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Sète, Languedoc, France

Sète, FranceSome call it the French Venice, which is a bit of an exaggeration, but for those who still haven't been to Venice I'm not completely sure it could not apply. Sète is a small coastal city on the south coast of France.

Sète has a bit of everything: a long row of magnificent beaches, a marina, but also museums and a typical town centre. In this relaxing atmosphere, take the time to visit the iconic places of this city along the water.

To get a complete tour of the points of interest in Sète, think about staying at least 1 night so you can spend 2 days there.

Walk around the port of Sète - the canals of downtown Sète lead you straight to the marina, surrounded by beautiful houses and shops. Locals like to come here for a leisurely stroll out of season, when everything is calm, with the lapping of the water against the boats in the background.

In summer, on the other hand, the place is far livelier, especially on market day on Wednesday and during high tourist season.

The event not to be missed at the port of Sète is the feast of Saint-Louis! From August 19 to 24, 2021, the patronal feast of Sète is the big event of the year, with more than 70 street performances and all-out entertainment. The most famous being the famous maritime jousting tournament.

Sète is a city of culture and heritage. The Sea Museum at 1 Rue Jean Vilar retraces the history of the port of Sète since the 18th century and houses an impressive collection of model ships.

Can you imagine anything better than a trip on the Mediterranean on a sunny day? A sailboat, motor boat or even a catamaran - you will have the choice on the port of Sète. Enjoy a getaway in the middle of nature by renting your boat with family or friends to explore the surroundings of Sète like Agde, Camargue, Palavas and others.

With or without a skipper, from an individual or with an agency, you can easily find what you need to sail for half a day or several days on the Mediterranean waters.

Like water sports? Some rental companies offer you an option to enhance the trip at sea with some additional thrills! For example, you can rent a wakeboard, a buoy or water skis that can be towed by a rental boat.

Sète, FranceA good description of Sète would be to say it is a small, gorgeous, quiet, sunny and very much unexpected treat. It isn’t Paris or Marseille, but its unique charm warrants a visit to walk its canals.

Sète is ripe with appeal, history and authentic French culture. It is often the choice of French families who go to enjoy its atmosphere - the canals, the sea and the sun. If you'd like to spend some time on the Mediterranean and not spend your whole vacation budget in two days, this could be a great holiday location for you.

Sète is a down-to-earth port city, Sète was planned and built in the 1660s as the Mediterranean terminus of the ambitious Canal du Midi.

The city still gets a shareof maritime traffic and is lined with waterways, which are great for walks. A number of reknown French artists, poets and musicians were born in Sète and likely strolled them.

With nearly 12 kilometers of equipped beaches with the Etang de Thau in the background, Sète is very focused on seaside tourism.

The main beach of Sète is located on a sandy strip 500 meters to 1.5 kilometsr wide, called the Lido, which separates the Mediterranean Sea from the Etang de Thau. This coastal strip is mainly made up of old salt marshes and vineyards, creating an atypical natural setting.

On the archipelago, you can therefore enjoy the most famous beaches of Sète such as Lazaret, Lido, La Fontaine or Jalabert Beach. These 12 kilometers of beach extend to the town of Marseillan.

Mont Saint-Clair rises 175 meters above sea level - it is an ancient island in the Mediterranean Sea. Today urbanized, Mont Saint-Clair still benefits from beautiful wooded areas, including the national forest of Sète on its western flank.

To the east, the side of Mont Saint-Clair dominates the port with the Richelieu citadel, the lighthouse and the marine cemetery.

Ideal for a walk, and especially to find exceptional panoramas once at the top. You can see the Pyrenees in the distance, with a 360° view of the entire Sète basin, with the Etang de Thau on one side and the Mediterranean on the other.

At the top of Mont Saint-Clair, you can also visit the picturesque Chapelle Notre-Dame de la Salette, a 19th century Catholic place of worship decorated with interior frescoes that are worth a look.

Sète, FranceAn ideal time to book your trip to Sète would be during August, when whole city turns out onto the quayside to watch the gripping water jousts that have been a tradition for 350 years.

The Saint Louis Festival is always a highlight with time on the beach, parties and the Sète water jousting competitions mentioned above.

If you’re not familiar with water jousting, it started centuries ago. Most often in Egypt and Greece there is evidence of the competitions found in stone carvings. The Romans were known to enjoy the sport. In lieu of water, they sometimes flooded the city arenas they used for more hefty entertainment like gladiator fights.

During the Saint Louis Festival in Sète, the town's residents as well as visiting tourists are in party mode for six days each August near the 25th of the month.

The actual purpose of the festival to is salute King Louis XIV, Sète’s royal founder, but you need not dedicate yourself to anything but sheer entertainment.

During the Saint Louis festival, there are bars, bodegas and all night parties, but everyone comes to see the championship round of les joutes nautiques - water jousting.

The Grand Canal is the place to be for the jousting events, and it’s a perfect location for spectators to see the competition. Canal Royal is the eastern culmination of the Canal du Midi, which allowed craft to go from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean as early as the 17th century.

Mont St Clair makes the city look like a humpback whale. Archaeologists have dated evidence of human activity - it was discovered in 1973, to the late Bronze Ages II and III.

Visit the town with a local - Sète resident Nancy McGee is the founder of Absolutely Southern France. Her travel company offers customised day trips (and longer tours) for visitors who want to explore Provence and l’Occitane.

Absolutely Southern France
24 Quai Maréchal de Lattre de Tassigny, 34200 Sète,, France
Phone: +33 6 13 23 10 35

Her clients are individuals or travel agents who require customized services and unique programs. She can offer services such as gourmet walking tours, drivers, babysitters, holiday home rentals, at home chefs, wine tastings, cooking classes, truffle hunts, scents tours and even more. She also offers shore excursions to luxury cruise ship passengers docking in St. Tropez, Marseille and Sete.”

Sète, FranceOn a terrace near the top of Mont Saint-Clair is a museum named after the acclaimed early-20th-century poet and philosopher Paul Valéry, a Sète native.

Their galleries cover everything from the history of the city to fine art: There’s an in depth account of the famous jousts, documenting every result since 1666 and displaying antique shields and lances.

You can also peruse a special room for Paul Valéry, with manuscripts, recorded recitals of his work and rare copies of his texts. Afterwards enjoy the views of the Mediterranean and maritime cemetery from the cafe on the terrace, or wander the gardens where music, theatre and literature events are held on beautiful summer evenings.

Pay your respects at the tomb of Paul Valéry, in the very place he eulogised in his poem “Le Cimetière Marin”. The setting is what makes this sight one to behold as the Maritime Cemetery is in an epic position, resting on a cliff-top over the deep blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea.

Valéry’s final resting place is actually under the Grassi name, which was his mother’s family.

Another of Sète’s famous citizens laid to rest here is Jean Vilar, a highly influential 20th-century stage actor and director, who turned the French theatre world abuzz from the 40s onwards.

Additionally there is a son of Sète who became a beloved cultural figure - the poet and songwriter Georges Brassens, whose career spanned the post-war years to his death in 1981.

This exhibition devoted to his life and career takes on the challenge of commemorating things as intangible as songs with the help of a multilingual headset guide.

The Musée International des Arts Modestes located in an old waterside warehouse on the Canal Royal, the MIAM deals with “Art Modeste”.

Sète, FranceThis is a bit like outsider art or naïve art: In essence this celebrates even the most mundane manmade objects, like Barbie dolls for instance, and puts them in a different context to give them a soul.

The product tends to be either imaginative and whimsical, or at least challenging and thought-provoking, and comes in all formats, from video to sculpture. The temporary exhibitions are updated every few months and there’s a full program of talks and workshops.

Théâtre de la mer at Fort Saint-Pierre which was built near the entrance to the harbour in the 1740s to defend Sète against regular attacks by foreign navies. The fortress had a military function up to the end of the Second World War, before being converted into an extraordinary performance venue in the late-1950s.

At the start it was mostly for stage productions, but over time music has dominated the program and whatever is on, whether it’s a touring artist or the festivals, Fiest’A Sète or Jazz à Sète you owe it to yourself to experience it.

You can watch the musical acts and the sea at the same time, and it’s magical when the moon is reflecting onto the water.

Mont Saint-Clair is Sète’s hill overlooking the town and the sea, but that only makes the panoramas all the better from the 175-metre summit.

If you’re not up for the walk then you can use public transport or drive there. This hill was once an island of its own, and its sides are decked with villas and artsy ateliers in homes built for Italian fishermen.

The western slopes meanwhile are wooded and serene, and a good place to take rambles. At the top the views are almost unbelievable, and there’s a platform with benches where you can survey the port, canals and the Thau Lagoon.

Sète, FranceGo to the Saint-Louis Lighthouse - some of the fun of this landmark is getting there: The lighthouse is near the tip of the western harbour wall, the Môle Saint-Louis.

This is 650 metres long and gives you a supreme look at the marina and its forest of masts, as well as Mont Saint-Clair. m This path is as old as the city, and the beacon on the end isn’t much younger, dating to 1680.

It was destroyed by German mines in the war but bounced back directly after and is open to visitors. One can ascend the 126 steps for elevated 360° views of the city, harbour, sea and its commercial port.

Beginning west of Mont Saint-Clair is a continuous 12-kilometre ribbon of golden sand, with no fewer than ten beaches awarded the coveted Blue Flag in 2016.

These are set on a long sandbank, up to 1.5 kilometres in width, known as the Lido and there isn’t much here apart from ancient salt flats and vineyards. So the further along you go, the quieter it gets.

But to earn all those Blue Flags the facilities have to be top of the line, and have toilets, showers, six lifeguard stations and equipment for people with disabilities.

Some may feel that they can’t completely understand Sète’s reliance on the sea until they have climbed aboard a vessel and taken a little voyage.

Something you’ll realise right away is that the city’s many bridges are surprisingly low over the water, and boaters may even be asked to duck occasionally! The warehouses and painted apartment buildings are a delight from the water, and there’s a running commentary in French and usually printed material for non-speakers.

There are also specialised trips, like visiting the massive oyster and mussel beds in the Thau Lagoon. If you have a taste for fish and seafood then you’ve come to the right place.

Sète, FranceThe Thau Lagoon, the largest and deepest in Languedoc, has been harvested for mussels, oysters, clams, winkles and sea urchins since antiquity.

So your “fruits de mer” could not be fresher than in Sète. From the sea in this area comes monkfish, cuttlefish, bream, squid and octopus.

These are the stars of various authentic local recipes, like stuffed squid or traditional “tielles” or octopus pies that fishermen would take with them to sea.

France is among the globe’s oldest nations, the product of an alliance of duchies and principalities under a single ruler during the Middle Ages. In this day and age - as in that era, central authority is vested in the state, even though a measure of autonomy has been granted to the country’s régions in recent decades.

The French people look to the state as the primary guardian of liberty, and the state in turn provides a generous program of amenities for the French citizens - from free education to health care and pension plans.

Even so, this centralist tendency is often at odds with another long-standing theme of the French nation: the insistence on the supremacy of the individual.

On this matter historian Jules Michelet remarked, “England is an empire, Germany is a nation, a race, France is a person.” Statesman Charles de Gaulle, too, famously complained, “Only peril can bring the French together. One can’t impose unity out of the blue on a country that has 265 kinds of cheese.”

This tendency toward individualism joins with a pluralist outlook and a great interest in the larger world. Even though its imperialist stage was driven by the impulse to civilize that world according to French standards (la mission civilisatrice), the French still note approvingly the words of writer Gustave Flaubert:

"I am no more modern than I am ancient, no more French than Chinese; and the idea of la patrie, the fatherland—that is, the obligation to live on a bit of earth coloured red or blue on a map, and to detest the other bits coloured green or black - has always seemed to me narrow, restricted, and ferociously stupid."

At once universal and particular, French culture has spread far and greatly influenced the development of art and science, particularly anthropology, philosophy, and sociology.

Sète, FranceFrance has also been influential in government and civil affairs, giving the world important democratic ideals in the age of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution and inspiring the growth of reformist and even revolutionary movements for generations.

The present Fifth Republic has, however, enjoyed notable stability since its beginnings on September 28, 1958, marked by a tremendous growth in private initiative and the rise of centrist politics.

Although France has engaged in long-running disputes with other European powers - and, from time to time, with the United States, its longtime ally, it emerged as a leading member in the European Union (EU) and its predecessors.

From 1966 to 1995 France did not participate in the integrated military structure of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), retaining full control over its own air, ground, and naval forces; beginning in 1995.

However, France was represented on the NATO Military Committee, and in 2009 French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced that the country would rejoin the organization’s military command.

As one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council together with the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, and China with France having the right to veto decisions put to the council.

The capital and by far the most important city of France is Paris - one of the world’s preeminent cultural and commercial centres. Paris is now a sprawling metropolis, one of Europe’s largest cities, but its historic heart can still be traversed in an evening’s walk.

Confident that their city stood at the very centre of the world, Parisians were once given to referring to their country as having two parts, Paris and le désert, the wasteland beyond it.

Metropolitan Paris has now extended far beyond its ancient suburbs into the countryside, however, and nearly every French town and village now numbers a retiree or two driven from the city by the high cost of living, so that, in a sense, Paris has come to embrace the desert and the desert Paris.


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