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A Must See Site in Normandy: Etretat Beach, Village and Cliffs

Etretat beach, cliffs and village are gorgeous. When visiting, you can really understand why the French artists such as Claude Monet, Eugene Boudin and many others came here for inspiration.

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, that is, leaving the studio behind and painting landscapes outdoors. The idea was to capture the scene as 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.

Miwok  on Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Normandy, and in particular the Normandy coastline, played an important role in this new revolutionary movement. They came here to 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.

Many famous artists such as Corbet, Monet and Boudin set up their easels on the beautiful beach at Etretat to paint its famous cliffs and the bobbing boats sailing in the sparking blue seas.

Etretat Coast Normandy
Claude Monet -Etretat [public domain]

Etretat Beach and Cliffs

The majestic Etretat cliffs are located on the Normandy coast, 20 kilometres north of Le Havre. From Paris, Etretat is a two-hour drive.

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.

Etretat cliffs painting by Eugene Boudin [Public Domain]
Etretat cliffs painting by Eugene Boudin [Public Domain]

Great things to do & see in Etretat

1. Climb up the Cliffs for Outstanding Views!!!

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!!

2. Go Visit the Historical Chapel & Enjoy the Scenery

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 during WW2. A new chapel was built on the very same spot in the 1950s, nearly a century later.

Etretat beach, cliffs and village
Cristian Bortes on Flickr CC BY 2.0

3. Etretat Beach – 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!

mangMangW on Flickr CC BY 2.0

4. 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” Quote Claude Monet

Claude Monet – Etretat [Public domain]

5. Wander around Pretty Etretat town

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.

Etretat beach, cliffs and town, Normandy
Etretat town by Cha già José on Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

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 the Normandy Region

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.

If you are looking for an organized day trip to Etretat & the nearby Normandy villages, see the links below.

(For some of the links on this page, I receive a small commission when you purchase. You don’t pay more when you buy through me and it gives me the chance to offer you all this great content for free! For more information, press here)

Bon Voyage and enjoy Claude Monet’s Etretat!

Etretat painted by Gustave Corbet [Public Domain]

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