Pearl of France’s Alabaster Coast, Etretat is famed for its beautiful white chalk cliffs.
Normandy’s Alabaster Coast is composed essentially of high chalk cliffs interspersed with valleys and is subject to significant erosion.
At Etretat, the cliffs have moved little over the last few centuries. They are formed at their base of very hard Turonian chalk, topped by a strata of softer Senonian chalk hardened by the presence of flints.
The Etretat Needle, like the Roc Vaudieu and the Belval Needle, are nevertheless vestiges of the cliffs and its arches, bearing witness to the fragility of the chalk coastline and its vulnerability to erosion.
Preserving this unique cliff environment is a major challenge for the seaside town of Etretat, and protecting its coastal paths in the face of so many visitors has become one of its priorities.
The various paths are routed and maintained in the interests of the landscape and can be used by the public subject to a set of rules designed to preserve the natural beauty of the site. The area is also home to a number of vulnerable plant and animal species that require careful ecological management. Mountain biking, horses and horse-riding are not allowed on the cliff tops and all dogs must be kept on a lease.
As far as access to the base of the cliffs is concerned, the area is out of bounds during the summer months with two wardens assigned to supervise the Trou à l’Homme, or “Man Hole” at certain times (depending on the tides).
Many tourists visiting the seaside resort of Etretat in the summer do so to take part in water sports activities.
The town boasts a sailing club and school that organises various courses – all taught by qualified instructors – in dinghy and catamaran sailing and wind surfing in Etretat Bay.
There is also a surfing and body-boarding club that offers a range of courses and equipment hire from May to September.
Etretat owes its success to its celebrated cliffs with people coming from around the world to visit them
A natural wonder in their own right, the cliffs first came to prominence thanks to the 19C vogue for sea bathing.
First discovered by the painter Isabey under the First French Empire (1804/1815), its was Alphonse Karr who brought this little village set on its pebble beach between two chalk arches to general attention in the 1830s.
Etretat and Impressionism
Originating in the second half of the 19C, Impressionism is an art movement closely involved with the depiction of landscapes, town and cityscapes and scenes from everyday life.
A French school of painting, it developed over the course of eight public exhibitions held in Paris from 1874 to 1886 and marks a break with the rules of academic painting and a move towards modern art.
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 see the subjects and hear the stories of Impressionism all around you.
Jongkind, Monet, Boudin and many others set up their easels on the shingle beach at Etretat to immortalise its famous cliffs.
Office du Tourisme d'Etretat
Place Maurice Guillard
Tel.: + 33 (0)2 35 27 05 21