TO SEE | FESTIVAL
Every two years the “Escale à Sète” is organised, a great festival of maritime traditions. Last Tuesday, the most impressive tall ships of France and other parts of the world arrived in Sète. Star of this year’s edition is the French frigate Hermione. But there are many more impressive tall ships to admire during this seven-day celebration.
And a celebration it is! This year, I already went on the first festival day to watch the arrival parade of the main tall ships. The first one to arrive was the Russian “Kruzenshtern”, the second largest four master in the world. Quite impressive to see this 114 meters long sailing boat. The Kruzenshtern was built in 1926 in Germany and now serves as a training ship with a crew of 257 members. A part of them was saluting us at arrival into the port. Traditional music was played to welcome the sailors. Every time a song ended, it was rewarded with applause from the Kruzenshtern crew.
One of the highlights of the Escale à Sète is the replica of the French Hermione frigate. The original sailing ship was built in 1778 and had 26 cannons, firing cannonballs of 6 kilos each. When Hermione arrived at Sète, she also fired some cannonballs. Well, not the real stuff obviously, but it sounded spectacular nonetheless.
I found out too late that it was possible to go on board of the Hermione; the online tickets were already sold out for three weeks. You can buy tickets at the “billetterie” of the Tourist Information on the quai d’Alger for the day itself. However, you have to be very early to get one, as there is a limited number each day. And then there is the queue to actually go on board, which easily takes an hour. Or two. Time flies when you’re queuing though, as it is the perfect opportunity to people-watch. Many colourful characters stroll along the quays; you won’t be bored.
Brings me to a very important tip: come early to Escale à Sète. I visited twice this week, Tuesday and Thursday, and it was already quite busy. So you can expect a lot of people during this Easter weekend. Apparently, 400,000 people visit Escale à Sète. That is a lot of people on a population of only 43,000! If you would like to visit one of the other tall ships, you can buy your ticket online. But even then, be prepared to queue. Best is to come early in the morning around 09h00 and have your breakfast while watching Sète wake up.
Don’t be too disappointed if you cannot get yourself a ticket for the Hermione or the other tall ships though. There are enough other things to do to entertain you for a day. Or longer. Prestigious crew parades, sea shanty choirs from all around the world, kid’s activities, maritime market, demonstrations of historic trades and crafts and of course delicious food and drinks. Sète’s local dish “Tielle” is widely sold. This is your chance to taste this spicy octopus pie if you haven’t tried it before!
Escale à Sète is the perfect event to absorb yourself in maritime traditions and Mediterranean life. After all, Sète is the first fishing port of the French Mediterranean. To prepare your visit, you can check the program from day to day online. You can also get one of the special press editions available throughout the region. Everybody is talking about this event, and it is hard to miss. From the quai d’Alger to the Saint-Louis pier, it is quite a celebration at the Île Singulière!