France holds many secret getaways for those tired of the city life, or those who, like me, feel restricted by the claustrophobic Reims life. Only three hours away from our beloved city is the town of Etretat, which lies on the northern coast of Normandy. 

Etretat hosts the famous nomadic falaises — for us anglophones, cliffs — that loom majestically over the immense waters of la Manche. Besides being the perfect nature destination for hike junkies and animal lovers, Etretat is also an appealing location for those who want to delve more into Normandy’s culture and explore the beautiful mix of Celtic, Roman, and Viking traditions. 

I recently went on a solo trip to Etretat and I’ll let you in on the itinerary I followed when staying in this little town, as well as my impressions and tips on how to make the best out of your time there. 

Day 1: Getting to Etretat 

If you are lucky enough to not have classes on Fridays, you will be able to leave at your own pace in the morning. For everyone else, you can depart in the afternoon. Whether you carpool or take the train, getting to Etretat is extremely easy, and takes approximately three hours by car or five hours by train. When taking the second option, you will have to take a train from Reims to Paris, switch to a train to Breaute, and finally take a 20-minute bus to Etretat. 

Once you arrive in Etretat, you will find that the charming town is filled with little traditional shops which need to be explored in your first afternoon. Amongst my favorites were La Rose des Vents, Le Vieux Marché, La Maison Mer, and Côté Galets.


Principal road 

It’s best to avoid the cliffs during your first half-day, especially since it’s already filled with travel. You will need all the energy you can harness to take on Etretat’s falaises. However, I urge you to head to the main beach which is a two-minute walk from the town’s center. This beach, Plage d’Etretat, is the most crowded place in the town as it is the one easiest to gain access to without the need to hike for hours.

When trying to find cheap accommodation for the weekend, I can suggest two places: Hotel la Residence and Hotel des Falaises. I stayed at the first one and was welcomed with open arms (which is rare for French services). They provide you with a filling breakfast for an extra cost of €9 and the receptionist will give you any information as well as guides for your stay in Etretat. The cost ranges by season (€50 – €70), which, as you will guess, gets more expensive as the days get warmer. 

For a good dinner, Etretat has many restaurants that serve the town’s traditional fish-based dishes such as carpaccio de saumon, beurre de caviar, langoustines, homard bleu, soupe de poisson, filet de turbot, and the dos de cabillaud. 


Day 2: Hike Day 

Get ready. This day will be intense. 

I strongly recommend waking up very early on your full day in order to see the sunrise over the cliffs. During springtime, the sun will start to rise at 7 am, but you should take into account the time it will get you to walk all the way to the top of the cliffs. This usually takes approximately 10-20 minutes. In Etretat there are two sides of cliffs, as I like to call them, the right side and the left side of Etretat. The right side is where you will want to go to see the sunrise, because of the very simple geographical reason of: the sun rises on that side. Be careful if you start the journey too early and it’s still too dark out. Since there are no railings on the edges of cliffs, take precautions and bring a flashlight with you. 

Seeing the sunrise is surprisingly a very uncommon activity for French people or tourists who come to Etretat, so be prepared to encounter very few or, like me, no people at all on your morning hike. Depending on your stamina, you will be able to walk up to 20 kilometers for this side of the cliffs, before having to turn back and head to the town. 

For animal lovers, there are many moments along the hike where you can see seagulls nests on top of the monumental cliffs, friendly farm animals who will approach you in search for food, and if you are lucky enough, you can even spot some seals hunting along the shoreline. 

I recommend bringing a sandwich or a packed lunch on your morning hike. If you, like I did, get mesmerized by the landscapes of Etretat, you will want to take in every single second of it. Perhaps you’ll even want to have a picnic on top of the rocks overlooking the rest of the northern coast.

Because of the intensity of the first half of the day, once you get back to your accommodation, take a nap, and get back on the road at around 5 pm. This time, you will want to head to the left side of the falaises, and make your way to Plage du Forquet. This hike is more intense than the earlier one because of the numerous inclines and declines, instead of the straightforward path that you took in the morning. The afternoon is when tourists walk towards the cliffs, so always be cautious of others on the steep inclines and stairs in order to avoid collisions. 

The best location to see the sunset — which in the springtime is at around 9 pm — is from l’Oeil du Panda, which is a secluded cave that overlooks the cliffs. This spot is hard to find but instructions to the location are available if you google “Oeil du Panda+coordinates.” 

Day 3: Last Day

This day depends entirely on the time you want to head back to Reims. Usually the buses out of Etretat depart in the afternoon, so you will have the morning to do some more exploring. An activity that I recommend doing is kayaking or renting a canoe to see the cliff from their roots. One important thing to consider with this activity is checking the sea conditions. The waves play a big role in whether you’ll enjoy the experience or feel a bit queasy. Yes, I unfortunately speak from experience. 

And after catching one last glimpse of the beautiful Etretat, it will be time to head back to Reims. Take it one last breath of the fresh salty air, and wistfully take your seat on the bus.

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