Having lived in the south of France for about five years now I have had the pleasure of visiting Sète on a number of occasions but strangely I who am an avid food market lover and married to a French chef, had never visited on a Wednesday – market day. Boy had I been missing out.
Invited by Nancy McGee, travel advisor & owner of Absolutely Southern France and joined by Deborah Bines, the barefoot blogger and Carolyne Kauser-Abbott of Perfectly Provence & Ginger and Nutmeg, not only to re-visit the port town but also to partake in her food tour, it was not too difficult to say absolutely.
First, let me say that I am magnet for passionate people. If you have a dream and despite all odds pursue that dream – I am with you 100%, so naturally I was drawn to Nancy a Canadian transplant – I think it’s fair to stop calling someone an expat after they’ve resided in and raised family in a country for over x number of years. Nancy runs a little travel agency that offers not only customized itineraries and travel arrangements in southern France but also guided tours and excursions. We met thanks for Deborah who thought naturally given our French Cooking school in Uzes, we could definitely work together – Thank you Deborah! And thanks for Nancy, when the city of Sète heard we were coming, they really rolled out the red carpet – a girl could get used to such treatment (more on that in a future post).
You can experience Sète on your own of course but taking a tour with Nancy or her assistants will open your eyes and your hearts to the REAL Sète – the way only a local could present it and is guaranteed to make you return again and again. Haven’t heard of Sète? Yeah I know, Sète is not as well known as nearby Montpellier (only 15 minutes by train), or as popular as Paris or Aix for tourists but it is no less charming or endearing and after all don’t you want to tell all your friends how you “discovered” another great French city?
Market day in France is serious business and no less so in Sète. You’ll find everything from home goods to clothes and of course food – lots of food. One of the first things she explains to us is about the name, Sète. It used to be Cette which is Greet for whale (look out for the whales about town, you may even have to look down at your feet). Not feeling the name was quite French enough (or maybe it was to not confuse it with the word cette which mean “this”), the government changed it officially.
As we walk along, Nancy pointed out the different vendors she has come to personally know and trust and continues with a mix of anecdote and history lesson to make one heck of an interesting tour.
We got to meet a cheese monger of one of the great Roquefort houses – if you are a blue cheese fan you will get how amazing this was. An oysticulturer (Oyster grower), who personally brings in his “recolt” to sell at the market – his products come as far over as to us here in Uzès. We sampled from a fruit and vegetable stand selling only category 1 produce – Nancy knows them all and after the tour who’ll feel as if you know them too.
After such an experience, I thought I had to sit this lady down and ask her a few questions to round out my little story on Sète. These days, knowing the person behind the business is vital to building long last relationships and frankly aren’t you just a little curious?
Y: What gave you the idea to start your company?
N: I spent most of my career in France with the UN and Coca-Cola organizing events and conferences – I started my company 6 years ago when I decided to leave the corporate world and work for myself. My former jobs have allowed me to fully optimize organizational skills which are required to build itineraries and programs for my clients. I have also been living in the south of France for over 30 years, and know the area very well both professionally and personally.
Y: How long have you been in Sete?
N: I have been fortunate enough to live in the south of France in wonderful towns: Nice, Aix en Provence, Ajaccio. I have been living in my all-time favorite town Sète (near Montpellier) for the past 6 years.
Y: What are the top three things you advise any visitor of Sete to do or see?
N: Sète has a lot to offer in terms of food, wine and culture. It is the “Latin Quarter” of the south of France- offering 6 museums, theaters, art galleries, artists workshops, as well as an outstanding number of festivals such as film, photography, poetry, jazz, worldwide music, water jousting (you have to see it to believe it!) . As it is the largest fishing town on the Mediterranean coast and has over 2000 oyster beds in the neighboring lagoon, Sète is a foodie’s paradise. Additionally, it is located in the Languedoc region which is the largest wine producing region in France. What more can you ask for?
Y: What brought you to Sete? Where are you from originally?
N: I’m originally from the province of Quebec in Canada. My mother is French Canadian which may be one of the reasons why I was so attracted to this country. Upon graduation from Carleton University in Ottawa, I was offered a one year position in France working for a UN funded agency. When I discovered that the position was in the south of France (hence no snow) I immediately seized the opportunity. While in France, I met a young medical student, we fell in love, got married and I have been here ever since!
Y: What’s the best part of what you do? The most challenging?
N: The best part is dealing with clients who are on vacation and have chosen France as their destination. Most people who travel to France love to eat and drink wine (so do I) I offer them a range of unique experiences such as truffle hunts, food tours, wine tours, culinary workshop, and other unique experiences. My clients are mainly North Americans which makes it easy for me to connect with their culture and expectations. . I also cater to cruise ship passengers who are always delighted to be discovering the cities and towns on the Mediterranean coast during the fully private shore excursions I have to offer. I was honored to receive the “Regional Entrepreneur of the year” award in 2015 as well as the “2016 Luxury Travel Guide award for holiday tours”. Both distinctions have contributed to building my reputation which is essential when working with discerning international clients. .
The most challenging part of my job is working with travel agents and tour operators who require customized services for their more discerning clients. As I am an intermediary, I don’t have the satisfaction of actually dealing with the final clients. I have a lot of pressure to provide the lowest rates possible to the agencies to avoid overcharging the final client.
Another challenge is dealing with the intense work load during peak season which is from May to October.
I am certainly glad I met Nancy and got to discover her Sète. I would not hesitate to recommend her services the next time you want someone to take the stress out of organising your next trip to the South of France. You’ll be in good hands.
So next time you are thinking of wandering the south of France be sure to look up Nancy McGee and visit beautiful Sète.