Every two years, Sète organises the “Escale à Sète”, a great festival celebrating maritime traditions. And every time, the most impressive tall ships of France and other parts of the world arrive in Sète. In 2022, the guest of honour is the Netherlands, celebrated with the arrival of several typical Dutch boats, and the Sailing Navy stars the ‘Oosterchelde’ and the ‘Morgenster’. And there are many more impressive tall ships to admire during this seven-day celebration.
If you would like to enjoy the Escale à Sète to the max, my tip is to arrive early in the morning, around nine-ish. This way, you can take a leisurely stroll into town, have breakfast and watch Sète wake up. I visited the 2022 edition during the week on a Thursday, and it was already quite busy. So, you can expect a lot of people over the Easter weekend. Apparently, 400,000 people visit Escale à Sète over the seven days of festivities. That is a lot of people for a town with a population of only 43,000! Second tip (if you’re by car): park in the designated free parking lots, following the signs. Don’t even bother going into town to try to find a spot. You won’t.
Another tip if you’re interested in visiting the tall ships: buy your tickets online. But even then, be prepared to queue. This year, you can buy one ticket (10 euros per adult) that gives you access to ten tall ships. Don’t be too disappointed if you cannot get yourself a ticket, though. There are enough other things to do to entertain you for a day. Or longer. Distinguished parades of crew members, sea shanty choirs from all around the world, kid’s activities, a maritime market, demonstrations of historic trades and crafts and of course delicious food and drink. Sète’s local dish, the “Tielle”, is widely sold. This is your chance to taste this spicy octopus pie, if you haven’t tried it before!
The festivities mainly take place along the Quai de la République, Quai Cammandant Samary, and the Quai d’Alger. Here you will find most of the boats, as well as demonstrations of old crafts and trades. These ‘villages’ are grouped around four themes: culture, solidarity, environment, and education. As Holland is this year’s special guest, Chéri and I had fun spotting typical Dutch traditions and even hearing some Dutch spoken by the sailors. While queuing for the Morgenster, we had the perfect opportunity to people-watch. Many colourful characters stroll along the quays; you won’t be bored.
Escale à Sète is the perfect event to immerse yourself in international maritime traditions and Mediterranean life. After all, Sète is the first fishing port in the French Mediterranean. To prepare for your visit, you can check the day to day program online. You can also get one of the special press editions of the program available throughout the region. Everybody will be talking about this event, so it is hard to miss. From the Quai d’Alger to the Saint-Louis pier, it is quite a celebration on the Île Singulière!