One of the most beautiful spots to visit in Normandy, in my opinion, is Étretat. If you’re planning a visit to Normandy, you need to make sure to add Étretat to your bucket list. You’ll most definitely will recognize it from different paintings, the Netflix show “Lupin” or even from Instagram!
Étretat is a town located on the west coast of France on the English Channel. It’s probably one of the most popular spots to visit on the Alabaster coast. The Alabaster coast is made up of stunning white chalk cliffs (think of the White Cliffs of Dover). It is so breathtaking that many impressionist painters in the 1800s spent time capturing its natural beauty. Nowadays, people flock to Étretat to escape city life and spend some time on the coast, being closer to nature.
These cliffs were one of my favourite days we spent in Normandy. Keep reading to find some tips for first time visitors as well as some of the best things to do in Étretat!
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Tips for visiting Étretat
🚗 Parking was a challenge: This town is probably one of the most popular stops on the Alabaster coast, meaning that it is also one of the busiest, especially in the summer. We arrived around 10:30 am and it was already packed. We eventually found parking at the old train station (Place de la Gare), but I’d recommend arriving as early as you can.
🚌 Stay the night if you’re visiting from Paris: Étretat isn’t the most accessible from Paris. It takes around 4 hours by train and/or bus to get to the coast and you might still need to transfer. This means if you’re visiting from Paris, spending the night is your best bet if you want to make the most of your visit. Here are some ideas of where you can spend the night in Étretat: Boutique Hotel | Hotel with sea view | Hotel a bit out of the city centre
🌍 Étretat is a protected landscape – be respectful: Like most of our planet, the cliffs at Étretat are threatened and there are many measures in place to protect them. As tourists, we are responsible for respecting the places we visit. This includes not leaving any garbage behind or damaging the landscape around you in any way. These are small things everyone can do to contribute keeping these natural beauties preserved!
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Things to do in Étretat
HIGHLIGHT: Hiking on the Falaise d’Aval
I would highly recommend, if you can, going for a hike! It is one of the best things to do in Étretat and one of the best ways to appreciate the landscape. Once you’re on the beach you will notice that there are two ways you can access the cliffs. When looking at the sea, towards the left is the Falaise d’Aval. You can access these cliffs by taking the stairs at the end of the boardwalk (they are only accessible by foot). This is probably the most picturesque side featuring the of the famous archways. This is also where we spent most of our time.
It is very windy on top. There are not many barriers or fences to stop people from experiencing the true natural landscape, which is great. However it also means there is more or less nothing to protect you if a huge gust of wind comes along or if you get too close and lose your footing.
To keep in mind: They also strongly advise staying clear from underneath the cliffs as erosion is common and rocks often fall (another reason to be careful close to the edge). There are marked signs indicating areas that are particularly dangerous. Be sure to respect the signs and don’t stand too close to the edge for your own safety!
Picnic on Falaise d’Amont
Back at the beach, when looking at the sea, towards the right is the Falaise d’Amont. You can access these cliffs by walking to the other end of the boardwalk. I found this hike more challenging and steep to climb. When we reached the top we discovered that you can also access these cliffs by car. So if hiking is not an option for you, I’d opt for driving up this side of the coast!
This is where the Chapelle des Pêcheurs is located as well as other worthwhile sites (more on that below). This is also where we decided to sit down, enjoy the view and have a picnic. To give you an idea of our timings, in total we spent about 2.5 hours hiking and exploring the two cliff sides.
To keep in mind: Do keep in mind that they are cliffs and are quite steep. I saw several people wearing flip-flops or sandals slipping and struggling to get a strong footing on their way up the path. I’m not saying that you need hiking boots, but comfortable walking shoes at least will help you get to the top. I personally was struggling towards the end and was really out of breath when we finally reached the top!
Visit les Jardins d’Étretat
Less than a 5 minute walk away from the Falaise d’Amont is Les Jardins d’Étretat. We weren’t sure if we wanted to pay the 12 euros to visit but we actually really enjoyed it! It’s funny to think that this massive green space started as a simple garden in 1903.
The gardens are located on the cliffs, so there are many levels as you navigate the grounds. The way they composed the gardens mimic the natural beauty of Étretat. What I mean by that is that the plants are at times arranged and groomed to mimic the waves or the arch rock formations.
It is an incredibly beautiful and really peaceful place to wander. You also get a really nice view of the cliffs! We spent roughly 45 minutes to an hour in these gardens and we could have spent longer as there is also a museum, gift shop and cafe inside as well! You can learn more about the gardens on their official site.
Spend some time on the beach
Of course, it goes without saying that you can also spend your time at the beach! Be warned, it is a pebble beach so not the comfiest of beaches you will spend your time on but it’s still really beautiful to admire the blue-green waters! Recently, there is a strict rule against taking pebbles off of the beach. The pebbles act as a way to prevent and protect the coastline of Étretat so nowadays you are not a lot to take any rocks off of the beach!
You can also do plenty of water sports such as kayaking, paddle boarding, fishing and sailing. Or if you’re in the mood to relax there is also a lovely boardwalk and promenade filled with restaurants to explore as well. Either way, be sure to spend some time on the beach while you’re in Étretat!
Explore the town
Last but not least, the town of Étretat is also very cute and worth the time to explore. It’s not very big so you do not need hours to really get to know the town. There are many little shops to check out, there even is a market called Le Marché Couvert d’Étretat. It’s not the biggest market but there are many shops and souvenir stores to visit.
Just down the road, there was a specific store we spent ages picking out local products to take home with us. Produits Régionaux Vieux Calvados had many interesting and tasty treats and this is where we bought most of our food-based gifts! There is another interesting building to check out called Manoir de la Salamandre, a hotel in a medieval building from the 14th century.
Interested in exploring more of Normandy?
By now you have had a quick taste of what Normandy has to offer. The cliffs at Étretat are a beautiful way to connect with nature and escape into the French coastal life. From visiting the town, the gardens and the beach, you can a very well rounded day!
Why not continue you trip in Normandy by visiting some of the other most amazing spots? You can read more about the medieval town of Bayeux in my FREE visitor’s guide to Bayeux. You can also learn more about the local culture and foods in Normandy on a Cider Tour. This was one of the best ways to get into the picturesque countryside!