Guide to Etretat
A hidden gem of Normandy, France
The name Normandy easily reminds us of D-day beach and war memorials. Its capital city- Rouen and its cheese culture take us far behind in the history. But the White chalky cliffs along the upper Normandy coast are simply astounding and reminds us directly of the bright white cliffs in Dover, UK. The steep tall chalky cliffs in Etretat are carved artistically into arches due to continuous activities of strong wind currents and salty sea-water.
Fecamp is more popular and larger town just about 20 km from Etretat and it is also flanked by such cliffs on either side. Etretat, on the other hand, is a simple fishing village situated in a depression among these cliffs along the coast. Etretat cliffs are fragile and ever-changing. It’s three natural arches and famous needle which are carved out of towering high cliffs along the Atlantic Ocean have been attracting painters and writers for a long time.
How to reach
Etretat is easily accessible by car (about 3 hours from Paris). There are some public transport connections from Le Havre (30 min) and Rouen (1 hour) and also one direct private Flixbus (3 to 4 hours) from Paris.
Where to stay
Etretat is a nice small village and has plenty of accommodation options suitable for all budget types. One can stay in larger towns like Fecamp or Le Havre and visit Etretat as a day trip. But I strongly recommend staying in Etretat village itself for its typical local feel. There are lots of restaurants around the central market area which offer authentic local food. I have discussed it below in details.
What to see
Etretat is best explored on foot. The walking trails start right from the beach of the village. The three famous arches and the needle rock of Etretat are on left side of the town and the iconic mountain Chapel and the Etretat garden are on right-hand side on the cliffs.
To visit the arches, one can walk above the cliffs and look down over the arches. The other way is to walk along the beach through the arches keeping the huge towering cliffs along one side. The upper trails can be accessed any time but to walk through the arches, check the tidal timetable first. The distance between those arches is considerable and the water level changes fast.
The wandering trails above the cliffs will take you to various viewpoints from where you can admire stunning views over the village and the arches. One can spend about 2-4 hours on these trails.
Warning: The cliffs in Etretat are highest in the region and it is advisable to remain on the marked walking route for safety reason.
The cliffs on the right side of Etretat can be observed from above and sometimes there are steps going down unto the beach. The Chapel built in grey stone on these cliffs which can be seen from the village and the other side as well. From the village, one can walk or drive up to the chapel. There is car parking behind the chapel and then walk exploring various views over the white cliffs and turquoise sea waters. This side of the cliffs offers a view over a wide landscape of cliffs, plateau and the sea. There are few openings in the cliffs where one can follow steps to go down up to the beach and for more amazing views. Just a reminder that one has to climb up the same steep steps to come back and that is exhausting.
The chapel and its surrounding area is the best place to watch a sunset.
Other things to do
Besides the old style Chapel on the cliffs, there is a small garden – a mix of English, French and Japanese styles. One can admire views over the Etretat village and sea from this garden also.
Etretat has a pebble beach with crystal clear turquoise water. There are basic facilities like toilets, beach bars etc. The small promenade is lined with many beach-front restaurants serving seafood.
Being a coastal town and the upper Normandy region, one should definitely try the signature dish — ‘Moule frittes’ — mussels and potato fries. Lobster, oysters and seafood are some other specialties which one must try.
Etretat is a popular nature destination for beautiful white chalky cliffs and its arches but it is not as crowded as nearby other places like Dieppe, Fecamp or Honfleur.
Etretat is suitable for families with kids. The walking trails are a fun experience for one and all. The village has nothing like flashy or touristy things.
Etretat makes an ideal cultural and nature destination and a best-kept secret in upper Normandy in France. While in Normandy, try to visit Etretat for its authentic local experience and natural wonders.
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