Our campsite was on the coastal strip between Sète and Agde, a very narrow piece of land backed by a shallow lagoon, the Bassin or Étang de Thau. It was a scorching hot day when we visited Sète, which was much bigger than we had imagined. It has a working harbour – it is the largest French fishing port on the Mediterranean – and there is a large and busy dock area. The most attractive part – and that visited by the tourists – is often called the Venice of the Languedoc, its canal system plied by both pleasure and working boats. It is at Sète that the Canal du Midi finally meets the sea. The Sète waterside houses are colourful and the edge of the main waterway, the Grand Canal, is lined with restaurants. A regular Summer feature of Sète and other local towns is the boat joust (pictured, Sète) where two opposing crews compete to dislodge the man on the platform at the front of the opposing boat.
We found a very attractive square in deep shade just away from the Grand Canal and a restaurant which served only salads. A wonderfully cool and peaceful lunch followed. My husband enjoyed Carpaccio of beef (thin slices of meat, usually raw) with fresh lime juice and slivers of parmesan, served with a green salad and Parmesan Ice Cream – unusual, but very tasty. My salad included Magret (sliced duck breast) and Tapenade (a paste made from olives spread on slices of French bread).
Sète, although on the flat coastal plain, is built around Mont St Clair on which are two spectacular viewpoints accessible by road. One looks west along the coastal strip towards Agde with the Pyrenees in the far distance and the second looks east in the direction of the Camargue with views down on the harbour and canal system far below and across the eastern end of the Bassin de Thau. At the opposite end of the coastal strip to Sète, close to Agde is Mont St Loup, an extinct volcano with an observatory on top. We had hoped to find a viewpoint looking towards Sète but one of our party could not walk the steep rough track and there seemed to be no vehicular access.
The Bassin de Thau is a large inland lagoon famous for its oysters and mussels, which are raised on table type metal structures. On a circuit of the lake we enjoyed in particular the colourful restaurant lined harbours at Mèze and Marseillan, where the famous Noilly Prat Vermouth is made. We arrived late in the day at Marseillan and found a large crowd watching a queue of young men in sailor costume taking it in turns to edge their way along a long pole leading from a boat out over the harbour and trying to retrieve a hat from the end. It took quite a while and many dunkings in the water but in the end there was a winner. We had no idea of the reason for this game but it was good fun with a large crowd and a band, all in party mood and we enjoyed cheering along with the other onlookers. Since coming home we have discovered it is an eccentric local sport known as Lou Capelet or the cours de la bigue and a regular part of the Marseillan July and August calendar.