by Johnny

You know that feeling when you’re driving by yourself late at night, listening to KCRW and having your mind blown by music you’ve never heard before?  Well, that’s kinda what the feeling’s like at the Worldwide Festival.  Except the music is going 20 hours a day for five straight days.  And you’re on the beach.  In the south of France.

I really wanted to go to a music festival or two during our trip, and the Worldwide Festival worked out perfectly with our timing and routing.   Even though I only recognized a handful of acts on the bill, we pulled the trigger and bought tickets.  The music is spread across three different venues throughout Sète.  There’s ACD Beach, which basically has DJs playing music on the beach from 10:00am to 7:00pm (think MTV’s The Grind).  From about 7:30pm to 11:00pm the music moves to Theatre de la Mer, an open-air theater built into a cliff that hosts most of the festival’s live acts.  It’s impossible to put into words or capture in pictures what it’s like to watch some great music overlooking the Mediterranean at sunset while the fishing boats come in from their day at sea.  Finally, from midnight to 6:00am, the music heads to St. Christ, a square at the end of a long peninsula surrounded by the sea and beneath the town’s lighthouse.  Anna and I made it to about 2:30am one night, which we thought was pretty good for this old, married couple.  Everyday was a blast.  We’d wake up, pack up some food, head to the beach for a couple hours, shower, cook dinner and then head out to the nighttime venues for as long as we could hang.  And the absence of ‘faux-hippies’ and ‘I’m-hipper-than-you Indian headdresses’ was quite refreshing…just a bunch of really friendly Europeans dancing the night away.

ACD Beach stage St. Christ stage under the lighthouse
I tried my best to capture the magic at Theatre de la Mer
Theater de la Mer from a different point of view James Blake live at Theater de la Mer

Even if there was no music festival going on, we still would have loved visiting Sète.  It’s a fishing village that’s been referred to as the Venice of France because of the canals that run through the old part of town.  One day when Anna and I didn’t want to spend all day at the beach (read: got too sunburned the day before), we explored the town on foot.  Like Avignon, Sète has a Les Halles indoor market selling fresh meat and produce.  Being a fishing town, there was a ton of recently caught fish and shellfish on display.  After loading up on picnic supplies, we trekked up Mont St-Clair, the 600 foot hill that the town was built around, and were rewarded with views of the Langeudoc mountains and the Mediterranean sea as far as the eye could see.  On our way down, we swung by Sète’s Cimetière Marin, a cemetery overlooking the sea where the town’s fishermen and sailors who were lost at sea have been buried.  Cemeteries normally give me the heebie-jeebies, but this one was too impressive not to spend some time checking out.

The view from Mont St-Clair
Cimetière Marin Cimetière Marin
Seafood at Les Halles Fresh seafood for dinner at L’amphore
Felt great to finally take a dip in the sea

Sète also has a proud water jousting tradition dating back to 1666.  What’s water jousting, you ask?  Well, two boats filled with 10 oarsmen each (and an oboist and drummer to play a traditional jousting tune) are rowed towards each other while a jouster waits on a platform at the rear of each boat.  Once the boats get close enough, the jousters try to knock each other into the water.  It’s like Medieval Times meets American Gladiators.  Spectators fill the stands each afternoon to watch the display.  It’s a little hard to explain, so check out the video Anna took:

A blog entry about Sète wouldn’t be complete without mentioning our B&B, Les Joutes Royales.  After our relatively close quarters at the farm, this place felt like a penthouse suite.  The best part was our balcony overlooking Sète’s main canal, Canal Royal.  We’d have breakfast on they balcony every morning and some wine and beer every afternoon, all the time watching the fishing boats going in and out of the harbor.  The B&B also had a communal kitchen, so we could save some bucks by cooking some of our own dinners.  We made a tomato and courgette pasta and a vegetable curry that would have made our farm hosts Russell and Yvonne proud.  Every other room in the B&B was jam-packed with a group of girls from the U.K. who were celebrating one of their bachelorette parties.  They’d wake up around 11:00am for some breakfast, hit the beach all day, come back for a quick dinner, and then head out until the music stopped at 6:00am.  How do these Europeans do it?

Ready for a brew Intense petanque game outside our room
Veggie curry on the balcony Watching the ships roll in, then I watch ’em roll away again
Les Joutes Royales was the little yellow building almost at the end; we had the top left room

On our last night in Sète (and last night in France!) we went to a restaurant called La Ola that was right on the beach and close enough to the festival to hear the music playing.  I said au revoir to France with one last goat cheese salad and Anna had some of the locally caught, grilled dorado.  Then we headed over to the festival in time to catch Brandt Brauer Frick playing at the beach as the sun went down.  A perfect ending to a perfect five days in Sète.

Our last meal in France at La Ola Our table at La Ola
Let’s class this festival up a little bit Au revoir, France.  Merci!

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