The waves whip sea spit into the air and the smell of salt fills my senses… There’s no feeling quite like being beside the sea. And Etretat has it all; the charm of a French town, glistening turquoise sea, jagged coastline and endless windswept coastal walks…
Located in Normandy, Northern France, you can’t go wrong by dedicating at least a day or two to exploring this breathtaking region. Famously known for William the Conqueror, the Bayeux Tapestry and Giverny, the region is a whole treasure trove of cultural history!
If you want to spend multiple days exploring in the Summer or Autumn, then I highly recommend camping! With plenty of options, you’re sure to find a campsite to suit your budget (or you could even try wild camping if you’re feeling brave enough…).
Cliffs of Etretat
While England may have the chalky white cliffs of Dover, France has the equally chalky coastline of Étretat. Most famous for its three whitewashed arches that rise up from the sea, the area has been a popular hotspot for French tourists for years. The cliffs are so beautiful that they inspired countless painters to visit and paint the region. Plus, the light along the cliffs is perfect for taking an Instagram photo or two…
[Tweet “Chalky Cliffs dominate the surrounding seascape. Étretat is truly a gem!”]
Think: Courbet, Boudin Monet and many more artists! Monet himself is quoted as saying “I count on doing a large canvas of the cliffs of Etretat, although it is certainly bold of me to do that after Courbet who did it admirably, but I will try to do it differently…“
Coastal Walk & Chapel
There’s no better way to see the cliffs, arches and sea in all their shining glory than from a bird’s eye perspective. Although the walk up to the cliffs is moderately strenuous, once you reach the top, walking is fairly easy on soft, springy grass. It’s important to note that there are very few railings once you get to the very top of the cliff, or indeed, along many of the steps carved out of the side of the cliff. Make sure to keep an eye on children/ dogs!
The Chapel of Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde is perched, in pride of place, high above the surrounding area. The original chapel was built in the mid 185os but was tragically destroyed in August 1942. at the height of WWII. A new chapel was constructed on the very same spot in the 1950s, almost a century after the original.
When walking around the cliffs, I was incredibly surprised to see all of the tunnels and caves carved out from the chalky stone. These caves reminded me a little bit of all of the smuggling coves in Cornwall, England.
After a walk around the coastal line and a trip to the chapel that presides over the surrounding area, what better way to cool off than to take a quick dip in the sea or lie on the beach? Although the beach is pebbles, it’s one of those ‘smooth pebble’ beaches and so not uncomfortable to walk on/ lie down on.
Even on the mid-September day when we visited Etretat, the beach was absolutely packed! As such, I can’t even imagine how busy it must be in the summer! If you’re planning to spend the day on a beach, then make sure to head there as early as possible to secure the best spots!
Etretat Town Centre
The centre of Etretat town is bustling with tourists and locals alike. Filled with cute boutique shops, small quirky galleries and a whole load of eateries, Etretat is everything you’d expect from a French town. A number of buildings are built in the charming timber architecture that is typical of the region (make sure to have your camera ready)!
The town is also the perfect place to pick up a French crêpe (or two!) Cider is a local speciality and is the perfect refreshing beach drink!