Sète navigation canal bateau

Sète and the Canal du Midi: things to see and do

The Canal du Midi ends in Marseillan at the Pointe des Onglous. That is where it flows into Thau lagoon, not in Sète as some would lead us to believe...

However, it is definitely in Sète that the canal reaches its gateway to the Mediterranean Sea, at the far end of the Thau lagoon, via the Canal Royal that crosses through the town.

The must-sees of the Canal du Midi
in and around Sète and Thau lagoon

As the gateway to the blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea, Thau lagoon and the port of Sète also have a significant connection to life on the Canal du Midi.  
The waterway has shaped the scenery here and there are many treasures to discover in the region.

Les Onglous in Marseillan

Fin du canal du Midi aux Onglous à Marseillan © VNF, Victor Tonelli

Fin du canal du Midi aux Onglous à Marseillan © VNF, Victor Tonelli

Agde round lock

Ecluse ronde, Agde © VNF, Victor Tonelli

Ecluse ronde, Agde© VNF, Victor Tonelli

Ouvrages du Libron in Vias

Libron en bateau à Vias sur canal du Midi © VNF

Libron en bateau à Vias sur canal du Midi © VNF

Orb aqueduct in Béziers

Pont-canal sur l'Orb à Béziers ©Vianney Goma

Pont-canal sur l'Orb à Béziers ©Vianney Goma

Fonseranes locks

Pente d'eau et échelle d'écluses de Fonseranes, Béziers, canal du Midi

Pente d'eau de Fonseranes © VNF, Victor Tonelli

Exploring the area around Sète
and Thau lagoon

On foot or by bike

There are plenty of greenway routes that will lead you through vineyards, typical villages and across lush-green hills to explore the region and the history of the Canal du Midi. Here are some ideas for walks and bike rides in the area.

By boat

The town of Sète and Thau lagoon are two great places to explore by boat and why not venture out into the Mediterranean. There are also other water-based activities available.

Ville de Sète avec canal

Sète © VNF

The history of the Canal du Midi in Sète

Thau lagoon:
where the Canal du Midi ends

The Canal du Midi starts in Toulouse and ends in Thau lagoon. Thau lagoon is so vast (19 km long and 5 km wide) that it resembles an inland sea.

Its water supply comes from various sources
- rainwater
- the Mediterranean Sea, via the inlets
- streams
- the Canal du Rhône in Sète 
- the Canal du Midi  

Thau lagoon boasts great biodiversity.   

If you are arriving by boat from the Canal du Midi and you would like to sail to the Mediterranean Sea or along the Canal du Rhône in Sète, you will need to cross Thau lagoon. Navigation is regulated and you will have to follow the defined channel.

Did you know?

There are 13 kilometres of sand between the outlet of the Canal du Midi in Marseillan and Sète. There is a greenway route all the way along so you can ride or walk from the Pointe des Onglous to Sète. A great way to explore the area!

The port of Sète, where Colbert wanted to take advantage of the trade from the Canal du Midi

Once Colbert was convinced of Pierre-Paul Riquet's plans to build a canal, he called upon the Chevalier de Clerville, the King's architect and engineer, for the fortifications. He asked him to assess the project and find a good spot on the coast of Languedoc for a future maritime commercial port.

It wasn't an easy choice. Given that the port of Toulon had already been transformed into a military port by Colbert himself, the King's agents did not consider the port of Marseille to be reliable, and the ports of Aigues-Mortes, Montpellier and Narbonne had silted up a long time prior, Clerville decided to create a new port at the foot of a hill named Mont Saint Clair.

Upon Royal decree dating from 1666, construction of the port began. But the entrepreneur entrusted with carrying out the work did not honour his commitments. In 1669, construction work was passed over to Riquet!  

Riquet took advantage of the opportunity to build houses, stables and warehouses. The new town was able to quickly develop fishing activities!

The town also began engaging in import-export activities thanks to a connection to the Canal du Midi via a channel in Thau lagoon.  

Did you know?

The name of the town was influenced by very ancient toponymy, and was written as 'Cette' up until 1927.

The first rip-rap for the jetty and excavation work on the beach to link the sea and the lagoon began in July 1666. This is how the Môle Saint-Louis came to be. This 650-metre-long jetty has protected the entrance to the old port and offered shelter for boats since the 17th century. 

Thanks to the town's development and increased business, Sète became an attractive place and many people from the surrounding area came to work here. Shops selling basic essentials were then created and life in Sète began to take shape progressively.

Vauban's improvements

In 1710, the port was attacked by British vessels. Following this, it was decided to build a fort to replace the current Théâtre de la Mer.

The fort was designed by Vauban and work was led by Antoine de Niquet. It became a key feature of the vast project to make improvements to the Canal du Midi. 

Did you know?

Links between the Canal du Midi and the port of Sète did not come easily at first. Canal boat owners were not keen on crossing Thau lagoon. In response to this issue, in 1832, the Compagnie du Canal du Midi decided to provide steam tugboats to make navigation in the lagoon safer. From then on, links between the Canal du Midi and the port began to develop once again! 

The port of Sète -
a key stopover on the wine route

People don't only come to Sète for its maritime activity.

It is also a key destination for the Languedoc wine route. Because in 1807, a harsh winter froze the majority of French vineyards.

After that, the winegrowers of Languedoc encouraged the port of Sète to be developed as quickly as possible, and Sète became a significant place for wine trade up until the phylloxera breakout of 1882.  

Did you know?

In 1947, the ship Exodus left the port of Sète. It was transporting Jews who had survived the Holocaust and wanted to flee Europe and reach Palestine.

Practical information

To make the most of your time in Sète, here is some practical information you might find useful.

Contact Sète Tourist Office

and information

60, Grand'rue Mario Roustan
34200 SETE

Tél : +33 4 86 84 04 04




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