Marseillan or à la recherche du temps perdu

It is my theory that small harbor towns and seaside villages all over Europe are much alike. They smell of brine & seaweed and diesel fuel and they’re all a little shabby. But most of all, they generate music, if only to my ears. The rhythmic sounds of gently lapping wavelets against stone piers, the sharp tattoo of rigging snapping against masts and yards in the ever blowing breezes, mingling with the occasional, lazy putt-putt of a two-stroke outboard engine, which may drown out the flapping of gull’s wings, but never their piercing cries. Being a sailor at heart, I close my eyes, inhale deeply, listen closely and feel at home, irrespective of actual location.

‘Remembrance of Things Past’ is a fitting title for our recent excursion to Marseillan, a formerly sleepy fishing village on a vast saltwater lagoon called Étang de Thau, in spitting distance to the Mediterranean Sea. I was there last more than 45 years ago, and let me tell you – it has changed big time! While all these years have left their immutable marks on me, Marseillan has rejuvenated itself, has cleaned up, spruced up and painted its walls in fresh coats of soft pastel colors. Marseillan’s polished appearance was a big surprise to me.

Marseillan, Agde, Cap d’Agde and Sète are well known coastal destinations near Béziers in Hérault. The famous Canal du Midi terminates here, Cap d’Agde hosts the world’s largest nudist camp and the d’Étang de Thau provides enough oysters to keep everyone going – a typical Mediterranean coastal paradise, which we wanted to see with our visiting friends. And I was curious if I would recognize any of it after such a long time. Thanks to my phone’s GPS directions we quickly found a handy parking lot right next to a very posh apartment building under construction.


As I was eager to see the old harbor again and we were all hungry, we set off for the waterfront in search of a restaurant.

The yacht harbor









We have had several recommendations for a place called La Ferme Marine, where one gorges oneself on a never-ending supply of raw & prepared seafood.  But since two in our party were neither enthusiastic oyster lovers nor sea snail aficionados, we picked the lovely La Pacheline for our lunch instead.

From the glass-enclosed terrace of La Pacheline, I had a clear view across the old harbor to the hotel in which we stayed all those decades ago. The hotel and the harbor for that matter looked exactly as I remembered it, yet not. The large Haussmann style ‘Maison Maître’, being the tallest building on the block, was easy to identify. Even the blue doors and wrought iron railings were the same. But it looked like this entire section of town had received a facelift of major proportions. Where there had been a dusty, grungy old fishing pier waterfront, everything was now fresh-out-of-the-dishwasher sparkling clean and shiny.

Lunch at La Pacheline – delicious!

Somewhat disconcerting. But a delicious lunch with a glass of wine allowed for emotional adjustment to the new & improved Marseillan. After lunch, we took a leisurely walk around the harbor area, enjoying the sights, as well as some fun shops, along the way.

Such beauty. When we stayed here, it was just the old harbor hotel and the blue was faded and dull. But the rooms were very large, with high ceilings, thus comfortable in the summer heat. The hotel closed many years ago, a nearby shop owner told me. The renovated building was apparently turned into charming apartments – indubitably very expensive charming apartments! The ground floor, where the hotel dining room used to be, is now a highly rated restaurant aptly called ‘Le Château du Port’.



This door, formerly the entrance to the hotel, I remember especially well. During our vacation back then, we suffered, and I mean that literally, through a couple of days of Sirocco. This almost hurricane force wind carries sand from the Sahara desert to southern Europe’s coastal regions. The sand penetrates everywhere and sandblasts your skin quite painfully. It’s impossible to enjoy any outdoor activity during a Sirocco, but we must have been out anyway, because I remember, how unpleasant it was to have sandy grit between your teeth and sand-caked eyelids. Upon returning to the hotel, it took two people, jointly using their combined body weight, to push that big, blue door shut against the force of the wind. 

A well-loved tourist destination in Marseillan is the Noilly Prat distillery. We casually strolled into their visitor center, checking out displays, when we were politely asked to leave. We hadn’t bought any tickets for the guided tour, you see. Of course, we immediately stumbled into their sales room just a block down the road.

old vats
The slightly outdated filing system

Just walking around the town was great fun,

until it was time to return to the car for the journey back to Pézenas.

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