I continued up Rue Paul Valéry from the bridge and found the shaded Place Léon Blum. It seems the sea air and ever-shining sun are a great source of inspiration for artists. Paul Valéry is the town’s pride and joy; the poet was born and raised in Sète, before leaving for Montpellier and then Paris. Singer-songwriter Georges Brassens spent many a year strolling through the streets, while Nouvelle Vague film-maker Agnes Varda shot La Pointe Courte in the town’s fishing district. Today, Sète is a canvas for street-art, and I spotted a large mural by famed French street artist M. Chat.
I sat on a low wall facing the square and people-watched, while munching on one of Sète’s delicacies: a tielle. These delicious little pies, best devoured slightly warm, arc stuffed with tomato and octopus, a traditional ingredient in sétois cooking. And then I continued along Rue Gambetta, a side-street flanked by little shops, bars and ice-cream parlours, until I reached the covered market hall, which has recently been modernised.
I stepped inside the blissfully cool hall and took in the aromas of the market and the hubbub of conversation. This place is both a wonderful source of fresh produce (especially fish) and an informal meeting space. I passed people tucking into platters of oysters and debating the latest news, glass of white wine in hand, while elderly ladies sat on benches watching the world go by.
I reluctantly left the air-conditioned market and lost myself in other little side-streets, until I retraced my steps, to the corner of the Pont de la Savonnerie, to embark on the only real way to take a stroll in Sète: by boat. There are three different hour-long cruises, and I chose a tour of the old port. I sat watching the town buzzing with life as we glided seamlessly on the canals, passing rowers getting their boats ready, colourful jousting barques bobbing from our backwash, and tiny, moored-up day-boats, including Georges Brassens’ very own that has been untouched for years. If life in Sète is fast-paced, the rhythm of the water always finds a way to slow down time.