Published on 4 May 2020
Reading time: 4 minutes
Famous for its dramatic white chalk cliffs and natural arches carved by wind and water, Etretat is one of my favourite villages in Normandy, and I’m delighted to share with you the exact reasons why. Reconnecting with nature is easy in Etretat, yet village life, fine dining, heritage and culture are all just a stone’s throw away.
One of France’s most beautiful natural wonders
Etretat’s most iconic feature and biggest highlight is of course its astonishing white chalk cliffs and arched rock formations created by erosion of the wind and sea over millennia. I climb along the undulating foot path called the Chemin des Douaniers, formerly used by customs officers on horseback, which stretches all the way across the top of the rock know as the Aiguille (needle), rewarded with dizzying panoramic views of the bright white cliffs and sweeping sea. It is no surprise the changing light, the sheer magnificence of the arch at sunrise and sunset, and the overall natural beauty of Etretat has long attracted artists such as Claude Monet and Gustave Courbet. The stretch of coast of which Etretat is part, the Alabaster Coast, will take your breath away.
The Aiguille rock and Porte d’Aval arch formation are among the most photographed landmarks in Normandy, so expect crowds in summer and bank holiday weekends. If you want to somewhat avoid the crowds, then visiting Etretat in shoulder seasons, autumn and spring, is advisable. As I learned, much to my dismay, is that it gets quite windy up there, so make sure to bring warm clothes with you and a wind-breaker.
Possibly the most beautiful short stroll in France
The Falaise d’Aval and Falaise d’Amont
In the distance, the spectacular scenery and natural architecture of the Falaise d’Aval cliff is captivating. To access Jambourg beach from Etretat beach, a cave was dug in the rock to facilitate access to fishermen. Many legends surround the myth of the “manhole”. If you wish to cross it, beware of the tides! The other cliff on the other side of the town is called the Falaise d’Amont, upon which you can easily spot the Chapel of Notre Dame de la Garde on top of the hill, built by fishermen in 1856. Take your time to explore both sides at your own pace, the views are out of this world!
An excellent vantage point is located on hole n°10 of the famous clifftop golf course of Etretat, ranked as one of the most beautiful in France. A golfer’s paradise!
Indulge in local seafood in Étretat
No experience of Etretat would be complete without sampling local seafood. After a fabulous walk along the hiking footpath GR21, I make my way to the village of Etretat which sits at beach level, nestled between the two arched rock wonders. And while I might be hard-pressed to pick a favourite clifftop view, when it comes to local food, the choice is simple: seafood.
Whether you’re craving a fresh seafood platter or a bowl of garlicky mussels and fries, you can score the best bounty of the sea in the restaurants of Etretat. Washed down with a glass of chilled local cider, of course. A treat for the taste buds!
After lunch, I venture out to explore the small seaside town clustered along a sweeping pebbly beach. Etretat’s eclectic mix of medieval half-timber houses and stylish Belle Epoque holiday villas lend the quintessential village a sense of timelessness. In the streets, many small shops offer local products “100% Made in Normandy” that make interesting gifts to bring back for family and friends.
An overnight Stay in Étretat with CLIFF VIEW
When it comes to turning the Etretat experience into a splendid getaway, I choose to stay at the Domaine Saint-Clair. Nestled in an area of outstanding natural beauty, this stylish boutique hotel overlooks the village and provides astounding views on the cliffs.
The Domaine Saint-Clair is a uniquely designed, charming hotel. Individually decorated, the rooms bear the names of literature characters and combine traditional furnishings tastefully enhanced with a modern influence and a touch of luxury. As for dinning, I strongly recommend the hotel’s restaurant. The talented chef and his team have created a delicious seasonally changing menu with a focus on working with local suppliers and fresh, sustainable produce only. The relaxed, elegant atmosphere makes this “home away from home” the perfect place for a well-deserved break.