A Weekend in Étretat

This May our best friend Sandra came to visit us in Paris. She knows Paris very well, so we offered her to go to Normandy together to see something new and get away from the city life. She readily accepted, and we booked a trip to Étretat, a small town in Normandy famous for its cliffs.

 The right trail has the best view of the cliffs

The right trail has the best view of the cliffs

The weather was nice for the first two days, and the third day was cold and foggy. The coast offers a lot of easy hiking, especially on the pebble beaches during the low tide. There are many tourists in the town during the day, but early in the morning and after the sunset it’s quite empty. In fact, in the evening Étretat is pretty much dead. 

From the beach, there are two trails. The one to the right has a great view to the most famous cliff (see above). There you will also find a small church. The trail continues over the cliffs in the Northern direction. 

 Tourists on the left trail

Tourists on the left trail

The other trail goes on the cliffs, past a golf field, and allows you to see more cliffs and even spot some ships headed to Havre. If you follow the trail past the few first cliffs, you will leave the crowds behind, and find yourself alone on a narrow path surrounded with tall grass. The trail goes above the water, and for the first 30-40 minutes there are a few dangerous footpaths going down to the beach, mostly marked as closed. Eventually, there is a wide, safe trail that brings you to an empty beach, way nicer than the one found in the town. 

 Anna and Sandra heading to the beach. Note the lack of people there.

Anna and Sandra heading to the beach. Note the lack of people there.

In low tide, it is possible to return to Étretat by the beach. The walk is mostly very easy, there are only a few slippery rocks, and there's one hard place where you have to jump down from a rock. There is a rope to help you get down, but it’s not very useful, and we were considering coming back the way we came. After much debate, I jumped, and helped Anna and Sandra descend, but we’re still unsure if this was a safe thing to do.

I left my camera gear at home and went with only RX1R. I met a German guy with a heavy backpack and a full size tripod headed in the opposite direction, and it was clear that the walk was quite a challenge for him. I was counting to come back to my photo bag by the sunset where I will have great light.

We came back just in time for me to sprint to the hotel, grab the backpack, and rush to the other trail for the sunset view. After taking a few dozen steps, we found ourselves at the top with the beautiful views in every direction. The town and the cliffs were bathing in the soft golden light.

The one mistake we made that day was expecting to find food in Étretat after the sunset. There was only one restaurant that would still let people in, and it wasn’t great.   

 

The next day we drove to the nearby picturesque towns of Fécamp and Yport. With charming streets and pebble beaches, they offer views to more cliffs, although the cliffs in Étretat are more impressive. We went for a walk on one of the beaches, too, because it was low tide again. 

We came back to Étretat in the evening to eat (this time a bit earlier to get to a decent café) and catch another sunset on the same spot.

We then descended to the beach to see the stars. There are big lights pointed to the cliffs, but otherwise the light pollution is fairly low, especially compared to Paris. I get so excited every time I get to see the stars!

On the final day we woke up to some dense fog and strong cold winds. Despite the low visibility, we ventured out for a walk on the cliffs one last time. 

 

We than drove back to Havre, where we had a few hours before the train. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see much of the city, but the parts we’ve seen were pretty incredible. The city was bombed heavily in WWII, and when they rebuilt it they went for constructivist architecture. 

In conclusion, the trip was certainly a success. We were lucky with tide times - if you go, please review tide schedule and be sure to leave the beach before the tide rolls in. Also plan your dinner in advance, as everything closes very early.