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Sensuous and seductive: Sete – destination Southern France

Sensuous and seductive: Sete – destination Southern France

With a global focus on Paris, the other charming, beautiful, delicious, curious, inspiring parts of France frequently get lost. A destination that must be discovered in Sud France, a very upmarket but unpretentious part of the country, is the city of Sete, Languedoc-Roussillon region.

May in Narbonne

I was recently introduced to Southern France through an invitation to cover the Gerard Bertrand Wine Jazz Festival located 10 minutes from the Center of Narbonne in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France. Gerard Bertrand wineries and the annual Jazz festival that is presented at the Chateau l’Hospitalet are very good places to start the journey to discover this part of the French planet. The Chateau is located in an incredibly beautiful wine estate that is cultivated using biodynamic methods and at the center of the protected Massif of la Clape.

“At the Chateau there is a constant duel between sea and mountain, between rich shale and poor limestone, and between the naturally occurring water in the subsoil and its inaccessibility to the vines.”  Richard Planas, Gerard Bertrand Estate Director.


Languedoc-Roussillon leads the world in wine production – even more than Bordeaux, Australia, South Africa and Chile combined. Approximately 1/3 of all French wine comes from this region which includes 290,000 hectares of vines or 2, 133 million bottles of wine. Thirty percent of production is exported to Germany and the UK. There are approximately 30 appellations and crus in the region include white, red, rose, sparkling and sweet wines.

• Where to Go. What to See. And Eating

Sete

A short drive from Narbonne is the unique port city of Sete. Located between Etang de Thau and the Mediterranean, it is referred to as the Venice of Languedoc (an exaggeration). It was developed in the 17th century as an outlet for the Canal du Midi with communist mayors as architectural design decision makers – so the buildings are unique in a very quirky and amazingly charming way.

This is a working city and the largest fishing port of the French Mediterranean coast; because it is at the south-eastern hub of the Basin de Thau, an enclosed salt water lake, it is an incredible source for oysters and mussels. Sete is more than a port town – it is a city with art, music, museums and important churches, great restaurants, and an international professional retirement community.

Artists Love Sete

Georges Brassens (born in Sete; considered one of France’s most accomplished postwar poet, singer, songwriter and musician) and Paul Valery (born in Sete; nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 12 different years; a poet, essayist, and philosopher) have their own museums. Pierre Solages (born 1919), noted Abstract Expressionist who explores the properties of the color black, returns to Sete for inspiration from the water and canals.

Unusual Sport

Sete is noted for the sport of water jousting and there is a major tournament during the St. Louis festival. The activity dates back to the early 17th- 18th centuries when the St Louis church was consecrated and Louis IX, patron of the port, became the patron saint of the town. Water jousts are a tradition throughout Languedoc; however, the jousts at Sete are the most popular.


The jousters are dressed in white and stand astride their boats (one red team and one blue team). In the 18th century jousting tournaments organized the competition between young bachelors (blue boat) against married men (red boat). The goal is to use the long jousting spear to throw the opponent into the water. en.tourisme-sete.com/joust-feast-popular-summer.html

Beach

Some visitors (and locals) claim that Sete has the finest unsung beaches in the French Mediterranean. Look for a total of 8 miles of beach stretched along a spit of land separating the lagoon from the sea. Cafes and restaurants are sprinkled along the beachfront; umbrellas provide shelter from the blazing sun and showers, toilets are available and life guard stations post the wind speed, temperature of air and water…all creating a memorable beach experience. Walk the beach, cycle the paths, drive or take the No. 9 bus – but be sure to include this locale in your itinerary.

Food + Les Halles

For a small city, the food opportunities are enormous. Les Halles is the town market where it is possible to choose your food from the stalls (fish preferably, but also meat, cheese, quiche, salads, cakes, and cookies), have it cooked on the spot and served (or self-served, it depends on the seller) at a table nearby. I suggest it for oysters/mussels – directly from the Thau Basin to your mouth!

It is best to arrive at Les Halles at 11:00 AM; grab a table and get in line at the seafood stand and order fresh oysters. The bar server will visit your table to take a wine order (perhaps Picpoule a white wine from Castelnau-de-Guers, 14 miles from Sete).

France.Sete.Nancy

• Martine Les Comptoirs de Sète

For a mélange of treasures from Provence and gifts of soaps from Marseille, as well as tablecloths, scarfs and wraps, and natural cosmetics say Hello – to Martine.

• Fresh Fruits. Vegetables. La Pailotte au Fruits. Fred Mathey and Laetitia

The produce is so beautiful, so huge and so lush, the questions are to eat the fruits and vegetables or take pictures. facebook.com/lejardindeverdun.mathey

Food Shops

• Sophie Cianni. 19 Grand rue Mario Roustan

Sophie is the great granddaughter of Adrienne who created tielles* with octopus. At the shop, each pie is individually prepared, spiced and sized by customer preference. A small team of chefs perform their gourmet magic behind clear glass – so you can see your delights being prepared. The shop is located between the canal and town hall.

*Tielle. Tomato based ragout of octopus or squid with olive oil and white wine enveloped in a golden pastry crust.

• Lou Pastou. Cheese. 5 Rue Gambetta, 34200 Sète, France

On a small side street in Sete, stop at Lou Pastou for cheese and ask for Mr. Cadilhac. Since 1976 this shop has provided the best cheese ever.  Born in Roquefort (noted for cheese) the Cadilhac family owned the Baragnoudes cellars in Roquefort. The shop may be small, but the international selection is vast – and includes reblochon, chaource, brillat-savarin timanoix, a walnut flavored Breton cheese, Lou Ren chees, organic cheese from Aveyron, agasse du Larzac, Gruyere.

Shell Fish. Farming. Eating

• Florent Tarbouriech, son of a shellfish farmer and his wife, Florie (restaurant manager) create a gourmet experience that never goes away. The oysters here set a standard that even on a global scale are the best on the planet (and worth the flight to Sete to enjoy). Motivated to work since the age of 16, Florent is considered an “innovator” whose products are used as a touch-points when referencing French gastronomy.

The Mediterranean’s largest mussel and oyster farm is located in Marseillan and the gourmet (gourmand) goodies from these waters are delicious and the operation is awesome. The oysters are HUGE and so delicious that there is no way to stop slurping them. Price is based on size. The small size is tasty and yummy but the large ones are memorable.

• 2 Rue Général de Gaulle

A perfect place for morning coffee and casual lunch/dinner. Located near the Canal on a busy thoroughfare, it is wonderful to watch the busy street life of Sete and chat with nearby diners.

Sete Menu Choices

Soupe de Poisson de Roche a la Setoise. Fish soup made with small fish caught in/near the coast of Sete. Flavored with garlic, and aioli (garlic and mayonnaise) and serviced with an aioli flavored rouille sauce.

Macaronade a la Setoise. Made with beef that is stuffed and includes bacon, tomatoes, onions flavored with red wine, parsley and paprika and perhaps coated with grated Parmesan or gruyere cheese.

Moules Farcies a la Setoise. Mussels, from the Thau Basin, stuffed with sausage meat and cooked in white wine and tomato puree and served with aioli.

Les Encornets Farcis a la Setoise. Small squid stuffed with pork sausage (sometimes with veal) plus breadcrumbs and tomato. Flavored with spicy pepper, garlic, dry white wine or Cognac and Herbs of Provence. May be served with aioli.

La Teille Setoise. Octopus pie or made with calamari, squid or cuttlefish. Includes tomatoes and onions flavored with garlic and rosemary.

Bourride de Lotte a la Setois. Monkfish stew made with vegetables and flavored with white wine, and aioli.

Hotel

• Le Grand Hotel. 17 Quai De Tassigny

Overlooking the Canal de Sete, guests at this 19th century hotel are enthusiastic about being surrounded by tradition. Great location means that it is a short walk from the Gare Maritime Orsetti ferry terminal. The on-premise Mediterranean restaurant and bar plus a glass-roofed patio and meeting space make this a comfortable stop for business and leisure. Free Wi-Fi.

Travel with a Professional

Absolutely Southern France

Nancy McGee is the travel professional to contact when you decide on visiting Sete (or even before you finalize your plans). Canadian by birth and French by choice, McGee has spent the last 3 decades exploring the glories and joys of her adopted country.

McGee launched her company, Absolutely Southern France, in 2011 and her target markets are discerning travelers (leisure and business) seeking unique gourmet and cultural experiences in her part of the world. Absolutely is a licensed destination management company with the French Tourist Board, Atout France. Based in Sete her expertise includes all of Sud France and Monaco.

Absolutely Southern France destination recommendations include Sete, Montpelliers, Nimes, Beziers, Uzes, Pont du Gard, Carcassonne, Collioure, Perpignan and Pezenas.

McGee is an award winner having been selected as Best Holiday Tours 2016” by Luxury Travel Guide. She is also the President of AGLR, an expat social network organization and a member of FCE, Women’s Business Leader’s Network, France. Her reference list includes Central Holiday, France Journeys, Chocolatine (Virtuoso), the French Way Travel (NY), Air France Club China and Gateways International (and a personal “high five” from me). http://southernfranceluxury.com/

Getting to/from Sete

Sete is the eastern starting point of the Canal du Midi, and the ending point of the Canal du Rhone a Sete. The train station, Gare de Sete, is approximately 15 minutes by train from Montpellier and served by long distance trains to Bordeaux, Toulouse, Marseille and Paris. Car ferries sail between Sete and Morocco.

For additional information: Sète Tourist Office, 0033 499 047171, tourisme-sete.com

This copyright article may not be reproduced without written permission from the author.

All photos © Elinor Garely

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