Sete, Languedoc-Roussillon: tourism & sightseeing
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Sete is a large, cosmopolitan town between the Etang de Thau and the Mediterranean, referred to by the locals as the Venice of Languedoc. It is the largest fishing port of the French Mediterranean coast.
The town falls into two parts - the low town, with the port, and criss-crossed by canals and bridges; and the high town on Mont St Clair. In the low town, the harbour front houses, canals and the fishing activity itself are the main attractions, along with the lovely 'village within a town' - the Pointe Courte sector.
Along the edges of the canals are attractive buildings housing shops, restaurants and bars and strolling along these streets edged with small boats is a real pleasure.
Sète lies at the foot of Mount St. Clair (175 meters above sea level), between the Gulf of Thau and the Mediterranean Sea. To get a feel for the layout of the town you really need to head up Mount St Clair from which you get views of Sete below with its canals and sea-port.
It is quite a hike to the top but you can drive or catch the bus up to the top. As well as the views you can admire the wonderful painted walls of the Chapel of Notre Dame de la Salette.
Also on the summit of the Mont Sant-Clar is the quarter known as the 'Quartier Haute', which was once inhabited by Italian fishermen and it is now home mostly to artists who here have opened their 'ateliers'. Also spread out on the hill are some lovely villas with large, attractive gardens.
Over the years a number of economic and tourist activities (the beaches) have developed. Sète is not just a port town, but a city with a very active cultural life, enhanced by the presence of several interesting museums and important churches.
For beaches it is necessary to leave the centre of town and head for the long strip of sand which starts behind Mont St Clair and stretches out as a long thin 12km strip to Marseillan Plage to the west. The beaches of Lazaret, the “Corniche” and Villeroy are not far from the city
On one side of this thin strip is the sea and on the other the Bassin de Thau. This lido is very popular in the summer and has a chic palm-tree-lined promenade and la Fontaine beach has an area with jets of water - great fun for adults and children alike on a hot summers day.
Paul Valery Museum, Sete
A visit to Sète should include the Paul Valery Museum on Mount Saint Clair (on the sea front next to the Cemetery, celebrated by Paul Valery), from which you can also enjoy an exceptional panoramic view. In the permanent collection of the Paul Valery Museum there are works by various important contemporary artists including Maurice Sarthou, Robert Combas, Francois Desnoyer, Hervé Di Rosa, Albert Marquet and Henry Matisse (La religieuse portugaise).
On the first floor an entire room is dedicated to Paul Valery, born in Sète (1871-1945), with manuscripts, watercolour paintings, and rare editions of some of his work. Also very interesting is the room devoted to the painters of the eighteenth and nineteenth century with works by several French and Italian artists.
Chapel of Notre-Dame-De-La-Salette
The chapel of Notre-Dame-De-La-Salette stands on Mount St. Clair, built on the site of an ancient fortress built by Louis XIII. It is a fair hike up to the top of Mount St Clair but worth it for the views and the chapel itself.
The church, consecrated in 1864, has fairly recent frescoes (by Bringuier from Annecy), and painted with real skill; the artist has successfully interpreted the sacred scenes with extreme delicacy, and the frescoes lose nothing to classical medieval frescose in their intensity. The frescoes give the church a very individual style and is well worth a look.
Sete Regional Centre for Contemporary Art
For those who enjoy contemporary art, we recommend a visit to the Regional Centre for Contemporary Art on Rue Aspirant-Hebert, a forum open to young artists who utilise the most varied and innovative techniques of contemporary art such as installations and videos.
Don't miss the 'George Brassen Space: a space for a poet' - a technology space dedicated to the famous singer song-writer of Sete, with unpublished photographs, manuscripts, and to hear the entire discography from 1952 to 1976. The visitor is equipped with a personal stereo in order to follow the story and songs of Brassen in a quite modern and unusual way. The Museum is open all year.
International Museum of Modest Art - Le Musee International des Arts Modestes (MIAM)
Another interesting museum in Sète is the International Museum of “poor Art”, an invention of Hervé di Rosa and Bernard Beluc, in which are collected everyday objects that have been abandoned because they were considered useless: toys, trading cards , flower baskets and other items, which, according to the founders, though they no longer have practical use, 'arouse aesthetic pleasure'.
The museum also features temporary exhibitions, sometimes related to personalities eg in 2001 a section was devoted to Elvis Presley, and in 2008 was devoted to Graffiti, and involved many contemporary artists.
The Joutes de Sète
Every year Sete hosts the 'Joutes de Sète' a jousting tournament from boats rather than horseback. The competition takes place from the end of June to the begining of September with the big final on around the 22 August.
The jousters dress in white and each round is between two boats, the red team and the blue team. The goal is to use the long jousting spear to throw your opponents into the water.
The jousting competitions are very popular with locals and tourists alike and during the tournament the town has a very festive feel. It is an excellent time to visit Sete.
Other Sete highlights
Sète, in an excellent geographical position, is an enjoyable city to visit in all seasons. After the visit to Mount St. Clair, follow the 'Haute-Route' which leads to a characteristic and historical town, the pier 'Saint Louis', from where there is a nice view of the old lighthouse, on which are inscribed some verses of Paul Valery.
From here you can continue to the so-called Old Port with its narrow streets and canals and the sight of the vessels, and public meeting places.
In the many local restaurants tourists can taste the typical dishes of the region, especially fish specialties: oysters, mussels and clams, the “rouille” of fried squids and the famous “Tiella” of Sète, starting perhaps with a local aperitif, the Noilly Prat, and then with some wine to accompany the fish, such as, for example, white wines of Listel.
A 'little train' guided tour of Sete is available.
Attractions close to Sete
Boat trips along the coast are available from the harbour, and an unusual side-excursion can be made from Sete out towards the Etang de Thau in a glass-bottomed boat to see the mussel and oyster cultivation.
A brief history of Sete, France
At first glance Sète appears to be a fairly recent town - and it is, if you think only of the founding of the city in the 17th century. However, as a place of human settlement, it has very ancient origins and the first human settlements here date to the Bronze Age (1100-800 B.C.). The area has been continuously inhabited over the centuries and in Roman times the hill of Sete formed a place of refuge for ships sailing the Mediterranean Sea.
Until the 17th century construction of the port and city the territory of Sète was sparsely populated, mostly by fishermen. In the Middle Ages the village was known as Ceta.
Things changed under the reign of Louis XIV (1638-1715), at the initiative of Minister Colbert (1619-1683), who, in order to facilitate the trade and export of products from the Languedoc, planned and built the port and town (such a project had already been thought at the time of Henry IV, 70 years before, but that never materialized).
Work on the creation of the port at Sète began in 1666, a date that is still celebrated for the founding of the city. The construction of the port and the city was a big job taking nearly 15 years, during which time dozens of dykes, basins, bridges and aqueducts were built. In the early eighteenth century, there was an attempt by the British to take over the city, but it was rejected. Following this event, the defences of Sète was strengthened with numerous fortifications.
In the mid-nineteenth century, the city had a great impetus for the population, especially as a settlement centre for Italian fishermen who left their homeland to seek new employment opportunities. In recent years Sete has became an important fishing centre in France.
Photos of Sete
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Map of Sete and places to visit
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Address: Sète, Montpellier, Herault, Languedoc-Roussillon, 34200, France || GPS: latitude 43.405, longitude 3.6975
Plan your visit to Sete, Languedoc-Roussillon
Sightseeing & tourist attractions to visit nearby
- Etang de Thau: site of natural beauty (6km)
- Étangs palavasiens: site of natural beauty (17km)
- Etangs du Bagnas: site of natural beauty (17km)
- Pezenas: recommended detour (23km)
- Montpellier: secteur sauvegarde (27km)
- Mare Nostrum: aquarium (28km)
- Parc et jardins du château de Flaugergues: remarkable garden (29km)
- Céressou: site of natural beauty (29km)
- Parc zoologique de Lunaret: zoo or wildlife park (30km)
- Cirque du Moureze: site of natural beauty (36km)
- Cirque de Mourèze: site of natural beauty (36km)
- Valle du Salagou: grand site of france (39km)
Market days in Sete, France
Regular market(s) are held in Sete each Wednesday & Monday & Friday. (Markets are held in the morning unless stated.)
The French version of this page is at Sete (Francais)