Etretat – Introduction
Etretat is Upper Normandy’s most popular tourist destination, particularly with the Parisians and locals. It is a small town (some 1500 inhabitants), but very picturesque and it has survived World War II almost intact. Its age can not be determined, but it is believed that it was there before the Vikings.
Like most coastal towns and cities in Upper Normandy, Etretat is sandwiched in between high cliffs. But in this case, the cliffs are the main attraction due to their form. Three cliffs have natural arches at their end. Two of them are clearly visible from the town’s beach.
The arch was formed because of the strong currents, and a needle, 55 meters high is the most visible symbol of the town. Behind these cliffs is another one called Manneporte, an even bigger arch, but it can not be seen from the town, only from above.
Next to the arch is a grotto that can be seen and visited at low tide.
The top of the cliffs can be visited as well. A hiking path with steps has been established alongside the cliffs, bringing you to the top after a brisk hike. Your reward for the hike is a breathtaking view of the town and the cliffs.
NOTE: The hiking path is part of the GR21 hiking path, connecting Le Havre to Treport, a 180 kilometre hike!
The other cliffs, located on the opposite side is called Amont and it’s the smallest one of the three.
The beach, like elsewhere in Upper Normandy, is made out of pebbles, not sand. The beach is shared between sunbathers and fishers:
There is an active fishing fleet operating out of Etretat, but they are coastal fishers, and are dragged onto the beach when not fishing. In between the boats and at the other end you’ll find the sun worshippers:
In the summer it gets quite crowded, like the town itself.
Alongside the beach you will find a promenade which takes you alongside several restaurants and a casino:
On the other side of the promenade:
NOTE: Notice at the far side, at the cliffs, the hiker’s path to the top of the cliffs with a view of the town and the 3rd arch (Manneporte arch). The view from the hiker’s path is like this:
On the top of the cliffs on the above photo you see a small church. It’s the “Notre-Dame de la Garde” chapel:
The chapel was built by hand by the fishermen and sailors in 1854 who carried the stones and material on their back up to the grounds. The chapel is dedicated to sailors.
The town of Etretat is quite small and old but very busy. During the summer months it gets very busy and traffic jams are the norm. Parking is almost impossible, and the overflow parking lots outside the town fill up rapidly.
Most of the streets in the town are one-way so it becomes a Herculean task to enter the town and park a car. Many of the houses and buildings inside the town are very old and made out of wood:
The photo above is that of one of the oldest buildings in Etretat which also happens to be a hotel. Yes, you can sleep in centuries old rooms (but the beds and furniture are more recent, as are the toilets).
Several of the restaurants are quite interesting to see, some inside old buildings.
This is an old tavern dating back to 1851 serving nice food. On the main square (opposite of the tavern) is a strange structure. it is called “Les Halles” (the halls) and it’s a marketplace.
The building resembles a church, but it’s a market. Inside there are a few shops:
But it wasn’t always a market. It started life as a farm, and during World War I the place was used as hospital for the Allied troops, and during World War II the place was used for the US Soldiers on R &R (the Pall Mall Camp).
The main church of Etretat (Notre-Dame, built in the 12th century) has a graveyard for Commonwealth soldiers who died during WWII.
Several chateaux and manors are present in the town, all located in the hills. Several have been turned into luxury hotels. The town has been the host to many celebrities (it is also the “birthplace” of the make-believe gentleman burglar Arsin Lupin described in many novels) including the writer Guy de Maupassant, the painters Claude Monet and Henri Matisse and the former French president Rene Coty. Several (French) movies were made in the town.
A beautiful golf course, built in 1908, is located on the top of the cliffs with breathtaking views and a good restaurant.