Étretat in Normandy is one of those places that is very famous in France, but quite unknown to foreigners and tourists. A town on the north coast of France, the area is known for the striking rock formations called falaises in French, that carved out of its white cliffs.
The town is located along the coast of the English Channel and has beautiful views of the coast as well as the surrounding cliffs. (If it helps, I hadn’t heard of Etretat before moving to France either!) The French painter Claude Monet was so inspired by the cliffs, it became the basis for many of his famous works.
The town itself is a small, picturesque town on the coast of the English Channel and is located in the Seine-Marne department of the Haute-Normandie region in north-western France. It is about 108 miles (175km) away from Paris, and is easily accessible as a day trip.
Being so close to Paris, it became a popular seaside resort in the 19th century, attracting many artists and writers. In addition to Monet, the writer Maurice Leblanc who wrote the mystery novels Arsene Lupin (you may have heard of the Netflix show starring Omar Sy) , was famous for having a house in the area.
These days it is a popular holiday destination for beach-goers, and those who enjoy the wild outdoors. With plenty to do in the area, let’s get to the best things to see in Etretat, shall we? Allons-y!
Things to do in the area
1) L’Aiguille d’Etretat
The first thing to do of course, is to climb up the rocks. You can either climb the side of the Falaise d’Aval on one side of the beach, or the other side to get the full view from a distance. There are three natural arches, and the pointed formation is called L’Aiguille or the Needle.
The 3 arches are known as the Porte d’Aval, the Porte d’Amont, and the biggest one, the Manneporte. An impressive sight, the white chalk cliffs are made of Turonian and Coniacian chalks sculpted by the sea.
Some think the Aval cliff and the arch look like the head of an elephant dipping its trunk into the waves, which if of course fun to contemplate. The waves can be rather choppy though, so I would advise against going too close with a boat in the water.
2) Explore the Jardins d’Etretat
When you climb the hill that is across from L’Aiguille, you will come across the Jardins d’Etretat (gardens of Etretat).
Billed as an open air museum, the Jardins d’Etretat are a series of gardens filled with interesting sculptures that were built by a Russian landscape artist in 2017.
It has a bit of a Japanese garden vibe, with a rather zen atmosphere as you are walking through. The gardens are considered one of the wonders of Normandy and listed as a World Heritage by UNESCO. The gardens have also won the European Garden Award in the category “Best development of a historic park or garden”, and possess one Michelin star in the Green Guide, listed among “Great Gardens of the World” and the label “Remarkable Garden”.
In addition, the views from the top are incredible. There is also a beautiful little cafe on the top of the hill where you can have a drink enjoy the view.
3) Walk along the beach
There is a large beach in front of the town’s centre, which gets quite crowded in the summer time. However, it is a pebble-beach, not a sandy beach, so bring your water shoes.
In addition, for the sporty folks, there are many hiking and bike trails in the area along the coast, and it is and a great place to go walking or cycling.
I would advise people to go in the late spring or early summer because the weather is not as hot and there are fewer beachgoers about.
3) Explore the Old Town
The town’s architecture is distinctive, with old-fashioned houses constructed with the traditional Norman colombage. There are plenty of shops and restaurants in the town center, so have a look around and enjoy a few of the delicacies from this region.
Walk around the town center and don’t miss the Vieux Marché, a beautiful food market, selling everything from vegetables to fish and meats.
Etretat is a small town of less than 2000 full-time residents, so the town has plenty of charm and a village-feel. In case you were wondering, the inhabitants of the town of Etretat are called Etretatriens.
4) Try the Moules frites
Being on the coast, the region of Normandy is quite famous for its seafood. One of the delicacies of the area are the moules frites, meaning mussels and fries.
At the restaurants in the town center, you can get the moules steam cooked and with a variety of sauces such as with parsley, with cream and lardons, and many many more.
5) Play detective at Clos Lupin
If you are a fan of the Arsene Lupin books, or the Netflix show, or even if you just enjoy mysteries, you may want to head over to the former home of author Maurice LeBlanc, which is now a museum Le Clos Lupin.
There you will be given a series of clues to solve a mystery, as you wander around LeBlanc’s home in a make-believe scenario.
If your child enjoys mysteries like Sherlock Holmes, they will enjoy Arsene Lupin, who is not a detective but a gentleman thief. You can read more interesting facts about Normandy here.
Frequently Asked Questions
How to get to Etretat?
If you are coming from Paris, Étretat is about 2 hours away by car.
The closest train station is in the town of Le Havre, which is about 1 hour away by bus. If you don’t have a car, I recommend taking a guided tour from Paris, to save yourself the hassle of slow public transportation.
How many days should you spend?
Where should you stay?
The following hotels are within walking distance to the city center of Etretat:
If you enjoyed that article, you may wish to read more about traveling around Normandy here. A bientôt!