You can find some of the most stunning scenery in France at Étretat on Normandy’s Alabaster Coast where the white chalk cliffs are carved into dramatic arches and needles. It reminded me of Durdle Door on the Dorset Coast of the UK, as shown below.
Originally a fishing village, Étretat became a popular seaside resort in the 19th century when Impressionist painters like Monet and Gustave Courbet came to paint the extraordinary landscape.
You can see two of the arches from the beach but the best way to appreciate them is by walking up the cliffs themselves.
It’s a wonderful walk and you’ll be rewarded with great views. It shouldn’t take you more than 20 minutes to get to the top but, for an added treat, it’s a good idea to stop off in the town to buy a picnic to enjoy at the top. We took advantage of the fact that we were in France and headed to the local pâtisserie for a selection of cakes.
If you stand on the beach, you can see two natural arches. The paths up the cliffs are well marked and relatively easy, even for young children. The slope is fairly gentle but there are no safety railings so you should keep them well away from the edge.
The Falaise Amont, on the right, is topped by a church, the Notre-Dame de la Garde chapel which was originally built by sailors in the 19th century. It was destroyed during World War II and rebuilt on these cliffs in the 1950s.
On the other side of the beach you’ll find the Falaise Aval and the Aiguille (needle shape). If you’ve only got time for one walk, this is the one you should do as you can see the third, larger arch from the top of these cliffs. This is the most spectacular of the three, the one that the French writer, Maupassant, described as looking like an elephant dipping its trunk into the sea.
On the way up you’ll find the aptly named Chambre des Demoiselles (the ladies’ room), a hollow inside the rock that you can enter via a little bridge between the rocks.
Back on the pebble beach, make time to add to your collection of pebbles and if it’s too cold for paddling in the sea, you can still take a look at the fishing boats pulled up onto the beach and the fishermen sanding down their boats, a pipe dangling from their mouth.
For more France inspiration, take a look at Tin Box Traveller’s post on treetop fun at Le Grand Défi in the Vendée region.