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A little over an hour's drive from St. Chinian, on the shore of the Mediterranean, is the town of Sete. Under the Gallo-Romans, Sete (known as Ceta) was a fishing village built on the island of Mont Saint Clair, a limestone outcropping 541 ft high near the coast of France. In the 13th century the lagoon closed up creating the Bassin De Thau and connecting Sete to the mainland by narrow sand spits.

The lagoon

In the second half of the 17th century, under the supervision of Pierre Paul Riquet, architect of the Midi Canal, Vieux Port, protective jetties and the Canal de Sete were built, linking the Thau Lagoon to the sea and providing a sea entrance for the Canal du Midi. The town of Sete was 'officially' created in 1673 and grew with the development of the port. However it was not until the early 19th century, when a freestanding jetty to protect the entrance to the port and later a new harbor were built, that Sete experienced its golden age. By 1840 Sete was the fifth most important French port.

Port in Sete

It was raining fairly hard the morning we drove to Sete. We had taken N112 SE from St. Chinian, skirted the city of Bezier and turned NE at the city of le Cap d'Agde on the Mediterranean coast and continued up the sand spit to Sete. I looked out at the churning grey sea and the grey skies and sighed. I had hoped for a brilliant blue sky, pristine beaches and sparkling water, i.e. my idyllic vision of the south of France along the Mediterranean. The sky, beach and sea I looked out upon looked cold, angry and forbidding.

The beach

We found a place to park near the Vieux Port, dug our umbrellas out of the car trunk and walked north along the Canal de Sete. It was, (here it comes!) that overused word (but SO true…), picturesque… Fishing and pleasure boats in the canal, pastel-colored buildings lining both sides of the canal, and bridges over the canal where we could stand and snap photos (while taking turns holding the other's umbrella!). We walked up the canal and across and back and across and up again, thoroughly enjoying ourselves despite the constant rain.

Yellow boats in Sete

By our third bridge however we were soggy and cold and we went in search of shelter and café crèmes. An easy enough task as cafes and restaurants are numerous along the canal. We took our café crèmes to a table by the window, wrapped our fingers around the warm cups and watched the people scurrying by with rain dripping off of their umbrellas, as we sipped the hot sweet liquid. Ah…. Five minutes after we sat down the rain stopped and the sun peeked through the clouds… Rejuvenated with caffeine and sugar we went out and took more photos.

View of Sete from Mont St Clair

I particularly wanted to see the Cimetière Marin (sailors cemetery) and the view of Sete from the top of Mont St Clair, both 'must sees' according to my guidebooks, so we drove up the narrow, steep road to a viewing point and sat on a bench and looked down onto the town, the canals, the harbors, the basin and the sea while eating our lunch that we had packed (cheese, bread, apples and jam-filled cookies of course!). THEN we snapped more photos!

Sailor's cemetary

The Sailors Cemetery was much the same as other cemeteries we had seen in France - large stone crypts, photographs of the deceased, porcelain flowers, large and small crosses and statues (some garish, some quite beautiful) but this cemetery was built on a steep hillside with a magnificient view of the sea. Native son and famous poet Paul Valery wrote a poem "Charmes" (published 1922) about this cemetery and it is lovely (I'll give you a hint, the 'quiet roof' is the sea which can be seen from cemetery, read the poem again after looking at the photo enclosed).

The quiet roof where doves strut
Between the pines, between the graves,
Throbs visibly.

Midday patterns the sea in flame
The ever-changing sea

When thought has had its hour,
How rewarding,
Are the long vistas of celestial calm!

Michelin Guide - Languedoc Roussillon
Wonderful Languedoc Roussillon, Alain Dag'Naud, Catherine Bilbollet, is owned and operated by Midi Hideaways Ltd - Registered in England number 4956942

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