When traveling in upper Normandy, don’t miss the resort of Étretat, which is 27 kilometers east of Le Havre. It is remarkable for its extraordinary chalk cliffs and rock formations, including three natural arches that plunge into the English Channel, and one that thrusts out from it, known as the needle. They are bathed in an ever-changing and enchanting palette of colors, depending on the time of day and weather.
They were magnets for numerous exceptional artists: Gustave Courbet, Camille Corot, Eugène Delacroix, Eugène Boudin, Claude Monet, Edouard Manet, Johan Jongkind, and Henri Matisse, to name some.
You can choose to admire them with a 15-minute walk on its shingle beach, which consists of fairly flat stones known as ‘galets.’ Or you can climb the walk from either end of the beach, for which you need to be reasonably fit. The Aval arch is at the west end while Amont is situated at the east end. To climb their 300-foot height and return requires about an hour each, round-trip.
Those are the main attractions of Étretat which became renowned as an upscale resort in the second half of the 19thcentury, when railroads made the region accessible to Parisians. Like so many other similar resorts in lower Normandy, such as Deauville, Trouville, Cabourg and what you see along the Côte Fleurie (floral coast), it sports a lot of Belle Époque architecture that is appealing, but slightly diminished by the fact that it has not weathered well.
During the German occupation, Erwin Rommel destroyed some of the more imposing hotels of that era at the east end of the beach, which were later replaced by post-World War II monstrosities that are appallingly devoid of charm. They are about as appealing as the glowering Nazi fortifications that remain on the beach at its west end.