Thursday, March 3, 2011
Sete the Seaport
Sete is the largest seaport on the Mediterranean and called "The Venice of France." It is a thriving city, not a village or town, as I had thought. We arrived by train (a 20 minute trip from Montpellier) at about 10:30 right into the middle of the biggest street market I have ever seen. There must have been hundreds of vendors on the square and thousands of customers. There was even a separate flower market set up in one of the smaller squares. We slowly wound our way into the permanent market called Les Halles - just like in Paris and Montpellier and probably every other good sized French city - and were confronted with counter after icy counter covered with seafood of every kind. There were some mean looking fish I've never seen before, and apparently skate is a local favorite. They aren't very pretty either, but were selling. There were oysters, clams, mussels, shrimp of many sizes, plus all the many kinds of fish. All fresh, too, as it comes in on the boats in the morning. What a place.
We walked along the road parallel to the port itself, and then along the Royal Canal to find a good seafood restaurant. We had our choice of many, and chose well. I had a whole big bowl of mussels as a starter! The sun came out, and more people began to wander in. By the time we strolled back out, all the restaurants along the canal were filling up. I wouldn't want to be there in June, July or August.
Sete was built in the late 1600's to serve as the major port for the Canal Midi, an ambitious project and a real engineering feat begun in 1670 to connect the Atlantic with the Mediterranean. The canal provided more efficient transportation for goods to England and Paris - mostly wines and spirits - which previously were shipped around Spain in routes which were frequently plagued by severe storms. The city is built on several large islands divided by navigable canals, hence the Venice reference. The buildings are four and five stories set along the canals construted of stone and painted soft pastel colors. It's quite beautiful.
My favorite shop, however, had nothing to do with fish or sea. It was La Biscuiterie, sucre - sale. You can go to their website to lust for the caramels, madeleines, and butter sugar cookies. You see I have a bag of goodies to take home. www.labiscuiterie.fr
We had an uneventful short train trip home. Sete is a great day-trip, espcially when the sun is shining and the market is bustling.