A guide to Sète
At first glance on a grey day, Sète can seem like a rather gritty working port, but trust me, it has a lot going for it. Most visitors come in August to see the joutes aquatiques (jousting) on the main canal, but come in winter and you get a more realistic impression. Sure, Sète has its grotty parts and the restaurants nearest the centre on the canal-side are a little touristy, but dive into the back streets and you can unearth hidden treasure: for example, The Marcel (04 67 74 20 89) is an oddly named but fabulous restaurant on rue Lazare Carnot, where lunch will set you back an average €20 per person in an art deco-inspired setting that’s perfect for a romantic dejeuner à deux (it’s on a street just off the rive gauche of the main canal, as you look out to sea). Or stick to the rive droite and just keep on walking to the very end, where the fishing boats drape their nets along the quayside and things start to look a little rough, and you’ll come to Au Bord Du Canal (9, quai Maximin Licciardi, tel. 04 67 51 98 39). Step inside and the décor is reassuringly smart and clean (ditto the toilets – always a good sign), while the seafood is stunning – and practically straight off the boat.
There’s more to Sète than salty sea dogs and fish suppers, mind you. Further down from The Marcel, at 26 quai Aspirant Herbert, there’s the CRAC (Centre Régional d’Art Contemporain), a regionally-funded centre that showcases contemporary art in all its forms. You’ll be able to spot it easily – the modern building pops out from its early 20th century surroundings - and it’s always good for a headful of thought-provoking stuff (I find it best to do the arty bit first, and the bellyful bit second). Their next show, entitled “Faire des Choses Avec Des Mots”, starts November 18th and runs through to February 4th 2007; call 04 67 74 94 37 for opening hours or visit http://crac.lr.free.fr/ Then there’s the MIAM (Musée International des Arts Modestes), at 23, quai Maréchal de Lattre de Tassigny, where some very left-field exhibitions celebrate the weird and wonderful world of knick-knacks, souvenirs and everyday objects (see the website at www.miam.org for a better idea of what it’s all about) that is a real kid-pleaser.
If you like your art a little less edgy and don’t mind a steep walk, then head for the chapel of Notre Dame de la Salette, perched high above the port on the Mont Saint Clair. It’s a bit of a hike up the hill (400 steps, rising 183 metres, to be precise) but the views from the top across the town and the bassin de Thau are stunning. Take a pew, get your breath back and admire the funky Bringuier frescos: painted by a local man in 1952, they make me think of Magritte and feature lots of… fish. They’re modern, moving, and right up my street. Outside, visitors are encouraged to light up a huge electric cross (la croix de Saint-Clair) by making a donation (the phone box and satellite dishes alongside are a little incongruous). Inside, the chapel is on the corner of cosy and charming; a side chapel dedicated to Saint Rita houses plaques, paintings and a display of statuettes and ex-votos bordering on the kitsch. A confirmed atheist, I found it rather lovely on an overcast Tuesday afternoon in November; I fully expect to be spell bound when I make a return pilgrimage at Christmas time.