Enjoy The Best Wine And Canals At This Less Crowded Alternative Destination To Venice

French oysters, Picpoul wine, and the mingling aroma of salt and seafood wafting across the canals perfectly capture the maritime city of Sète, France. Situated in the south, bordered by a saltwater lagoon and the Mediterranean coastline, the city's canals have earned it a reputation as "The Venice of Languedoc." A beautiful southern gem, Sète replicates the charm of Venice's waterway network and the sanctity of its cuisine without Italy's condensed streets and overpacked gondolas.

Sète makes it easy for visitors to tune in to the heart and soul of its culture, with no pretentious flash overshadowing what gives this town its authentic charm. Less of a tourist trap and more of a weekend getaway for French citizens, residents of Sète embrace a lifestyle the rest of the world seems to have forgotten. This laidback approach to life is coined as the pursuit of "joie de vivre" (the joy of living). 

Home to a flourishing community of creatives, it's the birthplace of several notable artists, musicians, and poets, including Paul Valéry and Georges Brassens. Glossy canals lined with antiquated storefronts and fishers making their way out to sea with the first break of dawn keep the port city's history alive and breathing. After it was founded by Louis XIV in 1666, the land was later settled by Italian immigrants seeking better economic opportunities in the 1800s. Visitors of Sète will undoubtedly be treated to a feast of seafood and a breath of fresh salty air that Venice cannot contend with.

Explore a culture rich with historic charm

Venice isn't the only city that parallels elements of this southern French town. Known as "Petit Naples," The Quartier Haut is the oldest part of town and is home to a large population of Italian natives, along with colorful frescos, art studios, and galleries. Unlike Italy's congested cobblestone alleyways and bustling trattorias, visitors can avoid crowds with ease through Petit Naples, taking in every sight, sound, and taste.

Going hand in hand with this Italian district is Pointe Courte, the fisher's wharf in Sète. Situated between the Canal Royal and the Étang de Thau lagoon, it's the site of one of Sète's largest economic drivers: fish. Travelers visiting in the summer months won't want to miss the annual water jousting competition, known as La Joute Nautique. This sacred piece of culture takes place every August during the Festival of Saint Louis at the Canal Royal. Competing crews face off in combat over the sea, a spectacle dating from ancient Greek and Roman history.

Exploring the inner parts of town invites visitors to explore some of Sète's premier local wineries. The terroir supports a bountiful harvest of several unique grape varieties local to the region, including the Picpoul grape. The Lido Promenade runs parallel to a gorgeous seven-mile stretch of golden beaches. The sandy shores are perfect for dipping your toes in the water, or throwing down a towel and soaking up the southern sun.

Feast on fish in this Southern French port city

With a cuisine comparable in flavor and quality to that of Italy, the food in Sète is a reflection of its roots as a maritime village and some of its earliest inhabitants. Pizza, pasta, and seafood characterize Sète's gastronomical scene, along with a handful of unique local specialties. Visitors can savor their meals slowly, often while enjoying waterfront dining. The most famous dish in Sète is tielle, a seafood pie that integrates some of the city's plentiful supply of octopus and squid. The filling is combined with herbs and delicately covered with a golden pie crust. The ratatouille of Sète, tielle has often been referred to as the "poor fisher's pie." 

Equally as delightful, zezettes are another of Sète's iconic dishes that have dazzled tourists for decades. These biscuits made with white wine are a trademark of Southern France. A simple pastry made from basic pantry staples, they garnered attention in the 1970s, and the sugary biscuits are still enjoyed today alongside your beverage of choice.