I have one more stop in France on this spectacular Mediterranean cruise. This time it’s the busy port town of Sète in the Langudeoc-Roussillon region. This town is sometimes referred to as the Venice of the Languedoc because of its canals, bridges and pretty pastel painted houses. However, it’s most known for its fantastic seafood perhaps some of the best in France. It’s built around the Mont St. Clair and is located between the Mediterranean Sea and the Etang De Thau, a saltwater lake that supplies the abundance of oysters and mussels.
I meet my friend Sophie Bergeron, a local guide that has arranged a fun tuk-tuk ride up the mountain to see the views from lake to sea. She points out the restaurant Les Desmoiselles Dupuy in Bouziques on the shores of the Etang de Thau where we plan to eat some of those freshly caught oysters and mussels.
Back down in the town, we have a wander around the Central Market filled with all kinds of fish, produce, cheeses and some delicious pastries, some of which I was able to sample. What seemed to be in almost every stall was a specialty of Sète called La Tielle, a fish pie, usually made with cuttlefish and prepared with tomatoes and spices. (We didn’t have any there but I would get some later on.)
Arriving at Les Desmoiselles Dupuy, little did Sophie know that owner Romain-Dupuy would offer to take us out on his small boat to see his line up of oyster beds before feeding us. We see rows and rows of strings hanging from racks and submerged into the lake water and this is where the baby oysters are cemented in bundles and left to mature. But, they have to be checked regularly to make sure they don’t get eaten by other fish and separated as they grow to give them enough space to develop fully. It’s usually about a year before they are ready to be harvested. Back at the restaurant, Sophie and I are served baked oysters and mussels as well as the Sète special fish pie, definitely an acquired taste. I’m glad I had some local white wine to help wash it down. But, as if all this wasn’t enough, they decide to barbecue some fresh mussels with garlic and a special sauce in a huge pot right on the beach that are likely the best mussels I have ever eaten.
Good thing I really love oysters since our next stop was a boat ride with Jean-Michel Caumier, another major oyster farmer in the area. We meet him on his touring boat where he has invited what seems to be, most of his family to join us. After our ride and another quick lesson on oysters, we have a fresh oyster tasting and white wine toast right on the boat. Thank you to all the Caumiers.
What’s left to do in my last hour in the Languedoc region? Visit a winery of course, and we head to the area of Mèze and the beautiful Chateau de Font Mars winery. The grounds of this estate are magnificent, and after a tour of the facility, owner Jean-Baptiste de Clock, brings us to the stunning garden where he has arranged to have a tasting. I hear about his Dutch family making wine in Bordeaux in the 1600’s and at this estate since the 1800’s. This particular area has numerous soil types and contributes unique characteristics to the Picpoul de Pinet, Cabernet Sauvignon and Rosé (made from Syrah.) Picpoul is the main white wine of the Languedoc-Roussillon region and here it’s peachy and fresh with a long lasting mineral finish. It’s the perfect wine to drink with all the seafood you get here. I liked the rosé that seemed soft and pleasant with enough acidity to stay refreshing. I was surprised by the Cabernet that was full and fruity and quite easy to drink on its own. How nice of Mr. De Clock to give me a bottle to enjoy with the crew later on.
On our way back to the ship, we were fortunate to have perfect timing for the start of the annual jousting competition on the canal. This sport, invented by the Ancient Egyptians, is a tradition in the Languedoc region and the first competition in Sète took place in 1666 to commemorate the opening of the canal. I stood by the stands as thousands of spectators and I watched a long wooden red boat with 10 men and a long wooden blue boat with 10 men row towards each other. As they passed, one more man standing at the raised bow of the boat holding a padded shield and lance tried to knock the other one into the water. The first time, no one fell so the audience sighed and moaned. But, the next time, out fell the guy and every one roared with applause and cheers. This was a first for me and glad we got to experience it first hand.
Now back to the Oosterdam as we cruise out of France and back into Spain.
Cheers and all the best,