Not far from Rouen (if you’ll visit it, read my article about the top things to do in Rouen), on the north-northeast coast of Normandy, in the department of the Seine-Maritime lies is a town of 1500 inhabitants. Its name is Étretat.
It is a tiny gem with blue roofs, protected by imposing cliffs. You must discover them during a road trip to visit Normandy. Those cliffs that are the attraction for the many tourists who come during the summer to walk along the trails overlooking the sea.
Étretat is part of the alabaster coast and the view reflects what can be found as far as Le Tréport. This entire part of the coast is characterized by natural cliffs of limestone origin. White chalk cliffs that leave you astonished. The coast is in continuous erosion although near Étretat this phenomenon is less noticeable because the chalk, called Turoniano, is much more resistant.
Nevertheless, the work that water and wind have done over the years is clearly visible, singular is also a chalk arch (Manneporte) 90 meters tall that can be spotted on the Aval cliff.
What should I see at Étretat? How can I get to the Étretat cliffs?
Étretat, in Normandy, is indeed a very small town. Consider that you can easily tour it on foot in 5/10 minutes. When I was collecting information before leaving for my trip in Normandy, I was worried about finding a parking space and that it was not too far from the place where I would sleep. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have had any reason to worry.
In Étretat there is a huge parking lot on the west side of the city. It is approximately 300 meters from the center, probably even less. If the idea is to stay in Étretat, I would recommend you to leave your car in this parking lot for the whole night. It is free (if I’m not mistaken) from 8.00 pm until 9.00 am the next morning. My hotel Hotel Le Rayon Vert (I suggest you to stay here) was right by the sea just a stone’s throw from the car park.
The beach near the city centre
The beach of Étretat consists of pebbles, pebbles and more pebbles. Like most beaches in Normandy, is heavily affected by high and low tides. Every day there are two peaks of high tide and two peaks of low tide. During the two peaks of low tide the water is far from the coast and you can walk under the cliffs. You have to be very careful because you will still be under rocks that can crumble. By walking among algae and stagnant water, you can see the cliffs from another point of view. You will be left amazed.
However, you must be careful not to underestimate the tides. The water rises very quickly and it is better not to stray too much from the town of Étretat. In any case, near the beginning of the ascent to the Aval cliff, near the steps leading to the beach there is a board where the high and low tide times are detailed for the whole month. A glance to it is a must. During the summer a prevention system is also established, with two people overlooking the area.
The small village of Étretat is characteristic but doesn’t offer much. However, this is not the main highlight of this beautiful stretch of the Normandy coast.
Falaise Aval and falasie Amont: Cliffs of Étretat
Undoubtedly the two cliffs overlooking the sea are the main feature that makes this place unique. You can climb them both and enjoy the view. You can climb the Aval cliff on foot. While on the Amont cliff you can choose between a walk and a drive. It is also accessible by a road.
If you don’t have much time and you have to choose. I absolutely recommend you to climb the Aval cliff. If you look towards the sea, this cliff of Étretat is the one on your left towards the famous chalk arch.
How to get to the top of the Aval cliff
To get to the top there is a rather large path that is NOT close to the sea. Therefore, there are no problems regarding safety. On the other hand, the cliffs have no protection. You must always be careful where you put your feet to avoid tripping. The ascent is steep only in the first section, then it becomes more comfortable. As you look around you will enjoy a spectacular view of the whole village with the Amont cliff in the background. Really characteristic.
The path continues and crosses over the cliff supported by the Manneporte arch. From this point, looking westwards, you can see another particular formation of the cliffs: the Aiguille, 70 metres of rock in the shape of an obelisk.
Needless to say, here you must unleash your photographic passion, also because a golf course has also been built on the Aval cliff. Would you like to miss the opportunity to take a picture: golf course + cliff + Étretat and another cliff in the background? I don’t think so…
Amont Cliff: on foot or by car
The sight is still beautiful but not as good as the one at the Aval cliff. Perhaps the fact that you can reach it by car and therefore be more accessible, makes it less fascinating. You can climb a flight of steps from the village of Étretat. Alternatively you can use the paved Avenue Damilaville road that leads to the Chapelle Notre-Dame de la Garde at the top.
Étretat and Impressionism
I would like to end this article about Étretat with a small hint of how these landscapes have been the subject of countless paintings by impressionist artists of the past. Monet himself painted this part of the Normandy coast.