If you have a chance to take a trip and don’t really care where you go, just put your finger on a spot on a map. Then go there.
That’s pretty much how I decided to visit Sete.
The fact that I’m four days in Sete and have written no blog is testament to what an interesting and diverse place this is to experience. In fact, it’s hard to believe that Sete is virtually unknown, even by the French.
A little bit Venice, a little bit Riviera
Sete is a town of approximately 40,000 people who mostly earn their livelihood from the sea. Louis XIV was instrumental in establishing Sete 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 years later that Italian immigrants helped turn the city into a fishing Mecca. Sete is now France’s biggest fishing port on the Mediterranean, and provides the world’s largest tonnage of tuna, sardines, herring and anchovies. In the inland waters, oyster and mussel farm are abundant and thriving.
Connoisseurs say that oysters from Sete are the best anywhere.
The early name for Sete was Cette (Cettoise) which means “whale”. The name of the city was changed to Sete in 1929. The name was given by sailors who, when passing the undeveloped island, thought it looked like a giant whale.
Known as the Venice of France, Sete has 24 bridges that crisscross the city to carry people and vehicles from one send to the other. If you miss the last bridge, you run into the sea wall that separates the town from the Mediterranean.
Beyond the seawall are rocky cliffs where sunbathers stretch out if they choose not to head down the road to the miles of sandy beaches. (Stay tuned for a visit to the beaches.)
Every day markets
Sete is not a tourist place…yet. So the markets and stores are devoted to the general population. Food and other goods purchased in Sete are at least half the price of Uzes, or nearby Montpelier.
There is an indoor city market open 6 days a week and a large outdoor market on Wednesdays. Now I’ve been to both which are quite different.
The indoor market is a social meeting place. Everyone in town comes to do their food shopping and to meet their friends and neighbors. For the older generations it’s a place to meet and enjoy a glass of wine, beer and oysters… in the morning.
The indoor market is filled with produce, meat products of all kinds, and especially… fish and shellfish.
One market vendor proudly shows off a silver trophy awarded for the most well displayed market stand in the Languedoc-Roussillon region.
The Wednesday 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.
The center city of Sete is filled with ornate buildings with carvings and pillars that testify to the early wealth of the city. Many of the downtown apartments were created from majestic homes that bordered the canals.
Next: New faces, more places. Stay tuned.