Etretat & the Impressionists
Impressionism is an art movement that evolved in the mid 19th century. The impressionists adopted the new technique of plein-air painting, leaving the studio behind and painting landscapes outdoors. The idea was to capture the changing light and to paint as it is viewed and not as it is remembered from a closed in studio.
The impressionists spent time painting outdoors, depicting landscapes, seascapes, towns, cityscapes and scenes from everyday life.
Normandy, and in particular the Normandy coastline, played an important role in this new movement and its search for new ways to capture light. As you travel from Dieppe to Honfleur, you will see the subjects of so many paintings immortalized by the Impressionists.
Corbet, Monet, Boudin and many others set up their easels on the beautiful beach at Etretat to paint its famous cliffs and the bobbing boats on the sparking blue seas.
The coast of Etretat is a small beach with two grand white chalk cliffs on both ends. For thousands of years, these cliffs were sculptured by winds and waters.
The southern cliff formation is called Porte d’Aval and the northern cliff, Porte d’Amont. Both are more breathtaking than the next.
The village of Etretat is also worth visiting, but if the truth be told, the cliffs and beach of Etretat are what draws the masses from near and afar.
What to do and see
There’s no better way to see the beautiful cliffs and the sparkling blue sea beyond than from high above. The hike up the cliffs is quite steep and strenuous in parts, but once you reach the top, you are rewarded with the most incredible views!! It’s worth the effort!!
Please note that there are insufficient railings during the climb up or at the top. So be careful and watch your children!!
The Chapel of Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde is located, in all its glory, high above the surrounding area. The original chapel was built in the mid 1850s but was sadly destroyed in during of WW2. A new chapel was built on the very same spot in the 1950s, nearly a century later.
Take a walk along the Promenade
The walk along the beach’s promenade is also wonderful. You will see concrete bunkers built into the rock, made by the Germans during WW2 as defense against the Allies. You will also find fantastic signs providing historical information about the history of the beach and from WW2. Really fascinating!
Take a Dip in the Sea!
In the summer, there is no better way to cool off than to take a dip in the sea or relax on the beach. Like the entire Normandy coast, it is a pebble beach so not that comfortable for lying on.
During the summer months, and particularly on the weekends, Etretat beach is absolutely packed with locals and tourists! So if you plan to visit this beach in the summer months, I recommend that you go there early before the crowds!
“Etretat is becoming more and more amazing. Now is the real moment: the beach with all its fine boats; it is superb, and I am enraged not to be more skillful in rendering all this. I would need two hands and hundreds of canvases” Claude Monet Quotes
After exploring the cliffs and walking along the beach, wander through the charming town of Etretat. Historically, Etretat was a fishing village. However in the 19th century, during the Belle Epoque period, this area became a popular seaside resort.
In the town’s center, you will see many lovely half-timbered houses. Go visit the newly restored old market hall on Place Foch. It is no longer a traditional French market these days but full of touristy souvenir shops and boutiques stores.
Getting hungry? You will find a great selection of restaurants offering fresh seafood and fish. Don’t forget to try the local speciality of moules-frites and crêpes.
So if you add Etretat to your travel itinerary in Normandy, I highly recommend spending at least a half day here. You can hike up the Etretat cliffs on both sides, enjoy the magnificent views, stroll along the beach front, visit the pretty chapel and stroll the charming town.
Etretat is a great base for exploring Normandy. However, I highly recommend you book accommodation early. Especially in the warmer months, this place is popular and accommodation fills up quickly. Press here to view accommodation options.
Looking for a day trip to Etretat from Paris, check out this wonderful organized tour.
Bon Voyage and enjoy Claude Monet’s Etretat!
Going on a Road Trip to Normandy? Check Out My Tips & Trips of Where to Go & What to See!