Cliffs of Étretat (September 2015)

Of all the years I’ve had this blog, it is actually unbelievable that I’ve never written about Étretat! Or at least, a stand-alone post about it. Most of my posts have only included it in lists (e.g. Normandy guides) or jointly with other destinations I went to in the region (Le Havre, Fécamp, etc). Étretat was one of the first and favorite places I’ve been to during my two years living in Normandy, and I’m finally dedicating a post to this beautiful place. ❤

Étretat (“eh-truh-TAH”) had actually been on my bucket list even before I moved to France. I stumbled upon photos of it on Tumblr (remember those days?), and its chalky cliffs- verdant and sharp– in contrast with the emerald Atlantic, captivated me. Definitely bookmarked it for posterity. And what a coincidence that I got accepted to work in France later on (in Normandy, too!), so I made the goal of visiting Étretat as soon as I could.

During those two years living in Normandy, I visited Étretat on three separate occasions. The first two visits were in early autumn of my first year: my colleague drove me over the first time, and we spent an afternoon walking the cliffs and enjoying an apéritif by the water. The second visit was just a few weeks later with two other assistantes I was traveling with, as we did a mini-tour of Normandy (including Fécamp and Le Havre). The third and last visit came over a year later during my second year in the wintertime, when I went with an assistante to hike more of the cliffs and get lunch in town.

9-19-15 Promenade of ÉtretatStrolling the Promenade

Visiting during the cold and warmer months were a notable contrast– for instance, visiting in September offered sunny skies and temperate climate to enjoy a beer outside by the water. Whereas touring in the dead of January was bone-chilling, with icy grass on the hike and the need for a warm, seafood meal inside a restaurant. But one thing was constant– Étretat is beautiful. It’s no wonder that Impressionist artist Claude Monet painted numerous pieces of its iconic cliffs, as well as inspired writer Maurice Leblanc to pen an Arsène Lupin short story set in town. The cliffs are Étretat are an icon to Normandy, along with the D-Day beaches and Le Mont St-Michel.

9-19-15 Coastline of ÉtretatViews of town from the cliffs

Getting to Étretat can be tricky, especially if you don’t have a car. I was fortunate my colleague drove me on my first trip over, but afterwards, I had to rely on a combination of trains and buses. I would take the train over to the nearest big city (which took 45 minutes to two hours one-way), before bussing up to Étretat, another 90 minutes, as there’s no train station in town. And at least from what I remember, the buses only run four times a day, so it’s crucial to time your stay to make sure you aren’t stranded at the end of the day!

The town center is incredibly tiny, but it has your usual amenities including one main supermarket, two or so banks, a few boulangeries, and a handful of restaurants/brasseries catered to visitors. The town is essentially centered around tourism, so you get a lot of folks from out of town (even internationally) coming over for a weekend getaway. That said, it’s unsurprising that there are at least a dozen hotels/BnBs throughout the town to cater to them all.

9-19-15 Hotel La Résidence (old hotel in Étretat)In town

Étretat’s cliffs are the main draw for visitors, as you’ll see plenty of people hiking them– in fact, the cliffs are part of an extensive trail along the Normand coast that goes as far to Le Tréport, over 100 km (63 miles) away. There’s a small, but outstanding chapel on the cliffs, Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde, that offers stunning views of the town below, with more of the cliffs in the backdrop. One of the natural landmarks, l’Aiguille Creuse, is commonly photographed, as it stands out from the rest of the chalky cliffs.

20161231_122906Hiking in the wintertime

Aside from that, there are a few sites you could check out in town. There’s the Maison Maurice Leblanc, a museum dedicated to the aforementioned writer of the detective Lupin series and is the former home of Leblanc himself. And one could also take a peek inside the château des Aygues, a small estate that was once a summer residence for Spanish royalty in the 19th century. I’ve personally never visited these sites, but I can imagine they’re worth a pop in!

It has been years since I last visited Étretat. After my previous job took me to another region in France, I never returned to Normandy, let alone the cliff-side town. However, I’ve constantly recommended it to my peers whenever they visit France and have some time to tour the Normandy region. Étretat may be remote to reach, but it’s also its isolated location which makes it the perfect retreat away from city life, to enjoy a day or two by the sea and in its natural beauty. Étretat is truly a gem, a must to see while in Normandy.

Thanks for reading, folks. Have a wonderful day! 🙂

— Rebecca

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57 thoughts on “Destination: Étretat, France

  1. It’s easy to see why the massive white cliffs have inspired many painters and photographers, all those arches and sea stacks are a sight to behold. We actually had the cliffs and the town on our wish list while road tripping through the neighbouring Brittany a few years ago, but we run out of time and only ended up going as far as Mont-Saint-Michel. Thanks for sharing and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Étretat is a bit more up north from Le Mont St Michel, and given the routes are more limited in this rural part of France, it’d take longer to reach. I hope you have the chance to return to France and make it over!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow! I’ve never heard of this place but it’s beautiful! I can absolutely see the draw of visiting multiple times, and it’s neat that you were able to visit it in multiple seasons as well.

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  3. Beautiful! I’ve only been to Normandy when I was a kid but I’m not sure I even visited Etretat (though I remember the Mont-Saint-Michel pretty well! I know a lot of people that regularly go to Normandy and I think I should definitely pay a visit some time as it seems like a stunning region of France! Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Much of Normandy’s tourism comes from a small handful of sites (e.g. Le Mont St Michel, Giverny, D-Day beaches…), so Étretat is more of a local touristy spot. I highly recommend visiting Étretat if one’s in the region someday!

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  4. Étretat is gorgeous and absolutely worth whatever trains and buses one has to endure to get there. I love the photo from your winter hike. I’m sure that hiking in the cold winter months has the benefit of fewer people around which is always nice. The cliffs look gorgeous, no wonder Monet was inspired. They remind me a little of the White Cliffs of Dover and I see on the map that they are actually not too far from each other. I must say Normandy as a whole seems like a good place to spend a few weeks wandering and exploring. I hope you get back to France soon!

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    1. Exactly! When I visited the cliffs of Dover a few months after Étretat, I was surprised at how similar they looked. Maybe they’re cousin cliffs! 😉 I have plans to return to France, hopefully early next year, so we’ll have to see. Thanks for stopping by, Leighton!

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  5. Étretat reminds me of photos I’ve seen of the Jurassic Coast in south-west England. I’ve not been to either, but they both share those distinctive chalky cliffs set against turquoise waters. Magical. I can see why you paid this spot multiple visits!

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    1. I’ve been to the cliffs of Dover (not sure if it’s part of the Jurassic Coast), and I see the resemblance between those and Étretat’s. Super picturesque and worth a visit– a hop across the pond is very doable!

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      1. I guess a very long time ago they were probably part of the same landmass… it would explain the geographical similarities in the coastlines of the south of England and north of France, at least! The Jurassic Coast is south-west England – Lulworth Cove is probably one of the most-visited spots in that area. I’ve not been, but a close friend goes there most summers and the coastline looks beautiful. Hopefully I’ll make it back over to France someday soon. I’ve still not been out of the UK since the pandemic!

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    1. Étretat actually gets quite busy due to many locals and Parisians who do day trips and weekend getaways there. The chalky limestone cliffs are certainly reminiscent of Dover’s, and given they’re right across the channel from each other, it’s not a surprise!

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  6. Tumblr, yes, I had a blog on Tumblr, I forgot the password and left it up.
    I don’t know if it’s on your recommendation but Etretat is completely packed in the summer months now, it’s best to recommend going in the shoulder seasons. As for the winter, there are few visitors as brave as you. I have to go back too, it’s been too long since I last visited.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve actually never gone in the summer months; I’ve only gone to Étretat in the fall and winter. Which was very beneficial, as it wasn’t too inundated with tourists! I hope you return to Normandy and report back to us on it!

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  7. First time reading about Etretat and I’m captivated by the photos. Thanks for sharing, Rebecca. I’m planning on vsiting different places in France on every Europe trip I will have and my list is getting longer.

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  8. Several readers have mentioned the white chalk cliffs on the south coast of England. During the Second World War the song by Vera Lynn, ” There’ll be bluebirds over, The white cliffs of Dover” represented the soldiers’ dream of returning to their homeland. On trips back to England I often find myself standing on Beachy Head looking down below at the white and red lighthouse, the guardian of the white cliffs. Thanks…. I must find some of those old photos!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad my post inspired you! It’s true that Étretat’s cliffs mirror those of England’s southeast coast shores…I’m sure at one point in time, the land masses were together, only to break away and separate to where they are positioned today. Hope you find those photos!

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