07 March 2011

When readers fight back

I was happy to see a feature in the Daily Telegraph recently about one of my favourite French ports, Sète. Anthony Peregrine wrote an enjoyable article about this unpretentious town that isn't really on the radar of most UK visitors. It's a bit scruffy, yes, but it's a real working port that has more important business to attend to than pandering to tourists: namely its huge fishing industry. Anthony was up front when he described some parts as run down. St-Tropez it isn't, nor does it want to be. I discovered it accidentally 10 years ago, and have been visiting ever since.

So I was quite taken aback when I saw the scathing comments from readers at the bottom of the article. Several called it a dump, suggesting that people would be better off visiting Slough. Another wondered if Anthony had ever actually visited the place. Considering that Anthony has been based on the South of France for a couple of decades, my guess is that he would have made Sète's acquaintance by now. Then there was that inevitable comment about writers swanning off on all-expenses paid trips and feeling compelled to write something good about a place even if it's a slagheap. (Why does everyone assume that all travel writers are on expenses? Most of us aren't.)

I've been to Sète numerous times over the past 10 years, and – bar one occasion – in a personal capacity. Why do I come back again and again to this place that supposedly makes Slough look good? For precisely the reasons Anthony explains in his article, and in one I wrote a couple of years ago (which you can read here if you fancy). If you want overcrowded expensive beaches, stick to the Riviera. If you want exquisite seafood and long, empty sands that stretch for miles, then give Sète a go. With any luck, you won't run into Sète-baiting Telegraph readers.

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