Etretat is a little fishing town on the Alabaster coast of Normandy in France, famous for its spectacular chalk cliffs shaped by wind and water. The drive from France’s 2nd important container port, Le Havre, to Etretat passes through large tracts of farmland. The roundabouts along the way are fashioned with models depicting farming and dairy, which seem appropriate. I always think that farms in Europe tend to themselves without human intervention. Have you ever seen a human on a farm? I couldn’t have gotten the timing wrong every time, could I? Haha 😉
Before the war, people came to Etretat to spend time by the sea as the waters were considered therapeutic. There were several villas and a hotel on the beach. During World War II, like in other villages along the coast, an Atlantic Wall was built in Etretat to prevent Allied landing. The sea-facing villas and hotel were destroyed to build nineteen bunkers. One thousand five hundred mines were buried on the beach. You can even today see a bunker’s wall at the foot of the path leading up the hill.
The Etretat town centre is quaint and cute. The beautiful Les Halles (market) and Manoir de la Salamandre stand out because of their extraordinary architecture.
The small beach lies in a cove created by two large chalk cliffs on either side. As you stand facing the sea, the cliff to your left is called Falaise d’Aval, and the one to your right is Falaise d’Amont. Fishing boats were drawn up and away from the water’s edge of the pebbly beach.
A traditional black fishing boat that caught the fascination of France’s famed artists (as did Etretat in general), including Coubert, Monet and Matisse, sits well secured on the beach. Boats no longer in use and retired from fishing duties would be tethered on land, covered with a roof painted with tar and used as storage for fishing-related paraphernalia by fishermen. These retired boats were called ‘caloges’. There used to be a boat building unit constructing ‘perissoires’, a pleasure sailing boat typical to Etretat. These boats are being revived once again by sailing clubs in the region.
Falaise d’Aval is an easy walk-up that rewards you with fantastic 360-degree views. There is the sea on one side, the town and Falaise d’Amont on another side, more cliffs and even a golf course. The golf club is marginally inland and started as a 13-hole course, but today the 16-hole course spreads over 6 acres. From here, one can endlessly watch the waves gently lapping the well-rounded pebbles on the beach. (By the way, as tempted as you might be to pick a few pebbles as souvenirs, it is punishable to take them). The church and the monument L’oiseau blanc on Falaise d’Amont are visible. The Chapelle Notre Dame de la Garde was built to protect sailors and fishermen. The monument L’oiseau blanc is dedicated to the memory of two French pilots who, in 1927, were attempting a trans-Atlantic flight from Paris to New York and disappeared somewhere around Etretat, never to be found.
The arch of Falaise d’Aval is accessible on foot during low tide. Etretat. An obscure little town for those not living in the region, made famous by the Netflix series Lupin. People, especially young people, come in droves, and their mamas did not tell them to watch the tides when venturing into the waters. The local newspaper regularly carries news about someone drowning or having to be rescued. So please be aware of tide timings before you get carried away with excitement. It can get very windy on top of the cliffs. So be aware when you venture too close to the cliff’s edge, as there are no rails to prevent a fatal fall.
If you have the time, do visit Falaise d’Amont. Other than the cliffs, church and monument, there is a museum dedicated to who else but Lupin and even a garden to see if you wish.