Last Updated on 27th January 2021 by Sophie Nadeau
Due to the sheer volume of visitors that the coastal settlement of Étretat receives each year, you may mistakenly believe that there are no hidden gems left to uncover. However, scratch beneath the surface of this delightful French destination and you’ll soon discover that there are many secret spots in Étretat. From the historical to the quirky to the downright weird, we take you through the crème de la crème of unusual things to do in Étretat.
Muse for impressionist painters and writers alike over the centuries (but particularly during the 19th-century), the chalky cliffs of Étretat are famous the world over. Boasting an impressive coastline home to wilderness walks and seaside vistas, the town contains typical Normandy-style architecture, all the meanwhile overlooking an azure blue sea.
Best-seen over the course of a long weekend (check out the best of Étretat hotels here), a trip to Étretat can easily be combined with a visit to nearby Northern France destinations such as the charming town of Yport and the industrial city of Le Havre. If you have a little more time, then the iconic fishing port of Honfleur is also just under an hour’s drive away.
Spot where Claude Monet painted
The chalky cliffs of Étretat perhaps became so famous for the simple fact that Claude Monet, one of the most iconic of impressionist painters (and whose artistic renditions of the town are part of the reason it became so popular among holidaymakers in the first place) painted along what is now the town’s main boardwalk.
A plaque halfway along the promenade celebrates the fact, directly in front of the Restaurant Perrey (which, in turn, has pretty mixed reviews for its food if online advice is anything to go by). The spot marks the exact location from which Claude Monet painted the ‘Bâteau de pêche’ in 1885. Part of a series of paintings created between 1883 and 1886, the paintings are immediately recognisable as Étretat.
Château des Ifs
When you’re driving towards Étretat by car, on the fringes of town, you’ll likely spot the magnificent and grandiose Château des Ifs. For me, that was the moment that truly struck me that we had well and truly left the city behind and were so obviously in the French countryside. Though the Château is sadly closed to the public today, its impressive exterior can be admired from behind the iron grill gates which mark the entryway to the property.
The oldest part of the castle you see today has the architecture of the early reign of Louis XIII, though no official records remain as to the exact construction of the Château. The estate then remained in the hands of the Hervieu family up until the estate was sold to Pierre Dufresne in 1859.
Étretat beach diving boards
Vestiges of the past are never too far away when it comes to Étretat and this is perhaps nowhere more apparent than when you spy the historic diving boards from the middle of the 20th-century at the end of the promenade boardwalk, directly above the beach.
The exact location for the diving boards can be found at the base of the steep steps which lead up to the Amont cliff. Étretat has been a popular holiday destinations since at least 1850, when the town installed three diving boards for bathers to make good use of. Of all the secret spots in Étretat, this is one you could easily miss if you don’t look closely enough…
Perched high on the clifftops and overlooking the rest of the town, the chapel of Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde and its surrounds offer some of the best sea vistas to be found anywhere in Normandy. There has been a church on site since at least 1854, when an ecclesiastical building was commissioned by Reverend Père Michel in order to commemorate those sailors who had been lost at sea.
In time, the little church was painted by many an impressionist painter, including Monet, Flaubert, and Guy de Maupassant. Unfortunately, the church was destroyed in 1942 during the Nazi Occupation of France. The church was entirely rebuilt in 1950 and it is this structure that you can admire today. Though the interior of the church is closed to the public, its beautiful exterior can still be admired throughout the year.
Hôtel la Residence
One of the oldest buildings in the town has since been transformed into a hotel in the heart of all the action. Situated within a main thoroughfare of the town, it’s hard to miss the Hôtel la Residence owing to the fact that the accommodation is set against the backdrop of a 14th-century townhouse which even boasts ornate wood carvings.
Le Vieux Marché (Old Market Hall) Étretat
While the white cliffs are the top attraction when it comes to the acclaimed town, there’s most definitely more to see than meets the eye. If you’re headed straight for the beach or the headland, then it’s easy to miss that the town is pretty substantial in size, with several buildings of note.
One such building is that of the wooden market hall (sometimes referred to as ‘Les Halles d’Étretat’), which is an open plan covered marketplace dating back to 1926. Today, you can find plenty of fresh produce for sale inside, as well as souvenirs to purchase by which to remember your trip.
Musée du patrimoine d’Étretat
On the top of the cliff of Amont, and located just steps away from the church, the Heritage Museum of Étretat is well-reviewed and is seldom-visited when compared with the beach, or even the hiking trails and viewpoints at the top of the chalky cliffs.
A cultural immersion into the history of the town and its surrounds, the museum is well-reviewed and costs just €2.50 to enter. Open every day (with the exception of some public holidays), it’s here you’ll discover that the town has been inhabited since prehistorical times as well as the fact that the town was home to an oyster park which supplied Marie Antoinette herself.