2013 Best Summer Trip #5
A network of canals and bridges crisscrosses this working port-seaside resort on southern France’s Languedoc coast. Sandwiched between oyster-rich Thau lagoon and the Mediterranean, and trailed by a kite-tail strip of sandy beaches, unassuming Sète delivers abundant sun, sea, sand, and seafood under the well-trod tourist radar.
When to Go: June-August; August 22-27, Festival of Saint Louis Joutes Nautiques, traditional Languedoc water jousting competitions staged on the Canal Royal.
How to Get Around: Start with a hike or taxi ride up 564-foot Mont St. Clair for an overview of the city, lagoon, and sea. Then head to the city center and meander along the main Canal Royal, lined with outdoor seafood restaurants and dockside bars. Beaches are on the public bus route, and most other destinations are easily reached on foot or by the ubiquitous powerboats. Sète is also the starting point for westward sails along the Canal du Midi.
Where to Eat or Drink: Dining at Terre & Mer is like pulling up a chair to a foodie friend’s crowded kitchen table. The lively market-bistro specializes in fresh oysters and mussels (straight from the lagoon). Limited seating makes reservations a must.
Where to Stay: Splurge on corner, canal-side lodging at the 43-room Le Grand Hôtel de Sète for the floor-to-ceiling windows, main canal views, and refreshing breezes off the private balcony. The vintage belle epoque facade conceals an airy, glass-roofed courtyard where the daily breakfast buffet is served. Walk from here to the marina, shops, art galleries, and seafood restaurants.
What to Buy: Canadian Nancy McGee’s Absolutely Southern France arranges custom shop, cook, and eat tours; gourmet walking tours; and local oyster bed excursions. Shop in the Sète’s fresh seafood and produce markets with a local chef and English-speaking guide, and then turn your ingredients into a traditional French meal.
Fun Fact: Jousters may get all the glory at the Festival of Saint-Louis joutes nautiques, but water jousting is actually a team sport. Each jouster is perched atop a wooden platform (tintaine) extending out from the end of a long wooden boat. Ten rowers (usually local fishermen) power the boats, and, before and during each match, an onboard drummer and oboist pump up the team by playing traditional jousting tunes.