Overlooking the English Channel on the northern coast of France, this wonderful fishing village is one of the wonders of the famous Alabaster Coast: a long coastal stretch of about 130 km stretching from Dieppe to Le Havre, formed by high chalk cliffs interrupted by green valleys.
Étretat is nestled between the two most striking cliffs of the coast, the Falaise d’Amont and the Falaise d’Aval : its breathtaking panorama will leave you speechless.
Residence of celebrities such as Guy de Maupassant, Corot, Coubert and Monet, this town seems to come straight out of a 19th century impressionist painting, thanks to its retro charm and pastel colours.
Etretat was once a quiet fishing village that became famous for its legendary oysters. In its heyday, the prized shellfish bred here directly supplied the Palace of Versailles and the court of Queen Marie Antoinette.
Only later did Etretat become a renowned seaside resort, the holiday destination of famous people and a place of inspiration for poets and impressionist painters of the calibre of Monet.
Today, the town has become one of the most touristy places on the entire Normandy coast and attracts more than 2 million visitors every year. Its most famous feature is the rapid sequence of magnificent cliffs, which, from south to north, frame Etretat, offering a spectacular panorama.
The Falesie d’Aval is one of the Alabaster Coast ‘s most sublime spots: its white rock, which contrasts with the blue of the sea, is tinged with magnificent colours depending on the time of day. At sunset the panorama is exceptional, as it is in the evening, when it is expertly illuminated.
Climbing a long flight of steps from Etretat’s seafront, you will arrive at the top of the cliffs, with a stupendous panoramic terrace. From here, a path will give you breathtaking views of the cliffs below, including the Porte d’Aval, the famous natural arch described by Maupassant as an elephant drinking in the sea, the result of centuries of erosion.
A few metres from the arch is the Aiguille de la Falaise d’Aval, known as the Needle. This rock formation, isolated and far from the cliff, measures more than 55 metres high and has long tickled the fancy of writers such as Maurice Leblanc: in his novels about the thief Lupin, he says that the needle is hollow and holds the secret of the kings of France. In reality, this unusual distance is explained by erosion by the elements that, over the centuries, has led to the collapse and collapse into the sea of the stone arch that previously connected the rock with the mainland.
The most impressive arch of the cliffs is that of the Manneporte, which means big in Latin. It is not actually visible from the Étretat beach: the only way to admire it is to take the customs path, which connects the cliffs. Once up above the Aval Crag, the path continues along the golf course and also leads to the Jambourg beach, which separates the Aval Crag from the Manneporte Crag.
The walk is long, but you will find yourself immersed in the most unspoilt nature, with nooks and crannies of absolute beauty: your gaze will embrace a good part of the Alabaster Coast.
Etretat’s other cliff, to the north of the bay, is the Falaise d’Amont, which holds the smallest arch of all the cliffs in the village. To reach its summit and admire the breathtaking panorama, you can choose between the easy option of driving up the D79 road, Avenue Damilaville, or reaching the panoramic terrace on foot, starting from Etretat and tackling a long flight of 263 steps.
Once there, a romantic little church overlooking the sea, the Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde , awaits you. Take your time to breathe in the fresh sea air and admire a truly enchanting landscape that looks like something out of one of Monet’s paintings, who immortalised this stretch of coastline many times.
Here you will also find the Oiseau Blanc monument, dedicated to the aviators Nungesser and Coli who attempted, on 8 May 1927, to cross the Atlantic Ocean for the first time aboard their Levasseur biplane, christened ‘L’Oiseau blanc’ in memory of an Indian chief. The two adventurers never reached their destination and their vehicle was considered missing, although a few years later, wreckage compatible with L’Oiseau blanc was found in Maine.
The town of Etretat is home to the writer Maurice Leblanc, who had drawn inspiration from Maupassant’s stories and Flaubert’s novels: he is the creator of Arsenio Lupin, the famous gentleman thief.
Many of Lupin’s adventures take place in Etretat, where the writer composed all his works: no less than 19 novels, 39 short stories and 5 plays all starring Arsenio Lupin. This mysterious and fascinating house-museum leads not only to discover the world of the famous gentleman thief but also to an intriguing experience.
In fact, the visit to the house takes place in the theatrical mode, in which the visitor is accompanied by the narrative voice of the characters, following seven scenes to great effect: a well-orchestrated choreography of music, video and words, with the aim of solving the mystery of the Aiguille Creuse, the most famous novel in the saga.
And it is no coincidence that it is precisely the theft of Marie Antoinette’s necklace that is at the centre of a Netflix original series, Lupin: the series has brought the figure of the gentleman thief and the town of Etretat, which together with its cliffs is the location for some episodes, back into the limelight. The protagonist is Omar Sy, the French actor who became famous for the film Almost Friends.
Don’t miss a visit to the small covered market in Etretat: of medieval origin, it was completely rebuilt in wood in the early 1900s. The interior is stunning: the rooms are built with large exposed beams. Contrary to what you might think, the market does not host fruit and vegetable stalls, but the shops of local craftsmen and souvenirs.
If, on the other hand, you want to discover local aromas, the fruit and vegetable market takes place every Thursday from 09.00 to 13.00 on Place du Maréchal Foch, just opposite the Marché Couvert in Etretat.
Seafood lovers will not miss the arrival of fresh fish, shellfish and crustaceans that they can enjoy right on the beach.
A few steps away from the covered market is one of Etretat’s most famous and interesting buildings, the Manoir de la Salamandre, now a hotel, the Hôtel de la Résidence.
The history of this building is quite original: in fact, contrary to what one might think, it was built in 1889 in Lisieux and then moved to Étretat in 1912, after being dismantled and reassembled. Interesting fact: the façade of the building hides a carved wooden salamander, which you can enjoy finding.
Positioned at the top of the heights overlooking the town, the Etretat gardens create a play of topiary art where landscape, contemporary art, architecture and literature dialogue to create an open-air museum.
They actually consist of 7 gardens designed by Alexandre Grivko and each one explores different themes, from music to emotions, turning into a magical and surreal place , poised between waking and dreaming: the thin line separating reality from fantasy seems to disappear, giving the visitor the sensation of being in an enchanted world. In the midst of the plants, art installations are positioned to make the feeling of daydreaming even more vivid.
It is no coincidence that the most prominent garden is the Jardin d’Aval, inspired by Lewis Caroll ‘s novel Alice in Wonderland : endless expanses of orchids mingle with arches, bizarrely shaped plants and characters composed of fallen tree branches.
Also enchanting is the Garden of Emotions, in which huge grey faces surrounded by perfect ‘waves’ of boxwood hedges represent the various moods expressed by the human face. Seven sculpted faces representing the seven emotions: a totally surprising atmosphere.
Or the Avatar Garden, in which the works of art are ‘grafted’ with the natural elements: in the mechanical forest, for example, an enormous key inserted in a tree trunk will activate a melody that will accompany you on your journey through the garden.
Etretat’s large, secluded beach is an enchanting expanse of white pebbles. It is impossible not to take some time to admire the view and photograph the boats that stop on the shore after unloading their nets full of fish in the morning.
From here, steps lead up to the top of the Falesia d’Aval and the Falesia d’Amont.
If you have time, you can reach the base of the crags on foot from Etretat beach. Beware: they can only be reached at low tide and you must be very well informed, consulting the timetables at the Tourist Office, to avoid getting caught in the advancing water.
Along the way, you can reach the Trou à l’Homme. This is a small cave carved into the face of the Aval cliff: it owes its name to a Swedish sailor who, in 1792, following a shipwreck, was found alive at the entrance to the cave, while the rest of the crew had tragically perished at sea. In 1922, a tunnel was dug to connect Etretat beach with Jambourg beach.
In the following map you can see the location of the main places of interest mentioned in this article
Etretat is a very touristy place, especially in summer, when it is taken by storm by visitors from all over Europe. Hotels in Etretat are very expensive and should be booked well in advance.
A cheaper option would be to stay in the surrounding area: there are many tiny villages with many family-run B&Bs. You can easily reach the city centre in a few minutes.
Etretat is 220 km from Paris, about two hours by car. Those renting a car at the airport should take the A113 motorway towards Rouen / Caen, then the A 131 Pont de Tancarville towards Le Havre and exit at Saint Romaine de Colbosc on the A29. Once on the D39, take the Etainhus / Angerville exit and you will arrive in Etretat.
Please note that in high season, it is almost impossible to park for free in the town centre using public spaces. A large pay car park is available along Route du Havre, the Parking du Valaine, not far from the Golf entrance, 800 metres from the town centre. The only free car park in Etretat is located before entering the town on the D39, on the route de Criquetot l’Esneval, but remains quite far from the town.
From Paris, you can reach Etretat by travelling on the Paris – Le Havre line and then taking the Etretat – Lazare connection at Bréauté station.
For a different and special experience, you could also opt for the Etretat – Pays de Caux Tourist Train: it is an original and fun way to get to the centre of Etretat without having to worry about parking your car, especially if you plan to visit this area during the day from Paris.
The tourist train runs the last few kilometres of the old railway line from Paris to Etretat and leaves from the old Loges station. You can choose the restored little train or the Bike-Rails, hybrid wagon-bike trains, facilitated on rails, that will take you to discover 5 km of magnificent views in the Normandy countryside, arriving at Etretat station.
From Bréauté station, a shuttle bus runs directly to the centre of Etretat in summer and at weekends during the year.
What's the weather at Étretat? Below are the temperatures and the weather forecast at Étretat for the next few days.
The village of Etretat is located in the Seine-Maritime department in Normandy and overlooks the English Channel.