If you would like to skip big or posh cities along the French Riviera and see something different, make sure you visit this small and unpretentious port town halfway between Toulouse and Marseille. Except for enjoying unbelievably fresh seafood, in Sète you can cycle around the canals, watch joutes aquatiques, and visit a beautiful cemetery, described by Paul Valery in his The Graveyard By The Sea.
Locals are often surprised with tourists coming to visit their town as many of them consider it just normal. It’s true - Sète contains no must-see museums, no epic sightseeing spots, no extraordinary monuments, but in fact, this is the best thing about it. Nevertheless, I suggest you include the following spots in your 24 hours in Sète itinerary.
First of all, go explore the canals. Tour operators often sell Sète as the Venice of France. It's unnecessary, and even it does not make much sense to compare a real, working town with Venice, a place of mass tourism. Find your way around the gridded streets and bridges and it won't take you long to discover the Canal Royal, the eastern culmination of the Canal du Midi that connects the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. Every August, this canal is where an outstanding water jousting tournament happens. The tradition dates from the 17th century. In Sète, the first water jousting tournament took place in July 1666, in order to celebrate the foundation of the port which was linked to the digging of the Canal du Midi. Back then, the young bachelors in blue boats were competing with married men, in red boats. Today, the tradition is still alive, and the adrenaline level is probably the same. The locals say that water jousting is more than just a tradition; it is a part of their identity. If you visit Sète out of jousting season, you can still admire the architecture of the Canal Royal.
If just every cemetery could be like this one! A quiet and sunbathed resting place of over 3.000 people with its striking views of the Mediterranean is far from a depressing spot. Initially named Saint Charles Cemetery, it has been renamed marine cemetery honouring the French poet Paul Valéry who was born and buried here in Sète. He dedicated a famous poem to this cemetery.
How rewarding are the long vistas of celestial calm!
Because one can never get tired of watching the sea, go up for some more of it. It's about 1.5km hike (there is also a public transport option by bus nº5!) that takes you up to the Mont St. Clair, the 180m high hill around which Sète is built. The views from here are almost unbelievable and you get to see both the Mediterranean and the Thau Lagoon. Besides the view, you will also find a strange little church where fishermen used to pray in front of the Madonna de la Salette before leaving to the sea.
With almost 20 kilometres of what some say are the best beaches in the Mediterranean, you will easily find your place under the Sun. Unspoiled sandy beaches of Sète are an interesting alternative to the crowded Cannes, overpriced Saint Tropez or pebble beaches of Nice, and definitely the best way to end your 24 hours in Sète.
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