Nature has carved fabulous shapes out of the white cliffs at Etretat. The extraordinary site drew Impressionist painters aplenty. The picturesque resort was also chosen as the setting for the stories of a favourite French children’s character, gentleman burglar Arsène Lupin. Another startling attraction is the cliff-top golf course.
The cliffs steal the show at Etretat, thanks to their exceptional natural drama and aided by the fact that famous Impressionists painted them so memorably. Erosion has created extraordinary arches in the chalk either side of the resort. There’s also an amazing needle-like structure, known in French as an Aiguille.
There is more to Etretat than the cliff formations and the thick pebble beach, though. The small resort behind is full of charm. Along with some extravagant hotels, the remarkable wooden covered market stands out. Le Clos Lupin, a typical old villa in town, conceals mysteries for visitors, while the churches around Etretat stand out more prominently.
Back with the cliffs, you can go for some stunning walks along the cliff tops, where further surprises await, including a breath-taking golf course. Return to the famous cliff formations on the beach at night and you can see them magically lit up.
Worth a visit
- The cliffs and natural formations: visiting Etretat, you’ll become familiar with the names given to the extraordinary rock formations either side of the resort, carved out of the chalk and flint of the Pays de Caux plateau: Courtine, Manneporte, Vaudieu Rock, the Aiguille de Belval… Some people think they can see the head of an elephant dipping its trunk into the waves in one spot, while others assert, as the great Normandy author Maupassant did, that a ship with all its sails unfurled could pass through the Manneporte Arch.
- The old market square: the square is dominated by a fine timber-frame covered market which holds charming boutiques inside. Plaques on the building recall British and American wartime links to Etretat. Notably, a British hospital was set up in town during World War I and c.550 British soldiers died there.
- Le Clos Arsène Lupin: even if you are not yet familiar with the amusing, much-loved gentleman burglar character, Arsène Lupin, and his accomplice, Grognard, created by French author Maurice Blanc, it proves a delight to discover all about them at Le Clos Lupin, a fine townhouse once owned by their creator. English-speaking visitors are provided with specially adapted materials so that you can enjoy the playful mystery tour to the full. Young and old alike should be entertained by the detective adventure you embark upon.
- Notre-Dame Church: this substantial medieval Norman church, a mix of Romanesque and Gothic styles, stands away from the beach, at the back of the resort. As well as admiring the architecture, you might pay your respects at the British Commonwealth graves in the church’s cemetery.
- Notre-Dame de la Garde Chapel: this chapel stands out up on the heights east of the resort. Built by sailors in the 19th century, destroyed during World War II, it was rebuilt in its tremendous location in the 1950s.
- Nungesser and Coli Monument: this astonishing needle-like monument set up behind Notre-Dame de la Garde in 1963 recalls a pair of French aviation heroes from World War I who, in 1927, attempted the first flight across the Atlantic. Nungesser and Coli’s plane, Oiseau Blanc, was last seen flying over the white cliffs here.
- The Trou à l'Homme: one day in 1792 a raging sea threw a Swedish ship against the cliffs here. The inhabitants of Etretat could only watch, horrified, as the vessel was wrecked before their eyes. The next day, the wind dropped and the waves withdrew, revealing a cave running up through the cliff, with the body of a man lying prostrate inside it. As he was being carried off to a common grave to be buried alongside his unfortunate comrades, he woke up and was saved. The extraordinary cavern in which he was found has now been opened up, although it is only passable at low tide, when it provides access to Jambourg Beach. Check the times of the tides before you set out.
- Golf d’Etretat: this golf course lies in an exceptional position, perched on the cliff tops west of the resort, more than 150 ft above the sea, making playing golf at Etretat a memorable experience. British fans of the resort were central in founding the course early in the 20th century; in fact the first president was Viscount Bernard Forbes, 8th Count of Granard and a Liberal politician. The course was designed in 1908, in association with Arnaud Massy, an exceptional professional who taught golf at Etretat and has gone down in golfing history as the first non-Briton to win the Open Championship, or British Open. The famous N°10 hole was redesigned 100 years after the course was created and is now even more spectacular than before.
Not to be missed