Identity card

Number (department ) 34.

Population: 125 019.

Demography: constantly increasing.

Density : 447 ha/m².

Surface area: 310.29 km².

Prefecture - sub-prefecture: Sète.

Number of communes: 14.

Region of belonging - departments composing it : Languedoc - Hérault.

Highest point : Mont Saint-Clair.

Main river : Mediterranean Sea.

Sète, the singular island

A city bathed in water and light

Situated between the Etang de Thau and the sea and criss-crossed by the canals that have made its reputation, the city of Sète bears its name of "Venice of the Languedoc". The Île Singulière, built on the slopes of Mount Saint-Clair, is only connected to the continent by small arms of land. The water, omnipresent with its surrounding canals which allow navigation, gives the city an authentic charm.

Sète, the largest fishing port in the Mediterranean Sea.

A little over three centuries ago, Louis XIV wanted to provide a maritime outlet for the Canal du Midi. The 29th July 1666 marked the birth of the port of Sète, an opening which allowed the city to become richer, notably through the wine trade. Still today the port is the heart of the city, its daily life is punctuated by the waltz of fishing returns, by the song of the seagulls that come to greet the trawlers and by leisure boats. It is a place of life, historical and traditional. A must in the city.

Mount Saint-Clair, an exceptional panorama

Leaning against the Thau lagoon and facing the sea, the 183 m high Mount Saint-Clair offers a magnificent panorama of the town, the port, the lido and the beaches, the Thau lagoon, La Gardiole, with at its summit the very pretty chapel Notre-Dame de la Salette which is a place of pilgrimage. Mount Saint-Clair is also the national forest of the Pierres Blanches. This forest in the town is an exceptional site for the typical fauna and flora of the region, it is home to many rare and protected species. Finally, at the bottom of Mount Saint-Clair, the marine cemetery facing the sea is one of the most famous sites of Sète. Immortalized by the Sète poet, Paul Valéry, buried in the upper part, it also houses the tomb of Jean Vilar.

A city of art and culture

Sète has inspired great writers, poets, singers, among them Paul Valéry, Jean Vilar, Georges Brassens, but also painters who exhibit in galleries around the world. The city is marked by its museums such as the Paul-Valéry Museum, the MIAM, the Regional Centre for Contemporary Art, but also by a multitude of art galleries and artists' studios. Sète is also a host of festivals which take place particularly in fine weather, especially in the magical setting of the Théâtre de la Mer. The world of cinema has also fallen under the spell of the city and its singular light. From Pépé le Moko in 1937 (directed by Julien Duvivier) to 2016 with Tout nous sépare (with Catherine Deneuve and Diane Kruger, by Thierry Klifa), more than 60 feature films have been shot here. Among them landmark films by renowned directors such as Henri Decoin(Le Feu aux poudres, 1957), Christian-Jaque(Babette s'en va-t-en guerre, 1959), Agnès Varda (La Pointe courte, 1954 and Les Plages d'Agnès, 2007), Tony Gatlif (Gaspard and Robinson, 1990) or closer to home Alice Douard (Robin, 2017).

A city that gives pride of place to its traditions

From June to September, the canals of Sète serve as a natural setting for Languedoc jousting tournaments. Dressed in white, barefoot on the plank of boats, equipped with a bulwark to protect them, a wooden spear in the other hand, the jousters confront each other in a singular combat. On August 25, St. Louis Day, these encounters raise the enthusiasm of the crowds. The winner becomes for a year a feared and respected celebrity all along the coast. The culinary specialties of the city are also part of its DNA. Sète - rich in its terroir - proudly preserves its gastronomy, a repertoire nourished by traditions and seafood products such as bourride, stuffed mussels and squid, cuttlefish rust, tielles?

The Canal du Midi

A work classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Even if the Romans had already thought of linking the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, it was not until 1666 that Louis XIV signed an edict "for the construction of a channel of communication between the waters of the two seas, the Ocean and the Mediterranean". It was the Biterrois Pierre-Paul Riquet, who instigated the idea with Colbert, who was responsible for its implementation. Work began in 1667 and was completed in 1681. 12,000 workers will build the 254 km of trenches, 80 km of gullies, 150 engineering structures and more than 60 locks necessary to complete what Vauban considered to be "the most beautiful and noble work of this kind ever undertaken". It was Vauban who completed the work. Indeed, pressed by deadlines, money problems and the wear and tear of time, Riquet (who died in 1680, one year before the inauguration) actually delivered a canal with many defects. Also, two or three years after his death, the work was almost abandoned. It was then Vauban who put his genius as a military architect at the service of the canal, creating canal bridges and other spreaders, which saved the company. The canal then experienced a period of prosperity and many fortunes were made and lost, but time passed and the railway supplanted river navigation.

An ideal place for walks

The 240 kilometres thus covered are still navigable and offer many opportunities for promenade : on foot or by bicycle, under the shady banks of large plane trees (or pine trees in some areas) or by boat for a peaceful cruise. Formerly the "Royal Canal of the Two Seas", the Canal du Midi comes to an end at Sète and continues on the Canal du Rhône à Sète.
All along its route, boat hire companies (see list in "la Région Pratique") have set up in the river ports and have a fleet of boats and barges on which you can embark for a few hours, a day, a weekend, a week...
Depending on the chosen itinerary, you should check the times at which the locks pass through, and then all you have to do is let yourself be sailed, enjoying the shade of the tall trees and the landscapes you pass through.

Remarkable works

If you had to choose two remarkable works of the canal, to be visited absolutely during a visit in Languedoc-Roussillon, Petit Futé advises you without hesitation the locks of Fontserrane in Béziers and the works of the Libron in Vias. The former are the most spectacular works designed by Paul Riquet. With eight basins and nine gates, they allow boats to cross a difference in level of 21,50 m over a length of more than 300 m. A veritable water staircase, a technical feat for the time, the locks are a permanent attraction, still in operation despite the construction of an innovative structure, the water slope, right next to it (often broken down). The latter are unique in the world. Consisting of a tangle of sluice gates, notched crowns and chains, the system allows the flood waters of the Libron to pass through the Canal du Midi on a mobile artificial bed made up of two metal caissons (originally made of leather) which then obstruct the passage on the canal. A place to stroll as instructive as it is peaceful in this corner of preserved nature.

The Thau lagoon

The largest pond in Occitania

The Thau Lagoon is the largest and deepest lagoon in Occitania. Covering an area of 7,500 hectares, it is 19 km long and 5 km wide. Separated from the Gulf of Lion by a thin barrier of coastal sand that connects the volcano of Agde and the Mount Saint-Clair of Sète. The Thau lagoon extends to the east by the Eaux-Blanches lagoons and the Ingril de Frontignan lagoon and to the west by the Bagnas lagoon and marsh which has a protected bird reserve.

An exceptional biodiversity

The Thau Lagoon is home to an exceptional ecological diversity unique in Europe.
More than 400 plant species and 100 animal species live in this marine environment, among them: the clam, the sea snail, the sea urchin, the sea bream, the muge, the wolf (known as sea bass on the Atlantic) and the seahorse which has become the emblem of Thau.

The garden of the sea

Nicknamed the garden of the sea, the Thau lagoon has been a shellfish breeding place since ancient times. Shells are the main resource of the lagoon. The Bouzigues hollow oyster is a fleshy oyster, fine in the mouth and of a remarkable gustatory quality.
Nearly 800 family farms produce oysters and mussels on the lagoon. The shellfish are raised on tables placed on the water, there are nearly 2,800 of them covering almost the entire north shore of the lagoon over 1,300 hectares.
Fishing on the lagoon has also been practised since antiquity and is carried out by small trades. Fishermen working in small boats fish both in the ponds and at sea. The lagoon is home to many species such as eels, wolves (bass), sea bream, sole, sauces, and jollies, as well as clams, rock mussels (wild mussels), pepper snails, sea urchins...

A small inland sea

Surrounded by the towns of Sète, Frontignan, Balaruc-les-Bains, Balaruc-le-Vieux, Bouzigues, Loupian, Mèze and Marseillan, the Thau lagoon is like a small inland sea.
You can go around the lagoon going from town to town. Each of these places offers a new point of view on the lagoon and a particular charm. You will also be able to discover the lagoon through its many leisure activities: sailing, sea kayaking, windsurfing, kitesurfing, diving, paddle, rowing, rowing... But also walks or bike rides on the circuits that wind around the lagoon.

The Gardiole Massif

The Massif de la Gardiole, balcony overlooking the Mediterranean Sea

The Massif de la Gardiole offers the Gulf of Lion one of its most beautiful panoramas. Situated between sea and greenery, this 5,000-hectare limestone plateau culminates at an altitude of 234 metres. It touches many surrounding communes: Balaruc-les-Bains, Balaruc-le-Vieux, Fabrègues, Frontignan, Gigean, Mireval, and Vic-la-Gardiole, and offers several hiking possibilities.

Land of sportsmen and adventurers

This exceptional environment is a constant invitation to take a walk, to get some fresh air, to simply go green. On foot, horseback or mountain bike, the Massif de la Gardiole offers unique views of the blue horizon. The Massif is criss-crossed by very important valleys extended by numerous ravines with slopes that are often marly and heavily smoothed by erosion, a terrain that is unique to the region and one that one must take the time to tame. The Tourist Offices of the region will not hesitate to guide you to the various paths and observation points of this splendid environment. Note that three marked hiking trails have recently been created and that several Tourist Offices in the region offer guided and guided walks in the Massif.

A testimony of the past

The Massif de la Gardiole is a land of history. The first vestiges brought to light date back to the Palaeolithic period! The area also has evidence of Roman and Gallo-Roman activity and is home to the remains of the Saint-Félix-de-Montceau Abbey, founded at the end of the 11th century. The historical monument that remains in the Massif is currently being restored.

The Aresquiers woods

The Aresquiers woods, an oasis of greenery

This wood is located in the commune of Vic-la-Gardiole and communicates with the protected area of the former saltworks of Frontignan. This natural area is a rarity in Occitania, naturally wooded, it is located in the immediate vicinity of the coast. The vegetation present in this area is moreover influenced by this neighbourhood: the pine forest follows the lagoon through a short area of steppes and salt meadows with salicornia. The contact of this small world creates breathtaking landscapes and gives an impression of impenetrable jungle.

A protected site

In the past, the wood was owned by an individual who used it for his agricultural activity until the 1970s, then a period of non-management led to the current vegetation. In 1982, the Conservatoire du littoral acquired the site to ensure its protection. Regularly visited by the public, the site is not home to any particularly rare animal species, but the fauna is rich on site and it is easy to observe the life of flamingos, shelduck, egrets, stilts and other coastal birds... Moreover the site is classified Natura 2000 " Étangs Palavasiens ".

The royal setting

When it was created, the city of Sète had a well-defined function, that of providing a link between the Thau basin and the sea. This objective was set by Louis XIV and the work was carried out by Pierre-Paul Riquet until his death in 1680. Even today, the canals and the Canal du Midi still play a major role in the life of Sète. Not only has the city grown up all around it, but it is still structured and lives at its own pace. This typical district of the city bears the name "Cadre Royal" in homage to the paternity of the work, it is bounded by the Quai de la Résistance, the Quai Général Durand, the Pont de la Savonnerie, the Quai Charles Lemaresquier, the Quai Léopold Suquet and the Pont de la Civette. The area has retained its network of canals and quays with colourful facades, and today it is still an unmissable event in the city. Here, between the two bridges, the very popular water jousting tournaments take place throughout the summer and have been held for over 350 years. Indeed the first tournament was launched during the festivities for the laying of the foundation stone for the construction of the city on July 29, 1666.

The Greenway

For many years now, Sète and the Thau basin have been carrying out work to protect and conserve the coastline. The Green Way of the Thau lagoon is one of its most beautiful projects. Both environmental and touristic, the construction of this way is part of a project to rehabilitate the dune barrier that separates the Thau Lagoon and the Mediterranean Sea, commonly known as the "Lido". Since 2012, a smooth asphalt track has been created between Sète and Marseillan. It offers perfect traffic conditions for cycling, rollerblading, walking or wheelchair riding with a magnificent view of the Thau Lagoon. This lane follows the cycle path that runs along the Corniche in Sète for 12 km and ends in Marseillan-Plage and then continues on a cycle path in Marseillan. It is a sensational Greenway which is open along the beaches. It is the beginning of a "Tour de l'étang de Thau" by bicycle which is currently being carried out.

The Abbey of Valmagne

Clay and limestone soils for the whites, red marls for the red wines, and in the middle: a 12th century Romanesque abbey. This estate is not lacking in charm! The 75 ha of vines are cultivated on ancestral land, already the Cistercian monks produced wine here. A visit to the abbey is a must, all the more so as it is followed by a wine tasting in the cellar filled with decorations dedicated to the Count of Turenne. Diane d'Allaines and her son Philippe have inherited a winemaking tradition but have also modernised the whole estate, whose wines often feature prominently in competitions. We discover with delight the cuvée "Les Dix arpents du frère Nonenque" composed of very old grape varieties and notably mortal.

The corner creek

At the north-eastern end of the Etang de Thau, this intimate cove is dominated by the medieval village of Balaruc-le-Vieux. From the top of its ramparts, the view of the Pointe de Bouzigues and the Mourre hills is worth the detour. Two streams, the Agau stream and the Vène river, flow here. Between fresh and salt water, this extremely rich environment is home to a great biodiversity. You will be able to discover the wet meadow, the sansouire, and a large number of bird species.

The hollow of the Miège

At the foot of the massif de la Gardiole, overhung by imposing limestone cliffs 20 m high, this wetland of barely one hectare is a real little wild paradise. It shelters a pond bordered by a wood of holm oaks. From the top of the limestone cliffs, one can see the string of Palavasian ponds down to the sea.

The Massifs of garrigues

Hills, plateaux of stones and crevices, flat shapes sometimes rounded, deep cirques, sheeps of rocks as far as the eye can see, steep cliffs carved with an axe, tenacious vegetation where the majestic Kermes oak, the Aleppo pine, bunches of rockrose, scorpion broom, asphodel, thyme, rosemary... Such is the spectacle that you will discover while walking along the steep paths of the Gardiole massif or, further east, those of the Mourre massif. It is there, in the north of the Thau basin, that the largest wind farm in the Occitanie region is located. These low-lying hills also produce the appellation "Vins de pays des Collines de la Mourre". In this garrigue, centuries of history have left their mark. On the heights of Gigean, the Benedictine abbey of Saint-Félix-de-Montceau stands its imposing ruins on the foothills of the Gardiole massif. Sentinel of faith, witness of history and marvel of architecture, it emerges proudly in the middle of fragrant essences. It can be reached by car for a picnic and a visit to its botanical garden rich in all the medicinal and nourishing plants cultivated by the religious community of the time. It is also the starting point for many hikes. From there, the view is sumptuous. But you have to climb further through the garrigue, to reach the edge of the plateau, to enjoy a unique panorama. The Big Blue extends to infinity. You overlook the towns of Frontignan and Sète, where the characteristic silhouette of Mont Saint-Clair can be seen! To the west of Villeveyrac, Valmagne Abbey is one of the best preserved examples of Cistercian art. The charm of this majestic building makes it a prestigious place in Occitania, the site of numerous cultural events.

The meadows of Baugé and the soupié

From Marseillan to the shores of the Thau Lagoon, a succession of wet meadows and freshwater marshes will provide the opportunity to observe the many species of birds, and to discover a fragrant and colourful flora composed of yellow lotus, purple orchids and glasswort. During the summer months, you can also see herds of Camargue horses in Vic-la-Gardiole.

Bellevue creek

By taking the direction of the eco-site, after the Bellemare domain, the Bellevue mound allows you to take advantage of the 360° panoramic view on the Thau lagoon. A small corner of paradise in the shade of the umbrella pines.

The vines

The vineyards of the Thau archipelago have been in operation for more than 2,000 years. This is the cradle of prestigious appellations, as legendary as they are historic, such as Muscat de Frontignan, Coteau du Languedoc, Picpoul de Pinet, Noilly-Prat de Marseillan, Muscat de Mireval, or Vins des sables du Golfe du Lion. Rabelais proclaimed in his Pantagruel: "there is no good wine but from Mireval" and Voltaire wanted no other "extreme unction than a Frontignan". The future president of the United States of America, Thomas Jefferson, was a faithful customer of this Muscat. In 1813, Joseph Noilly discovered by chance the recipe for a vermouth so popular that it was long considered the French Martini. On the sands of the lido from Sète to Marseillan, the first plantations date back to 1875 and it was there, at the Domaine de Vassal, that the world conservatory of the vine was established. INRA cultivates a unique heritage here: the largest collection of grape varieties in the world. A land of sun, sea and gentle living, this land of great tradition offers a beautiful diversity of soils dominated by limestone. Here, the maritime humidity combines with the great Mediterranean sunshine to give the wine strength and freshness. Since Antiquity, the vine has not ceased to imprint its architecture and colours on the landscape: soft green in spring, deep green in summer, and, in autumn, subtle shades of yellow and red. It is inseparable from its beauty and typicality. Travelling through this terroir is to penetrate its soul. Along the banks of the Etang de Thau, on the steep slopes of the garrigue, in the heart of the sun-scorched plains, you will discover, during walks that are as gourmet as they are instructive, an ancestral know-how coupled with a warm welcome at the winegrower's house. In Villeveyrac, you will also explore splendid cool and shady cellars, and large winegrower's houses full of charm, characteristic of Mediterranean architecture and art of living.

The must-see places in Sète

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