Sète is an attractive fishing village just 18 miles (28 kilometers) southeast of Montpellier. Important for over 300 years, it still has a lively fishing port lined with buildings painted with colors of rich ochre, rust, and blue. This is the place for some of the best seafood in France, prepared from the catches that land up in the harbor daily. Sète also makes a good base for exploring the surrounding region and the sparkling Mediterranean coast.
It is near some of the great cities of the area, like Perpignan in the south and Beziers. And if you want to go further, explore the region along the Spanish border where the two countries merge into each other in the Catalan culture.
What to See
The top part of the town climbs up Mont St-Clair to the panoramic parc des Pierres Blanches. From here the view takes you over the bassin de Thau, onto the Cevennes, le pic St-Loup, and the coast dotted with lakes and small towns. On a clear day, you can see the Pyrenees and to the east as far as the Alpilles hills.
The little Notre-Dame-de-la-Salette chapel was originally part of a hermitage, built as protection against pirates by the Duke of Montmorency.
Walk down the marked path to the sailor’s cemetery which has the tomb of French actor and theatre director Jean Vilar, but more importantly the tomb of the poet Paul Valéry.
A few steps further you’ll come to the Paul Valéry Museum which has works by artists inspired by the little town. On the first floor, there is a room dedicated to the poet displays original editions, manuscripts, and watercolors.
If you’re a fan of Georges Brassens (1921 to 1981), the Espace Brassens gives you a bit more information about the life of the famous singer-songwriter.
Down by the sea, the old port forms the lively center of town. Little bridges over the canals take you to a bewildering choice of small restaurants and bars. On the southeast corner the Môle St-Louis juts out into the sea. Built-in 1666, it’s used today as a base for training top-level sailing.
Walk north and you’ll pass the CRAC (Centre regional d’art contemporain). This contemporary art gallery converted from a former fish freezing warehouse holds excellent temporary exhibitions all year round.
Be sure to stop by the tourist office for maps and local information.
60 Grand'rue Mario-Roustan
Phone: 00 33 (0)4 67 74 71 71
It's All About the Sea
The beaches are the reason many people come to Sète. The plage du Lazaret is near the center of town. Go a little over one mile (two kilometers) out of the center and you’ll come to la plage de la Corniche, ideal for children. Those after some gentle exercise can walk along the six-mile (10 kilometers) spur of fine golden sand to reach Marseillan.
For water sports fans, this is an ideal destination. There is hardly any water activity, from sailing to swimming to scuba diving, that isn’t possible here.
Sète also hosts famous water-jousting tournaments when teams in boats attempt to unseat their opponents by rowing as fast as possible towards each other. Each boat has a lance-carrying jouster; the idea is to unseat your opponent and preferably chuck him into the sea.
Go down to the harbor and take a boat trip out to sea.
Daytrips From Sète
Sète makes an excellent base for day trips. At the western end of the Bassin de Thau, Agde is a delightful coastal town that began as a Phoenician town, trading with the Levant.
To the south of Mont St-Loup, Cap d’Agde is one of the most successful, and largest, naturist resorts in France.
A little further afield to the east, Nimes is one of the great Roman cities of the south of France.
Aigues-Mortes is on the edge of the Camargue. Called the city of dead waters, it's an evocative place, built on a strict grid pattern. The city has good hotels, many of them by the defensive ramparts.
Go down to the French border with Spain and visit the beautiful, and underrated Cote Vermeille.
Where to Stay
The Orque Bleue Hotel is a charming boutique hotel right on the canal and by the fishing port. The 19th-century building houses 30 nicely decorated rooms, and there’s a garage.
10 Quai Aspirant Herber, 34200 Sète
Phone: 00 33 (0)4 67 74 72 13
The 3-star Grand Hotel on the canal is the place if you want something more upmarket. Looking directly onto the canal, it has large comfortable rooms, a pool, and a gym. The restaurant is bistro style with good seafood and fish dishes.
17 Quai de Tassingy, 34200 Sète
Phone: 00 33 (0)4 67 74 71 77
Where and What to Eat
A local Sète specialty found on many menus is bouillabaisse. This popular and hearty stew combining fish and shellfish actually got its start as a low-cost lunch for hard-working fishermen by mixing together the day’s catches that didn’t sell at market. Other Sètois fish specialties include le tielle, a fish and tomato tort, and la rouille de seiche, a mix of fish, tomato sauce, and aioli.
8 Quai Général Durand, 34200 Sète
Phone: 00 33 (0)4 67 74 59 69
A good, inexpensive place for seafood, particularly mussels. The restaurant also has a fish shop at Port-Loupian.
47 Rue Pierre Semard, 34200 Sète
Phone: 00 33 (0)4 67 74 97 73
Delightful husband-and-wife run restaurant with an outside terrace. Go for the excellent seafood and friendly service.