sunday I put on my comfortable walking shoes and set out to explore the town. I walked from the apartment, up the main canal, to the seawall that was probably a mile away. With the canal on the left, the right side of the street is lined with small shops and cafes. About halfway down the street, the one-way roadway divides in two with one side going up a slight incline into the center city.
I ended up choosing a restaurant near the seawall that was serving a whole grilled fish with tielle as a first course. The family-owned business was tended by the father, wife, son, and son’s girlfriend who all spoke English.
St. Clare by the Sea
I knew in advance that I was leaving Nancy’s apartment because it was booked due to a worldwide music festival. Generously, Nancy had arranged with a friend for me to stay in her guesthouse in St. Clare, overlooking the Mediterranean.
My new hostess drove to Sete to lead me to her home in St. Clare. When we arrived at her hillside home, we sat on the veranda and began chatting like old friends. Her English is perfect since she’s been an English teacher for years. Her son is home for the summer break from University so we enjoyed getting acquainted. He is in his fourth year studying pharmacy.
After visiting for a while, the neighbor from next door appeared at the garden wall. She invited us to her home for aperitifs at 7pm. (Drinks/cocktails) She and her husband have a home in Paris. They are here at their “beach house” entertaining their grandchildren and guests.
Soon, Nancy arrived to pick me up for our tour of a wine domaine and a twelfth-century abbey. Nancy runs Absolutely Southern France, a destination planning company. in addition to her Airbnb business. She is entertaining clients from Canada over the weekend and invited me to go with her to preview her tour. She likes to make certain that everything runs like clockwork for her clients. Needless to say, I was delighted to join her.
Abbey de Valmagne
The Abbey de Valmagne is just outside Sete and welcomes nearly 35,000 visitors yearly to admire the cloister, its fountain, and gardens, Gothic church, chapter house, and monastic outbuildings.
The illustrious history of the abbey includes the story of an Abbot who, during the Reformation, turned against the church to save his own life. He led an army of Protestants to raid the Abbey and kill his fellow priests and parishioners. For centuries the Abbey has operated a wine domaine that exists today. Huge wine vats are prominent features in the alcoves of the church itself. In addition to the winery, the Abbey is a popular tourist destination for the wine tours and a gourmet restaurant that is on the property.
Domaine Saint Hilaire
Not far from the Abbey is the second stop on Nancy’s tour: the wine Domaine Saint Hilaire and luxurious B&B run by the domaine owners.
Returning to St. Claire just in time for aperitifs with the neighbors, I experienced my first social occasion that was all spoken in French. It’s amazing how well you can get along understanding a few words and body language.
Note: The son of my hostess in St. Claire has an interesting hobby. He and his friends participate in “re-enactments.” He is a gladiator! His team has “fought” in the Arena in Nimes.