Nestling at the foot of Mont Saint-Clair, between the blue of the Etang de Thau and the Mediterranean, linked to land by two narrow tongues of sand, Sète, the singular island or the Venice of the South, as some call it, proudly bears the title of the first fishing port on the coast. Here, the colours and accents have the scent of Italy, the trawlers carry the taste of the open sea. It is truly a most pleasant summer getaway. Especially if you plan your stay during the Saint-Louis festival (and its famous nautical jousts) which will take place this year, between Thursday, August 20 and Tuesday, August 25
A port and a maritime heritage
As the second French fishing port in the Mediterranean, Sète offers every morning a merry show on the Auction. Trawling for white fish, blue fish and tuna rubs shoulders with seasonal and nocturnal lamparo fishing and artisanal fishing in the Thau Lagoon for wolves, sea bream and eels, not forgetting shellfish farming. On a rolling strip, crates parade with the tail leu-leu: sea bream, red mullet, cuttlefish. It's all moving and it's fresh. On the wall, a panel with numbers that change at a rapid pace. In the amphitheatre, men press buttons and place orders: you attend the auction, the fish high mass in Sète. A unique spectacle! A guided tour is even sometimes organised by the tourist office (which you should contact a few days beforehand). Above all, it is proof of the gastronomic richness of Sète and the promise of succulent recipes with a strong personality when it's time to sit down to the table
To learn more about Sète's maritime heritage, head for the Musée de la Mer, rue Jean-Vilar. This small museum located between the marine cemetery and the sea theatre is divided into three rooms presenting the birth of the port of Sète and the activity of the place through photos, paintings and films illustrating the activity of the port. The second room gives way to the work of André Aversa, who, coming from a family of marine carpenters since 1901, took over from his father and uncle in 1945 and, since the 1990s, has devoted himself to rebuilding the entire fishing port fleet in identical scale models: gondolas, Catalan boats, ox boats, lice boats, trawlers, tuna boats... Extraordinary work! It is like a duty of memory for these boats that he presents to us, with in parallel all the history of these shipyards and this magnificent profession of marine carpenter. The third room is devoted to the city's emblematic sport, nautical jousting: its evolution from the 17th century to the present day, its heroes, its trophies, the Saint-Louis... In short, this is an essential place to visit in order to understand the identity of this port that is Sète, its traditions, its characters, a place that pays tribute to Sète's maritime heritage. The whole visit is accompanied by audioguides and the location of the museum with a view of the Big Blue is superb. A film on the Saint-Louis and temporary exhibitions complete the visit.
Other visits are not to be missed during a stay in Sète. And to every lord all honour, we start with the Espace Georges Brassens, dedicated to the most famous child of the city. And it is the singer who will guide you through the museographic tour with headphones during a 1 hour stroll. He takes you on the path of his life, from the first steps to the consecration. An intimate moment full of emotion. The Space includes ten interactive rooms retracing childhood and youth in Sète, the Florimont impasse with Jeanne and Marcel, the time of cabarets, poetic and musical writing, women with a look at his companion Püppchen, Brassens the libertarian and the man of the stage. A new scenography punctuates the visit " Le temps d'une chanson ", a rereading of the " Supplique pour être enterré à la plage de Sète " in a new landscape. As for the video room, it allows visitors to watch her singing tours on the big screen, to attend conferences, to meet authors or to listen to concerts. Finally, a documentation room completes this knowledge. If you wish to extend the visit, then go to the cemetery Le Py, just opposite, where you can visit the tomb of Georges Brassens.
But another great man of French culture was born in the maritime city, the writer Paul Valéry. We can go and pay tribute to him at the eponymous museum. The Paul Valéry Museum, built in 1970, is adjacent to Mont Saint-Clair with a view of the marine cemetery and the Mediterranean Sea. It contains around 4,000 works of art from the 19th century to the present day: in addition to the fine arts collections, which include more than 700 paintings and over a thousand drawings, there are two special collections, the Paul Valéry collection, which contains nearly 300 works by the artist, including 80 manuscripts (notably the manuscript of his poem The Marine Cemetery), and a collection of popular arts and traditions, containing numerous representations of nautical jousting, intimately linked to the city of Sète.
Sete, at the time of the water jousting games
Because to speak of Sète is also to evoke its districts of character, the Pointe courte and the Quartier haut represented during the traditional nautical jousts of the Saint-Louis. Despite the health crisis, these jousts will take place in 2020! The blue and red boats of modern-day knights, armed with spears and bulwarks, will be competing in the canals under the watchful eyes of 15,000 spectators... More than a rite, it is a real institution, handed down from father to son.
Indeed, if you pass through Sète between Thursday 20 August and Tuesday 25 August, you won't be disappointed with the trip. Because you will disembark in the Languedoc city right in the middle of the Saint-Louis festival. On the face of it, the rule is simple. Everyone takes a seat on a boat and you have to make your opponent fall into the water. The rest of the tournament will prove you wrong. One thing is certain, since Colbert inaugurated the port with this sport on St. Louis Day 1666, the tradition has never failed and the jousts have become part of the Sète heritage. And there is something for all ages and weights. From the little ones playing on trolleys to the heavy ones weighing 160 kg... These chivalrous tournaments are the big event in the life of the city. And, of course, around the players, it's a non-stop fiesta! Dockside bars are set up along the Canal and it's off to tapas and the music that goes with it. It's really a must-see event if you're in the area
When is it? You can of course enjoy Sète as soon as the beautiful days arrive and the Indian summer is very pleasant. But to attend the feast of St. Louis, see you this year between Thursday, August 20 and Tuesday, August 25, 2020.
Getting there. By plane (Sète is 30 minutes from Montpellier-Méditerranée airport), by train (direct TGV from Paris) or by car (A75 or A9 motorway), everything is possible.
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