Last time that I visited Sète was during the biennial maritime traditions event “Escale à Sète”. As the fishing town is rather busy during this maritime traditions festival, I wanted to go back one day, at a calmer moment, to visit the Phare Saint-Louis. Therefore, right after the lighthouse’s re-opening in February, I awaited the perfect day so that I would have the bluest sky as the background in all my photos.
The lighthouse proudly stands at the end of Le Môle Saint-Louis, Sète’s pier. This pier was the town’s first major construction project when building Sète back in 1666. Walking to the pier, you can still spot portraits of seafarers, painted by the German artist Klaus Dauven during the Escale à Sète in 2018. Eventually, these portraits will fade away; they are reverse graffiti. Or, more clearly: instead of spray painting the portraits on the wall, the artist etched out murals on dirt-encrusted surfaces using a pressure washer. On a day like this, it was a lovely walk along the 650 metres long pier.
Besides the reversed graffiti, there was more art to discover. Arriving at the lighthouse, I noticed a French poem engraved at the bottom, to the right of the entrance. The two lines are an extract from the poem “Naissance de Vénus” by Sète born poet Paul Valéry. The author David Paul translated it as “Her quick eye is a mingling of perilous lightning. Water’s laughter, and the fickle dancing of the waves”. I love these little details that make this place even more special.
The Phare Saint-Louis originates from around 1680. However, German mines destroyed the lighthouse in 1944, during World War II, to be reconstructed in 1948. Hence the date I saw above the entrance. At the tiny tourism sub-office downstairs, I bought my ticket (3.50 euros), so that I could climb the 126 steps to the 360-degree view at the top. The spiral staircase is of timeless beauty, and luckily there weren’t many people, so I could enjoy it to the fullest.
Le Grand Bleu
Once at the top of the 33.5 metres high lighthouse, I had a magnificent view over Sète and its surroundings. I started with the marina side, including Mont Saint Clair and the old town of Sète in the background. I loved gazing at all those little sailing boats beneath me. A quarter turn to my right gave me a view over the bustling commercial port with its cargo ships filled with containers. Another quarter turn and I looked over “Le Grand Bleu”, the big blue Mediterranean Sea.