A day out in the sun


These are the oyster beds in the Etang de Thau, a sea-water lagoon where shell fish production is the main activity.  The mussel and oyster frames support strings of shells which are glued on when the shell fish are young.  They are then lowered into the water to eat and grow.  These rows of frames stretch from Marseillan, past Mèze and on to Bouzigues (to the left of this picture) and across the unpolluted water towards Sète. The water really is unpolluted – it’s the only place in France where shell fish is produced that doesn’t have to go into purification tanks before sale, a status that is zealously guarded by the producers here. And best of all, this is a sustainable method of food production which doesn’t use up the sea’s resources as other fish and sea food can.  It’s a major industry in the area, rivalled only by the Picpoul vines which grow so well along the shores of the lagoon.  The name Picpoul means ‘sting the lips’ and this white wine does have a fresh, sharp quality. By some miracle of nature, Picpoul wine is an excellent accompaniment for sea food.  I’ve noticed this convenient marrying of flavours of local products with local wine in other areas, Cahors red wine and lamb from the Causse de Limogne, for example.




The industrial area of Mèze, with the shell fish frames and Sète in the background…and no, that’s not the remains of our lunch in that huge pile of oyster shells!

There’s a beach at Mèze, although you wouldn’t want to swim there….


the port is pretty, and full of pleasure boats even in winter:



It was hot in the sun and we found a table for lunch outside at one of our favourite restaurants, Le Sanboulou, with more or less the view in this picture.  The excellent menu du jour (only 13.50 euros) gave us tapas – mussels in chilli sauce, artichoke hearts, marinaded sardines and battered squid rings – followed by pasta with scallops and gambas (large prawns) in pistou (basil and garlic sauce), and homemade tiramisu for dessert.  Of course, I had a glass of Picpoul too!


st jaques   gambas


A day out in Sète


The view through the venetian blinds at the Musée Paul Valéry shows several of the most important elements of life in this fascinating town.  The poet Paul Valéry was born in Sète and is buried in the sailors’ cemetery in the foreground here.  The cemetière marin, which must be one of the most beautiful in France, looks out to the Mediterranean and the fishing boats which pass as they enter and leave the port.  This is the biggest Mediterranean fishing port in France.  The ferry approaching today, on one of the regular crossings from Tangiers, is another of the pieces of the jigsaw that is Sète, a town with a large Arab population.


I liked the way the reflections of the water seemed to mimic the Arab script on this fishing boat in the port.  The film Le Grain et le Mulet (The Secret of the Grain in its English-language version) gives a wonderful and rather sad picture of the life of the people of the town whose family origins are in North Africa.


Some of the smaller fishing boats in the port today.

One of the reasons for our trips to the sea and the holiday atmosphere of this week for us has been our son’s visit and the holiday feel to the day continued with an excellent lunch at La Marine, one of the many restaurants beside the port.  We ate a typically Sètois menu:


Gratin of scallops for our first course.


And moules farcies à la sètoise (mussels stuffed with minced pork, ham and herbs and cooked in tomato sauce).

Because we’d just seen an exhibition of work by cubist artist Juan Gris at the Musée Paul Valéry, I seemed to see cubist-style distortions everywhere I looked, including this view of my son’s plate through his wine and water glasses: