Etretat and the Falaise Amont as seen from the Falaise Aval

Etretat is not special for the few hundred yards of wide pebble beach, nor for the boardwalk (concrete actually) along it, nor for the beachfront cafes with tall glass partitions to deflect the wind from the sea, nor for the few souvenir and post card shops in the town behind the beach. These things make it a pretty little town along the Normandy coast of northern France, but they aren't the things that make it special.

The things that make Etretat special are the striking white falaises (cliffs) that rise out of the sea at either end of the beach and soar more than 200 feet above the waves crashing at their base. These spectacular wind-swept cliffs dominate the landscape, providing both breathtaking views and the viewing platform from which to enjoy them.

At the west end of the beach, a paved path rises steeply, leading the hiker first to an observation deck, then to the top of the falaise Aval, or "downstream" cliff. From the observation deck, one can enjoy a view of the natural arch cut through the cliff by the action of waves and tide. At the top of the cliff, one has spectacular views back to the town, out to sea, and from cliff to cliff. The adventurous can clamber out onto one of the tall rock pedestals where there is a small chamber in the rock with only a slim handrail preventing a disastrous plunge over the side. The more cautious can walk along a clifftop path which, while well back from the edge, still offers views far out to sea.

Lest one forget and think they are in a wilderness area, the path shares the clifftop with a 6073 meter (6642 yards) 18 hole public golf course. A number of the holes have greens situated along the top of the cliff, 30-40 yards back from the edge. A ball that flies over the green is likely to be very wet and truly lost. (Greens fees run from 25 to 98 Euro per person, depending on day of the week and time of year.)

Looking back along the Falaise Aval towerd Etretat

At the east end of the beach, a steep set of steps, first concrete, later stones and earth leads to the top of the falaise Amont, or "upstream" cliff. The Amont is topped by the chapel of Notre Dame de la Garde, a small, old, unadorned stone church. Set a bit further back, there is an imaginative memorial to Messieurs Nungesser and Cole, two Frenchmen who made the first unsuccessful attempt to fly the Atlantic on May 8, 1927. Their plane, the Oiseau Blanc (white bird) was last seen over this point headed out to sea.

The Amont also provides spectacular views toward the town and out to sea. It is only possible to follow the path for a short distance before the path is blocked by signs that warn of danger due to a crumbling edge.

Etretat is a small town of only about 1500 people occupying an area of only about one square kilometer. It lies 28 KM north of Le Havre along the D940. It can be reached from Paris in about two hours and forty-five minutes.

The Falaise Amont topped by the Notre Dame de la Garde


Copyright 2001 Harry B. Rowe