In the Area
Since Sète is a big town to explore entirely on foot, it is best to cheat and hop into a car. Drive up Mont Saint-Clair: from the top, you’ll get an incredible panoramic view of Sète and the surrounding area, which is a good way to appreciate its unique location. As you look down toward the port, the vast blue expanse of the Mediterranean pours out on your right while, to the left, is the equally blue Étang de Thau. The lagoon lies squeezed between the narrow stretch of land on which Sète is built, and mainland France.
This lagoon is what gives such wealth to the area, renowned for its shellfish farming – and particularly for producing excellent oysters and mussels. From Sète, it is easy to explore the towns that cling to its banks. The village of Bouzigues, for instance, gives its name to the internationally respected Huîtres de Bouzigues appellation. It is, therefore, the best place to taste the coveted shellfish, and you will be spoilt for choice in terms of restaurants. If you went straight to the producer, you wouldn’t get them any fresher. Laurent Arcella has catered to every need by opening a trendy tasting-bar directly on his oyster farm.
Along the lagoon is the town of Mèze. In contrast to Sète’s relatively recent creation, Mèze was an early settlement that can be traced back to Roman times, thanks to its location on the Via Domitia – a trading route for wine. As a result, the town is home to several historic buildings and pretty stone houses. It also has a quaint fishing port and marina, where leisure sailors like to moor up for some peace and quiet.
Carry on east and you’ll come to Marseillan. This charming port is the landing marina for boats emerging from a cruise on the Canal du Midi: it’s regularly busy with river – and sailing-boats alike. Marseillan is also home to the Noilly Prat vermouth cellars, which serve as a museum about this aperitif.
Head down towards the sea and Sète, and you’ll find the Lido, a beach offering 12 kilometres of silver sand looking out to the open sea. Dotted with chic beach bars, it stretches between Sète and the purpose-built resort of Marseillan-Plage. The Lido is a popular place for the Sétois to hang out and also hosts a number of festivals, including broadcaster and DJ Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide Festival.