The Bogtrotter

Etretat – beach walk on the wild side

by on Feb.09, 2009, under France, French Walks, Walks

Chalk cliffs of Etretat

Chalk cliffs of Etretat

Those looking for a challenging but spectacular coastal walk should head for Etretat in France, where the chalk cliffs rising up from the English Channel create the magnificent image of the Alabaster Coast.  Etretat is a pretty little coastal town which is now a tourist honeypot, and the start of one of the best short walks you will ever do.  With the beach section only accessible at low tide you need to check the local tide times and ideally start about an hour before low tide.

As low tide approaches a group begins to gather at the western end of Etretat beach, and you can sense something is about to happen.  A short walk across the seaweed-covered rocks (and a splash in the rock pools if you’re so inclined) takes you to a metal ladder fixed to the cliff.  Climb up the ladder to a ledge and you can then walk through the tunnel carved out of the rock.  You are now the other side of the Failaise D’Aval arch, and on a much quieter beach enclosed by the mountainous strata-lined chalk cliffs.  Carry on across this pebble beach – with the Mannaporte Arch in front of you striding out into the sea.  When you reach the next arch go though this and down a ladder to reach another enclosed beach.  This one has a beautiful waterfall cascading down the cliff – the perfect place to stand and cool off from the summer heat.

Waterfall on the beach

Waterfall on the Beach


One feature of this walk is it’s challenging nature. This is one place the Health and Safety brigade have failed to reach.  The rocks are slippery, the ladders are exposed, and there are no handrails or barriers on the open ledges.  It is not unneccessarily dangerous and can be done by any reasonably active person, but is not for those of a nervous disposition!

Arch through the rock

Arch through the rock

Another archway to go through to reach the final beach – from a distance I think this one looks like a silouette of the queen on a postage stamp.  This final beach is probably the best for sunbathing – and is much busier than the previous two.  At the end of this beach is a roadway which cuts through the cliffs.  From this road you can join the cliff path and follow this all the way back to Etretat.  The clifftop walk gives stunning views of the chalk cliffs – which seem to go on forever into the distance.

In the summer there are large crowds on the cliffs, and the numbers increase the closer you get back to Etretat.  But it is easy to see why – the scenery is unsurpassed.  Once you are back in Etretat – head for one of the great restaurants where you can try the local seafood (highly recommended) washed down with a glass or two of Normandy cider and calvados.

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1 comment for this entry:
  1. Ron Hagan

    I visit Etretat on every visit to Normandy and that is a lot.
    Another great attraction for me is that one of the food outlets near the covered market sells chip baguettes, and the mayonnaise is home made. I’ve no doubt that the gastronomes among you will gasp at the idea but it is legal and you don’t have to be 18 to enjoy it, it is however an advantage to be completely starving before tucking in.
    If you stand with your back to the plaque over the market entrance in the square and look towards three O’clock the blue fronted kiosk is the one you want. If you are shy the French sounds like (I hate grammar so I can only say it sounds like this) ‘Une baguette avec les frites dadon, sil vous plez’
    While you are there Fecamp (Benedictine distillery) and Honfleur are well worth a visit (inland harbour famous for artists).

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