Little Venice in South of France
Another scenic train ride from Toulouse to Sète, further south.
Once we arrive in the quaint city of Sète, the first job is to meet Marie-Louise and René Schneider , whom we find waiting on the busting train station. Marie-Louise and René, a wonderful couple whom I accompanied in their one month travel to Ethiopia would be our hosts for three days. After an afternoon stroll through the calm, boat lined canals, taking welcome respite from the sun, our hosts leads us down the pretty tree-lined promenade that runs alongside the water.
Sète is a sort of giant floodgate between two bodies of water, crisscrossed by canals. That is why it is often called “the little Venice of the Languedoc.” Despite being the largest Mediterranean fishing port in France, Sète loses nothing of its historical feel. It has a growing reputation for stunning beaches, outdoor activities, quality places to stay and eat. Our hosts Marie-Louise and René were enthusiastic and their love of Sète and its history was obvious and contagious. They shared with us many interesting stories and anecdotes about every place we visited. From them, we learned that Sète is a town of approximately 40,000 people who mostly earn their livelihood from the sea. Louis XIV was instrumental in establishing the town as a prosperous shipping center during his reign. He understood the value of a seaport on the Mediterranean that could bring in the goods and valuables he desired to fill his lavish tastes. It was not until in the 19th century that Italian immigrants helped turn the town into a fishing Mecca. In the middle of the 20th century, there has been a significant migration from Spain to the, after the Spanish civil war (1936–1939). Though it is smaller, there is also a North African community (Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia) that is also significant in the area, and present in workforce in the fishing and aquaculture sectors.
The next morning we climbed up to the top of Mount Saint-Clair, a lone hill on the otherwise flat coast. This is the highest point of the town, and from there, we were able to gaze out over the deep blue waters of the Mediterranean and Vieux Port. On the other side sits the string of lakes that make up the Bassin de Thau. There we spent almost an hour, trying to spot the dark areas where the oysters and mussels are farmed and watching the tiny specks of the fishing and tourist boats, sail across its vast expanse. The tiny church of Notre Dame which sits close to the viewing plateau is a picture opportunity in itself.
Next, Marie-Louise brought us to the weekly outdoor market and the daily indoor market that we had greatly enjoyed. Sea food lovers will be spoilt for choice, with the many products of fresh fish, oysters and mussels. The Wednesday outdoor market has a totally different flavor from the indoor market. While they are co-located in the center of town, the outdoor market is a bustling profusion of sounds, smells and merchandise.
Alongside clothing and shoe vendors are stalls with hot cauldrons of paella; others with onions, peppers, garlic and sausages; others with couscous. The varieties of Mediterranean foods for sale are as varied as the population buying their favorite dishes.
Many stands offer samples of the tapas spreads and sausages to those passing by.