Impressionist Cliffs in Étretat, France

Wow, I just found this finished draft saved from almost 2 years ago – whoops! Never too late to share 🙂

If there’s one thing I want to see when I travel, it’s breathtaking beaches and stunning coastlines. I didn’t know that despite being so far north, France could have beaches with turquoise seas. From the first picture I saw of Étretat and its bright teal water, I knew I wanted to visit!

Not only does this Norman town have beautiful water, it boasts impressive chalk cliffs (falaises in French) that jut out into the sea in arches and interesting formations (one looks like an elephant!). It may look familiar to you if you’re a fan of Impressionism – Monet painted the cliffs again and again, as did Courbet, Matisse, and others.

You can easily drive to Étretat from Paris in a day, but we decided to make a weekend out of it to celebrate Valentine’s Day and our dating anniversary. (Another option would be to extend your stay and see all of the big Normandy sites with the D-Day beaches and Mont St. Michel, but you would need at least two more days to do so.) We were able to use our credit card points through Chase Sapphire for the hotel and rental car, so we only had to pay for food on our trip.

The town of Étretat is very small and mainly centered around tourism from the beaches (Wikipedia says that in 2017, it had a population of 1,291!) so we stayed in Trouville-sur-Mer, an adorable fishing town about an hour away. We stayed at Hotel Le Central overlooking the river. There were plenty of shops and restaurants along the main road with sidewalk seating (including one directly underneath our hotel!), most of which were seafood-heavy.

We woke up early on Saturday to drive to Étretat (we loved the scenery and countryside along the way!). The town has several parking lots as you drive in before you hit the downtown. It’s easiest to park there and walk the rest of the way. The downtown area is filled with shops and buildings that look like they’re themed for a 19th century French village. Which I guess is what they actually are. 🙂

If you walk directly through the town, you’ll hit the beach. The sound of the calm waves gently crashing over the smooth rocks was so peaceful on a crisp Februrary day.

The color of the water was so lovely! I really couldn’t believe how bright and clear the water was. It was just the dose of color we needed to brighten up a dreary winter.

The beach would be worth seeing in and of itself, but our eyes were of course drawn to the magnificent cliffs on either side of the bay.

You can walk/hike up either side of the cliffs, but we chose the one off to the right. It was easy to find the start of the trail from the boardwalk.

France is pretty far north and is known for its dark, damp winters. Fortunately, we were blessed with a super sunny day, even though it was only about 30-40 degrees out.

Seeing all the different textures, colors, and patterns in nature was rejuvenating to the soul.

I wouldn’t really call this a hike, but there was plenty of space to walk around, explore, and check out different angles of these mighty rock formations.

We discovered a little staircase built into the stone that led down to the beach.

Eventually, the sun started to signal the end of the day, so we headed back to the hill we started at to watch the fiery sun light up the elephant-shaped cliff.

Watching the sun set over the sea is one of life’s greatest simple pleasures!

Gusty winds are great for snuggling up with your loved ones!

We loved visiting this little town and famous cliffs, and can easily see how they inspired the Impressionists to capture the rugged angles, fierce winds, and bright waters.

Is Étretat on your radar? I would readily go again! (Maybe in the summer next time :))

P.S. If you liked these images, you can find some of them for sale in my etsy shop!


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