Located in the Seine-Maritime department, 20 km north of Le Havre, (Haute-Normandie region/Upper Normandy), Étretat has been a famous seaside resort since the XIX century.
It is renowned for its 70 m high white cliffs, for its arches and tunnels in the cliffs that jut out to sea, and for a large rock needle called “l’Aiguille” in French. Both the cliffs and village are the scenic highlight of the region and not to be missed if you are visiting this part of Normandy.
View of the rock needle (on the left), the famous arch called “porte d’Aval” and the cliffs.
There isn’t even a port of any kind: the seafront consists of a sweeping unbroken curve of concrete above a shingle beach.
Two of the three famous arches seen from the town are the “porte d’Amont” and the “porte d’Aval“. The third one, “la Manneporte“, cannot be seen from the town.
La Manneporte is a famous arch located behind the “porte d’Aval” arch.
Before the XIX century, Étretat was a fishing village. It became a place of inspiration for famous artists such as G. Courbet, C. Monet, Delacroix, E. Boudin, C. Corot, J. Offenbach, J. Massenet; writers (A. Karr, V. Hugo, A. Gide, G. de Maupassant, M. Leblanc) and important people (J. Michelet, F. Faure, R. Coty, J. Bonaparte). In fact, Claude Monet painted many of his paintings here, the writers Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Samuel Beckett and Guy de Maupassant used to live here (as did three former French presidents). These cliffs and the associated resort beach were featured prominently in the 1909 Arsène Lupin novel “The Hollow Needle” by Maurice Leblanc.
There is a small popular pebble beach below the cliffs.
Étretat is an attractive town – from the pebble beach and promenade in the town you can further admire the cliffs to either side, then you should take a look in the old market hall on the Place Foch – it has been attractively restored in the medieval wooden structure, although it is more devoted to tourist shops today.
The square has some very attractive and interesting medieval half-timbered buildings around its four sides, with elaborate wood carvings.
Étretat also offers a fine selection of souvenir shops and restaurants specialising in fish, oysters, moules frites, and crepes to enjoy after you have walked the popular promenade along the sea front.
Étretat is also known for being the last place in France from which the 1927 biplane The White Bird (L’Oiseau Blanc) was seen. French WWI war heroes Charles Nungesser and François Coli had been attempting to make the first non-stop flight from Paris to New York, but after the plane’s departure (on 8 May 1927), it disappeared somewhere over the Atlantic. It is considered to be one of the greatest unexplained mysteries of aviation. A monument to the flight was erected in Étretat but was destroyed during World War II, during the German occupation. A new and taller monument was constructed in 1963, along with a nearby museum.
Étretat offers breathtaking views.