Posted: 26 May 2023

Exploring Our New French Language Destination in the South of France

In May, some of our Languages team had the exciting opportunity to visit the South of France. They had travelled there to visit Montpellier, our most popular destination for French language study school trips, and nearby Sète, where they would discover a fantastic new option for our French language groups!

Day 1

It was an early start with a morning flight from London Stansted to Marseille, one of the region’s airports. Other airports that groups could fly into include Carcassonne, Béziers and Toulouse.

Upon arrival in Sète, we were wowed by the spectacular town, the heart of which is centred along the canals that link the Mediterranean Sea to the Étang de Thau, a saltwater lagoon. It’s no wonder that the town is sometimes referred to as the Venice of the Languedoc!

We would be staying at a hostel in the city centre and it was here that we met our guide and Directrice of the Lingua Sète language school, Emmanuelle. After a quick coffee and some lovely cheese and cured meats arranged by Emmanuelle, we headed out into the town.

Just a couple of minutes’ walk from the hostel was Les Halles, the town’s market. Like many in France, this market doesn’t just sell incredible produce, it also offers visitors the opportunity to sit down and enjoy their purchases within the market itself.

Emmanuelle explained how this was a great visit for school groups who would not only have the opportunity to practice their language skills with the friendly stallholders, but also explore some of the local delicacies, including Tielle, an octopus and tomato pie that is very characteristic of Sète!

Unfortunately, by the time we reached Les Halles, most of the stallholders were wrapping up for the day. However, another minute from the market is the Place du Pouffre, where we were able to enjoy a tapas-style lunch. Emmanuelle guided us through the menu, which offered plenty of seafood, as we would soon learn is typical of Sète. A highlight of the meal was the opportunity to try the famous Tielle, which was unlike anything we’d ever tasted before!

Fed and watered, it was time for us to enjoy a guided tour of Sète, led by Emmanuelle and the irrepressible Arnaud ‘the Sètois’!

We started off by exploring the Pointe Courte, the traditional fishing neighbourhood which sits on the banks of the lagoon. This quirky neighbourhood has many wooden buildings and quirky signs, as well as plenty of fishing paraphernalia and cats! We would highly recommend visiting this area on your school trip to Sète and the South of France, as it will give your students a better understanding of the history of the city.

Arnaud and Emmanuelle then explained to us how many of the activities in Sète take place on the water, which is unsurprising when you consider that the city lies between the Mediterranean Sea and the Étang de Thau. They showed us how the lagoon is popular with kitesurfers and other water sports enthusiasts.

They also explained that the city has a very unique pastime – water jousting! They showed us where the water jousting boats are stored and described the huge festival that takes over the town and sees water jousting taking place in the canals in the centre.

The next stop on the tour was the salt marshes. This spectacular landscape is home to a great variety of wildlife, including pink flamingoes, and you can walk (or even ride a horse!) from here along the lido that stretches from Sète along the southern side of the lagoon.

From here, the tour turned away from the lagoon towards the sea. We passed the impressive Centre Balnéaire Raoul Fonquerne, which boasts a huge swimming pool with a roof that opens up!

Not far from the pool, the group caught their first glimpse of Sète’s lovely beaches. From the west of the marina, the beaches spread along the length of the lido, while towards the east of the marina are smaller, quieter beaches, where you’ll find the school’s beach campus (more on that later!). Put it this way, even in the height of summer, there are enough beaches here for even the largest group to find somewhere to relax and soak up the Mediterranean sun!

Unfortunately, there was no time to kick off our shoes and have a paddle in the Med, as there was still too much to see, so our group continued their tour. Next on the itinerary was a climb up Mont Saint-Clair, thankfully in Arnaud’s minibus, although they did see a number of intrepid souls attempting the hike to the top!

At the top of the hill is Les Pierres Blanches forest. Here, we hopped out of the minibus and took a stroll over to the vantage point. The walk was lined with beautiful olive and almond trees, as well as prickly pear cactuses. But the really spectacular sight was the view across Sète, the lido, and the sea.

From here, we could see the oyster beds in the lagoon that Arnaud had previously described to us, as well as the vineyards that stretch along the lido, perpendicular to the beaches. There is an orientation table up there, which is great for working out where you are in comparison to other major French cities. And who knows what you might see on a particularly clear day – Arnaud showed us a picture he had taken from there that included the snowy caps of the Pyrenees!

Just a minute or two from the vantage point is the huge white cross that marks the summit of Mont Saint-Clair, where we enjoyed even more spectacular views across the city.

We then wound our way back down the hill, with a stop at the Marine Cemetery, where you can see the tomb of the city’s most famous son, poet Paul Valéry. And we passed the iconic Théâtre de la Mer, where cultural events are regularly held.

Finally, as we headed back to the centre of Sète, we took a windy route through the Quartier Haut, which was once the Italian quarter and definitely has a strong resemblance to Naples with its narrow streets and washing hung from the windows!

Although it was a whistlestop tour, we really felt that we’d had a great introduction to Sète, accompanied by Arnaud and Emmanuelle who had both been born and brought up here.

We headed back to the hotel, where we had a little bit of time to rest and freshen up before joining Emmanuelle for dinner later that evening. We headed down to the banks of the Canal Royal, the end of the Canal du Midi, to a lovely fish and seafood restaurant. We all enjoyed some incredible food, fresh that morning from the fish market that is literally a stone’s throw from the restaurant. By the end of the evening, we had all begun to fall a little bit in love with Sète.

Day 2

Now that we had learnt a little more about the city and how special it was as a destination, it was time for Emmanuelle to show us how special her language school is.

Lingua Sète is dedicated to providing French lessons to closed groups, such as school groups. That means that everything can be tailor-made to suit each group’s requirements, from the content of lessons to the focus of activities. And there are two locations to choose from – the city centre campus and the beach campus. We started day two with a tour of the city centre campus.

The city centre campus really is located in the heart of the city centre, just a few steps from the Canal Royal. Lessons take place in La Palanquée – a community hub described in sociological terms as a ‘third place’. This space is provided as an anchor to community life and as a place designed to facilitate creative interaction, making it a really exciting place for students to take their French lessons.

The building is bright, modern and spacious, and the classrooms are fully equipped for French language lessons. There is also an on-site café where you can get delicious drinks, snacks and even lunch. When you’re not in lessons, your students could have the opportunity to interact with the locals who come here to collaborate on creative initiatives and develop prototypes of products in the incredible FabLab.

FabLabs exist as a library of equipment that allow people to create prototypes of products, and include 3D printers, software, woodcutting and textile equipment. They provide the local community the opportunity to learn new skills and to create and invent while being mentored by experts. The exciting thing for our groups is that by having lessons in the La Palanquée, it could be possible to arrange for your students to enjoy a workshop with a FabLab expert to create a souvenir of their trip to Sète!

The city centre campus would be a fantastic option for older groups (GCSE and A-Level) who want to combine their French lessons with the opportunity to explore this creative community hub and interact with the locals using it. Your students will have no choice but to be inspired by this experience!

Lingua Sète also offers a beach campus that would be ideal for younger groups or groups who want to make the most of Sète’s incredible setting on the Mediterranean coast.

This centre has been purpose-built to accommodate groups and so there’s a great variety of accommodation options, as well as fully-equipped classrooms, and a large dining room that can easily accommodate even the largest group. There is also a lovely hall which would be ideal for an end-of-trip disco and plenty of outdoor areas for students to stretch their legs or kick a ball around.

There’s also secure access to the beach through a gated tunnel, so your group won’t even need to cross any roads to access it. The beach offers plenty of space for groups to relax or even play some beach games while being small enough to make supervision easy. In the summer months only there is a lifeguard station on the beach, as well as toilets. There are also shops nearby that sell snacks, as well as a larger beach just a short walk along the corniche if you do want a little more space.

The city centre is just a short hop on the bus from the beach campus so, after enjoying a refreshing ice cream, we headed back to our accommodation to get ready for dinner.

A fixture of the summer months in Sète is the restaurants that pop up along the main beach, a bit like the chiringuitos of Spain. We headed to La Ola, which Emmanuelle told us was the oldest of these. We were all shocked when she told us that every year they reassemble these beach restaurants before taking them down again in the winter!

We enjoyed a lovely meal in gorgeous surroundings as the sun set on our time in Sète – we would all be very reluctant to leave in the morning!

Day 3

We woke up on day 3, packed our suitcases and got ready to leave for Montpellier. We were all incredibly sad to say goodbye to Emmanuelle, who had been a wonderful host and who we all felt we had known for years, rather than just two days. And we all wished we could have stayed a few more days in Sète, with several of us already planning to come back on holiday.

But it was time to jump in the car and head to Montpellier, where we would be visiting our partner language school and finding out more about this city that proves so popular with our school groups.

The journey only took about half an hour, so we soon arrived at the Ibis Budget. After conducting a thorough inspection of the hotel which is an option for school groups who don’t want to stay with host families, we were ready to head into the city.

The tram stop was just a couple of minutes walk from the hotel and the line between the hotel and the city centre is actually circular, so you can’t go wrong! There are screens on the tram that tell you the next few stops and the journey time too, making it super easy to make sure you get off at the right stop.

On the way into the centre, we were surprised to go past an adventure sports festival. FIS is an annual event in Montpellier and we saw BMXers doing tricks on a half-pipe in one of the squares, as well as plenty of stands and a real festival atmosphere – we wish we’d got tickets, as it looked very exciting!

Once we reached the centre of the city, we had time to grab some lunch quickly before joining an excursion offered by the language school. It was a bank holiday in France, so we would visit the school itself tomorrow – this afternoon we visited the historic village of St Guilhem le Désert on an excursion arranged by the school.

Considered one of the most beautiful villages in France, the village’s abbey and the iconic Pont du Diable are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. We really enjoyed our guided tour and even managed to fit in a bit of retail therapy before getting back on the coach to return to Montpellier.

Back in the city centre, we went for dinner at a creperie that is very popular with our groups. We enjoyed some savoury galettes and some of us even managed to squeeze in a sweet crepe to finish. After another very busy day, we were keen to head back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep!

Day 4

We were met by Julie, Eugénie and Christelle, who had laid on a lovely breakfast of coffee, juice and pastries for us. We all took a seat on the terrace in the gorgeous sunshine and got to know each other a little better.

Once we had enjoyed our pastries and had a chance to catch up, Julie took us on a tour of the school. The school boasts 20 fully-equipped, air-conditioned classrooms across three buildings, all within an easy walk of each other and the central square, Place de la Comédie.

We were really impressed with how bright and spacious all the classrooms were, and how ‘French’ they felt. In each building, there was a breakout area/kitchenette where accompanying staff would be able to enjoy a coffee while the students were in lessons.

Although group lessons usually take place in one of the other two buildings, the main Foch building is fully accessible for students with physical disabilities, so lessons can be arranged here if enough notice is given that this is required.

We even had the opportunity to pop our heads into Brioche D’orée, where Julie explained that packed lunches could be arranged. For those of us who spent a year abroad in France during our university days, it brought back some fond memories!

After a great tour, we were all ready for our final meal in France and Julie very kindly took us to a lovely restaurant near the school where we enjoyed a delicious meal and a great chat about the school and all that it could offer our school groups.

Once we finished lunch, it was, unfortunately, time for us to wave goodbye to France. We grabbed our luggage from the hotel and headed back to the airport.

We really had a wonderful time in the South of France. It was a great privilege to meet our partners over there and learn more about the opportunities available for our school groups in the area. Sète and Montpellier are very different propositions for groups, but both offer the same incredible opportunity to totally immerse your students in the French language and culture and, hopefully, inspire them to become true Francophiles!

If you would like any further information on our brand new school in Sète in the South of France, or our school in Montpellier, please don’t hesitate to contact us, as we’ll be really pleased to help!

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