The cliffs, or falaises in French, are what attracts most visitors to Etretat. Made famous by numerous paintings by Claude Monet and other impressionists, they still look every bit as spectacular as at the end of the 19th century. It's particularly La Porte d'Aval which looks stunning: a natural arch of bright white chalk, complemented by a stalagmite-like needle rock of the same colour. Both of them together create an image that one is unlikely to forget.
To get the best view of La Porte d'Aval, you should climb the Falaises d'Amont on the eastern end of the beach. From the top, just next to the little chapel, the view is just spectacular. Alternatively, you could climb the Porte d'Aval itself and continue along the path to the next, even bigger natural arch called Manneporte. Well, why not do all of it? It's definitely worth it!
Incredibly, the natural arches were not created by the sea but by a long-gone river which ran parallel to the sea. However, the sea did its part in shaping them after the river had dried up.
Les tables de lecture sur la promenade de mer avec des reproductions de tableaux réalisés à cet endroit par des maîtres de l'Impressionisme comme Claude Monet sont là pour rappeler aux visiteurs que la Côte Normande de Dieppe à Honfleur a été un des berceaux de l'impressionnisme et un rendez vous des peintres de cette école.
Le précurseur fût Eugène Boudin qui peignit d'innombrables marines à Honfleur, Trouville, Le Havre, Etretat. C'est lui qui orienta Claude Monet vers la peinture. Monet réalisa près de 80 tableaux à Etretat en plus de ceux réalisés en d'autres endroits de la Côte Normande comme Sainte-Adresse près du Havre. Gustave Courbet fut lui aussi actif; son "Les falaises d’Etretat après la tempête" est l'un de mes préférés.
Comme je l'ai mentionné dans mon introduction, je connaissais Etretat par la peinture avant d'y avoir mis les pieds.
The reading tables on the sea promenade with reproductions of paintings made here by masters of Impressionism like Claude Monet are there to remind visitors that the Normandy coast from Dieppe to Honfleur was one of the cradles of Impressionism and a meeting point of this school of painters.
The precursor was Eugene Boudin, who painted countless marines at Honfleur, Trouville, Le Havre, Etretat. He oriented Monet towards painting. Monet realized nearly 80 paintings in Etretat in addition to those made in other parts of the Normandy coast like Sainte-Adresse, near Le Havre. Gustave Courbet was also active here; his painting "The Cliffs at Etretat after the storm" is one of my favorites.
As I mentioned in my introduction, I knew Etretat from paintings before having set foot on the beach.
Les falaises d'Etretat attirent des amateurs de géologie et de minéralogie. Si c'est votre hobby et si vous comprenez le français il y a un exposé scientifique très détaillé sur Google:
"À la découverte géologique des falaises d’Étretat" par Bernard Hoyez de l'Université du Havre. C'est la description d'une excursion le long des falaises.
J'en ai retenu que les falaises d'Etretat sont plus blanches que les autres parce que constituées de calcaire du crétacé c'est-à-dire de craie blanche à silex sans autres minéraux qui peuvent altérer la teinte.
J'ai aussi appris que (Wikipédia):
"L'existence de trois arches successives: la porte d'Amont, la porte d'Aval et la Manneporte n'est pas liée à l'origine à l'érosion marine, mais à l'action d'une rivière côtière parallèle à la plage qui a creusé son lit dans la falaise avant le recul de celle-ci, matérialisé par l'« aiguille » d'un calcaire plus dur qui a empêché sa dissolution définitive, d'où cette extraordinaire création de la nature. Ensuite, la mer a élargi les arches, donnant au site l'aspect qu'on lui connait aujourd'hui."
Je me demandais pourquoi on utilisait les termes Amont et Aval qui en français s'appliquent à la partie haute, près de la source, ou basse des rivières ou fleuves. L'explication se trouve donc l'existence ancienne d'une rivière.
The cliffs of Etretat attract amateurs of geology and mineralogy. If this is your hobby and if you understand French there is a very detailed scientific presentation on Google:
"À la découverte géologique des falaises d’Étretat" by Bernard Hoyez from the University of Le Havre. This is the description of a geological trip along the cliffs.
I learned that the cliffs at Etretat are whiter than others because they consist of Cretaceous limestone that is to say white chalk with flint but no other minerals that can alter the colour.
I also learned that:
"The existence of three successive arches: Porte d'Amont, la Porte d'Aval and la Manneporte and is not related to marine erosion, but the action of a coastal river parallel to the range that has incised into the cliff before the decline of the latter, embodied by the "needle" of a harder limestone which prevented its final dissolution, hence this extraordinary creation by nature. Then the sea widened the arches, giving the site the appearance we know today. "
I wondered why they used the terms "Amont" and "Aval" that in French apply to the upstream, near the source, or down part of rivers or streams. The explanation is therefore found in the existence of an ancient river.
Les "plaisirs" de la plage à galets.
Vu de la promenade du "perrey" la plage de galets parait très acceuillante. Les galets sont ronds, de dimensions égales et très propres. Cependant leur dureté vous abime les pieds, et pour s'asseoir ou se coucher il vaut mieux avoir des fesses en acier et un dos en coautchouc.
Par contre leur sonorité rachète leur inconfort. A chaque pas sur les galets il y a ce crissement typique et puis le sommet du plaisir c'est le bruit de leur roulement lorsque la vague se retire.
Quant à l'eau sa température n'atteignait pas les 10°C lors de notre visite en mai. Au mois d'août sa température oscille entre 17 et 19°C. Le bain de mer est donc particulièrement ravigorant.
Ma vidéo donne l'ambiance sonore.
The "pleasures" of the pebble beach.
Seen from the promenade "du Perrey" the pebble beach seems very welcoming. The pebbles are round, equal in size and very clean. However, their hardness hurt your feet, and to sit or lie down it is better to have steel buttocks and a rubber back.
On the other hand their sound redeems their discomfort. With every step on the pebbles there is the typical sound of them rubbing against each other and then the summit of pleasure is achieved by the sound of the pebbles rolling over each other when the wave recedes.
As for the water temperature it did not reach 10 ° C during our visit in May. In August the temperature ranges between 17 and 19 ° C. Sea bathing is particularly invigorating.
My video gives the atmosphere on the beach.
La première chose que fait tout visiteur, après avoir parqué sa voiture, ce qui peut être problématique, c'est de monter au "Perrey" c'est-à-dire la promenade du bord de mer pour y admirer les falaises d'Aval à gauche, d'Amont à droite.
Dans les ports de pêche du Pays de Caux, la région de Haute Normandie où se trouve Etretat, le lieu d'échouage des bateaux et la voirie alentour sont appelés un perrey.
"Faire le perrey" comme on dit à Etretat est une coutume qui consiste à parcourir la promenade de bord de mer (environ 600 m) d'une falaise à l'autre. Nous avons fait notre perrey au matin par temps calme et ensoleillé pour se mettre en appétit; nous l'avons refait après le déjeuner pour stimuler la digestion. Nous espérons lors d'une prochaine visite à Etretat faire le perrey au coucher du soleil sur la mer.
The first thing any visitor, having parked his car, what can be problematic, does is to climb the few steps to the "Perrey" that is the seaside promenade to admire the cliffs "Falaise d'Aval" on the left and "Falaise d'Amont" on the right.
In the fishing ports of the Pays de Caux, the region of Upper Normandy where Etretat is located, the area for stranding the boats is called a "Perrey".
"Doing the perrey" as they say in Etretat is a custom consisting in walking along the seafront promenade (about 600 m) from one cliff to another. We have done our perrey in the morning on a calm and sunny day to stimulate our appetite, we've redone it after lunch to stimulate digestion.
We hope at a future visit to Etretat to do the perrey at sunset. Sunset on the sea is indeed spectacular at Etretat.
mainly that was the reason we travelled to Etretat, and it was well worth it...
you should check out the tide-hours after arriving, coz the whole seashore, where u can walk during the low tide, is under 1,7 m water during the high tide.
it usually shouldn't be a problem, but since the shore is quite long, and it's a bit hard to walk on the pebbles, and there's only a small part of the shore, where you can get to a tide-safe altitude, you should leave yourself time to get back to the dike, before the waves arrive.
This is the wilder scenery on the western side of the Bay with dramatic arches dipping their feet into the waves. In rough seas you can almost see how the erosion takes place.
The sunsets to be seen here are memorable and this, I think, is the picture of Etretat that people take away with them.
The coastline is quite spectacular and probably instantly recognised because of its frequent appearance in guide books and on posters.
A serious problem of erosion effects all the small resorts along this " Côte d'Albâtre". The beaches are pebbly rather than sandy and messing about in boats is a popular pastime.
It is possible to walk up the steep cliff path to visit the tiny church of Notre Dame.
Beyond the church is a modern looking Arch which was erected to commemorate Nungressor and Coli, together with a small museum and a very large model airplane.
For us a longstanding mystery was at last solved .
In many parts of France we have seen streets bearing those names but had not been able to find out who they were (pre -Google of course) !
They were two French Aviators who left Paris in May 1927 hoping to be the first to fly the Atlantic in their airplane, Oiseau Blanc .
Sadly they did not make it and were last seen over Etretat. It is possible that they came down in Maine but no remains or wreckage was ever found .
Less than 3 weeks later Charles Lindbergh made the crossing and it was his name that went down in History books.
Theirs live on in towns and villages throughout France and last year we stayed in one such place - a fisherman's cottage in a cobbled street named Nungressor and Coli in Collioure. We are going back soon. I do hope someone asks "Who were these two people"
This is a very pleasant little place just to walk around looking in shop windows, admiring the old, typical Normandy architecture. It is fun to try and spot scenes that might have been painted by one of the Impressionist school of painters who spent time painting here. There are plenty of cafes and restaurants to stop at for refreshments and just a peep in the windows at a massive plat des fruits de mer will tell you that sea-food is the thing to order here for dinner.
The coastline of the Cote d'Albatre is realy beautiful and has attracted many poets and painters (Monet!). Now-a-days artists are to attracted to these surroundings, yet to reach the tourists and expose in the many small galeries that can be found in places as Fecamp and Etretat. By the way, the Elephant is not the only natural bridge of Etretat. Just around the corner of the cliffs on which the small chapel is situated, another natural bridge can be seen from the beach of Etretat. The cliffs have gotten all kinds of names too. The listen to names such as "La porte d'Aval" and "L'Aiguille".
The chapel of Notre Dame de la Garde is on top of the cliffs, looking out over Etretat, the sea and the white cliffs Southwards. It was built in 1854 by a Jesuit priest from Rouen and is dedicated to the sailors as well. In the Great War (WW1) is was destroyed, but immediately rebuilt in 1950. Near the church is a monument in the shape of an airplane image in stone for the pioneers of flying Nungesser and Coli. They tried to cross the Atlantic in their aircraft "The White Bird", but were last seen here over Etretat. Their attempt failed and the two pioneers were never found again.
The name of the village Etretat is explained in many ways, but the certain roots are not clear. Maybe the most romantic eplanation is the one from a poet that told that "Etretat Etretat Etretat" is the sound that the waves make when crushing gentle in between the stones on the beaches. Well, I've listened and when you exercise your ears long enough, you eventually hear indeed something that resembles this sound - hehe.
Of course, most people come for the white cliffs and above all the natural bridge that is shaped like an elephant. One can look at it from the beach, but it's also possible to climb on "the bacl of the elephant" by hiking up the path that starts with stairs at the far end of the beach. It's only a few kilometres to reach the head from where it is not recommended to slide down the trunk of the white elephant (-:
From this point one can also see clearly the pointy rock rising up from the sea just in front of the elephant.
The Falaise d'aval is probably the main attraction of the town. Here the bluff goes down on the sea with an amazing natural arc (Porte d'Aval) that the writer Guy de Maupassant compared to an elephant that dips the trunk in water.
At the top of the cliffs you can see a small church, a monument and a museum which indicate the point in which Charles Nungesser and Francois Coli were seen the last time in 1927, when they left the French coast animated by the desire to fly over the Atlantic Ocean.