Sete. The Venice of France
I couldn’t wait to show off Sete to my friends from the Carolinas. After a week’s stay last year, I knew my beach-loving travel companions would like the place. Not only is the city itself of interest because of the canals, architecture, and fabulous seafood, also, the beaches outside the city are magnificent. We envisioned at least one full day in the sun being pampered by handsome waiters as we sunned ourselves at a private beach club.
Only one problem. Our days in Sete turned out to be cold and rainy.
Oh well, not to be disappointed because of the weather, we found plenty to do exploring Sete’s indoor market and nearby towns along the Mediterranean.
Bezier is one of the oldest cities in France, tracing back to 535 BC. Only a few kilometers from the coast, Beziers was a Roman stronghold along the trade route from Provence to the Iberian Peninsula. It was the scene of a bloody massacre in the 13th century when Cathars, considered a heretic group by Catholics, were murdered — along with all other residents of the town– in a two hour battle. The leader of the crusade, when asked “how the warriors could tell Cathars from Catholics,” reportedly answered: “Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius” or “Kill them all and let God sort them out.”
Today Beziers is well known for the “Feria”, a 5-day bullfighting festival that draws over a million spectators each year to the town’s ancient arena. Gothic architecture and stately English gardens, also, lure visitors to step back into the past.
Bouzigues, a beachside town beside the L’Etang de Thau is well known for its fresh seafood– especially oysters
From the narrow street that runs through Bouzigues, you can see miles of oyster beds that stretch into the Mediterranean .
Oysters in L’Etang de Thau are grown on posts designed specifically for maximizing the crop yield.
Another attraction in Bouziques is the many seaside restaurants. On a rainy day, however, most were closed for afternoon business.
Mustang Sally is the red 1996 Ford Mustang I’ve been blessed to drive in France. She belongs to my dear friend, Geoffrey, who has been the star character in many of my blog posts.
When I first arrived to set up my new life in France, Geoffrey and I arrived at a lease agreement for the red car with black racing stripes that has worked out for both of us. Now Mustang Sally is living in the underground car park near my apartment. She’s raring to go at a moment’s notice.
The trip down to Sete was no exception. Packed to the brim with suitcases, bags and hats, Sally proudly provided more than transportation down the super highway and scenic roads for my Carolina guests, she was our “touch of class.” I mean, how else would passerbys know The Golden Girls were around? She stood as a beacon wherever we landed.
Along the highways she hit the 120 KPH speed limit with no hesitation. It was at the many toll booths along the way that she showed her one malady. The driver side window is stuck closed.
After one or two stops, my travel companions and I had the tollbooth routine down flat. Sally would roll up to the gate while I was unbuckling my seatbelt; the front seat passenger would ready the change for the toll; I’d stretch as far as my arms and legs would reach to insert a ticket into the machine to add up the fare; I’d feed the fare into the meter; slam the door; buckle the seatbelt; and we’d speed off before the car behind us could blow its horn in total frustration.
This scenario was repeated for most of the two-hour drive to Sete. We had chosen to go the quickest route, rather than drive on the back roads. Likewise, the stops at Beziers and Bouziques were easy turns-offs from the super highway.
Where to stay in Sete
One of my favorite things about last year’s visit to Sete was the Airbnb apartment. Right in the center of town, facing the main canal, the location would please my friends, I was certain.
Yes, they were thrilled with the apartment with two private bedrooms and an amazing view, as I suspected. They clicked immediately with our host, Nancy, and soon we were feeling right at home.
To view the Airbnb listing, click here.
What to eat in Sete
There’s only one good answer for what to eat in Sete: seafood! One of the most “productive” fishing areas on the Mediterranean, the town is particularly well known for oysters, sardines and tuna. Restaurants line the streets along the harbor and they seem to serve similar dishes.
Grabbing a plate of raw oysters at the city market, along with a glass of wine or beer, is a treat I was determined to give myself.
The idea of “raw” didn’t go so well with the other Golden Girls, but they did taste “tielle” which is a local delicacy– octopus pie.
Another specialty from Sete is fish soup. It is a tomato-based, heavy fish broth served in bowls like chowder.
The best part of the soup is the croutons that float on top. But before you set the croutons off to sail, you smother the crunchy bits of toast with garlicky aioli, and cover them with flaky Parmesan cheese.
Fish soup from Sete can be purchased online from sites like Bien Manger (click here)
When driving in an unfamiliar place, especially if you don’t know the language, be sure to take note of where you park. Many cities have public garages where you can easily get lost. (If you’re as absent-minded as I am!) To insure you get back to the right place, take pictures of your parking spot and direction signs along the way.
Next stop: Port Vendres and Collioure