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When I first saw a photo of the cliffs of Etretat France, I knew I wanted to stand and feel small in their presence.
On a glorious September day in Honfleur, I changed my plans and hopped on the next bus to Etretat (with a change in Le Havre).
The majestic cliffs of Etretat were just as I had imagined. Better, in fact.
Stroll through the town of Etretat past restaurants, ice cream shops, stores selling classic French blue and white striped clothing (finally I feel so French with my striped scarf!) and bistros where cider and Calvados from Normandy are on offer.
The pebbled beach is sparsely occupied by people seeking out the last vestiges of a warm summer sun, swimmers dipping into the clear salty water, and couples having picnics, champagne included.
I find the perfect spot to breathe the salty air, listen to the song of the waves over the stones and gaze up to the left and the right at the magnificent cliffs. I’m facing the English Channel while perched on the Alabaster Coast in France. Life is good.
French Vocabulary: the cliff = la falaise
The Cliffs Of Etretat: La Falaise d’Aval And L’Aiguille (The Needle)
I want to call it the elephant’s trunk but this natural arch already has a name – la Porte d’Aval. Behind it, depending on your viewpoint is the Needle or L’Aiguille, the pointy rock rising from the sea.
The changing perspective is a highlight of this trail.
Years of erosion have created this unforgettable landmark that Etretat is famous for. No wonder painters, such as Claude Monet, have recreated and captured the essence of the cliffs of Etretat on canvas.
The Hollow Needle And Arsène Lupin
The well-loved gentleman thief, Arsène Lupin, has become a household name with the Netflix Series Lupin, Dans l’Ombre d’Arsène. And when the series ends on the beaches of Etretat, I know I have some research to do.
The prolific French author Maurice Leblanc lived in Etretat and wrote The Hollow Needle, a detective cliffhanger, in 1909. The Hollow Needle (that pointy rock in the sea) is holding a secret, more than a secret – an actual treasure. Legend has it that all the grandest riches of the Kings of France are stealthily hidden inside The Hollow Needle. The key to the secret of accessing the treasure was passed down from generation to generation until it was lost in the 18th century.
Lupin, of course, in The Hollow Needle, is on a mission to uncover the treasure.
When you visit Etretat, now your imagination can go wild. Perhaps you will be the one to finally discover the secret stairway or tunnel leading to the greatest riches of France.
Or you could settle for a visit to the Clos Lupin Museum housed where Maurice Leblanc, the author, lived. The museum visit is like no other as you are charged with solving a crime…
Meanwhile, follow the adventures of the renowned Parisian gentleman thief on Netflix or pick up one of his thrillers in book form!
The Cliffs Of Etretat: La Falaise d’Amont
The little church perched atop La Falaise d’Amont calls to me. I head off down the beach and easily find the well-marked trail. There are stairs and a trail that is well worn. Even on this day with few visitors there is a steady stream of people walking the path.
if you are not up for the ten-minute climb up the cliff, the tourist train that leaves from in front of the Tourist Office stops by this church. You can also drive.
Walking though, does offer its own rewards.
At the top of La Falaise d’Amont, the sweeping views are indeed spectacular.
And the Chapelle Notre-Dame de la Garde holds its own surprises.
The Cliffs Of Etretat: A Little History
As you walk towards La Falaise d’Aval, there are historical plaques sharing interesting facts about Etretat, its people, and WWII.
One fact that I can’t forget is that the Germans planted 1500 mines on this very beach where I am strolling and littered it with obstacles so as to make a landing there impossible. There were also concrete bunkers built between the cliffs.
There is never enough time. Somewhere I read a disparaging comment about Etretat that went something like this,”Why would you want to spend a night in Etretat?” I think about this person and how they missed the whole point of the cliffs of Etretat.
I personally would love to walk the shores at low tide under the Porte d’Aval, get up early and see the rising sun lighting up the cliffs of Etretat. What about the opportunity to witness a glorious sunset where alabaster cliffs turn pink?
Bring your curious soul and Etretat and her cliffs will make for an unforgettable experience.
More Travel Info:
The cliffs of Etretat France are a very popular destination, especially in the summer.
Where To Stay In Etretat:
If you plan to stay a night or two in Etretat, book early and check out these hotels.
Where Are The Cliffs Of Etretat?
If you are planning a trip to Normandy, Etretat is close to Le Havre (30 min) and also Dieppe (90 min). An itinerary in this part of Normandy could include a stop in Honfleur and also Deauville and Trouville-sur-Mer.
How To Get To Etretat:
From Le Havre, there is a direct bus to Etretat (#13). It takes about an hour. The bus station is right beside the train station. Check the schedules here.
Flixbus has a schedule from Paris to Etretat, with frequent buses in the peak months.
Arriving by car, of course, allows for increased flexibility with regards to timing and more exploring of the small towns in the area. Apparently, parking can be a challenge in the summer months in Etretat.
If you are more comfortable taking a day tour from Paris, this one might be of interest:
Further Reading and Enjoyment:
Would you like to visit the cliffs of Etretat in Normandy?
Until next time,