The 120 kilometres long “Alabaster Coast” between Dieppe and Le Havre consists of chalk stone cliffs that drop almost vertically from the rolling hills about 50 to 100 meters above sea level down to a mostly rocky shoreline. There are very few valleys that cut through these hills and therefore offering a soft descent to the sea. Almost every one of these valleys has become a harbour over the centuries.
One of them is Etretat. Settlements here existed since more than 2000 years. The first written mention is from around the year 1000. Over the centuries Etretat was mainly a fishing village. This changed with the beginning of the 19th century when seaside resorts became fashionable especially among Paris citizens. But Etretat was hard to reach and the beach consisted of cobblestones so it was not very successful as a tourist resort for a long time.
This changed at the beginning of the 20th century when infrastructure was improved and the fantastic cliff formations in the area became better known. Mass tourism was the consequence and for quite a long time led to bad water and air quality.
Mass tourism still is an issue here nowadays as the narrow valley is completely covered with buildings. Because of regular traffic break downs in summer season and during weekends the old town gets partially closed for traffic. The city built a parking lot outside town quite a bit up the valley and offers shuttle buses to get down to town. The parkings are still in walking distance but you have to calculate a good 15 to 20 minutes to get down to the town centre and the beach. This is no problem as long as you do not plan to come down for some water sports requiring heavy equipment.
Windsurfing / Kiteboarding: Due to the difficult access during summer not recommended. Add to this a very narrow and very packed beach, the high cliffs and a large tidal hub and you understand that this is not a prime sailing location. But it is possible and outside the tourist season you may even drive down to the beach.
Surfing: Once in a while a very good, almost point-breakish left runs at the base of the cliffs. When it´s on it breaks in perfection over a well orientated rocky ledge. But it does break only during a certain period during the 10 meters tide hub, which means you have to be here at the right time (and wind and swell have to cooperate during this time-slot) to score about 1 to 2 hours of good surf. This more a local’s wave because of the inconsistency, but well worth the detour if you are passing the area in autumn or winter and a good west-swell runs into The Channel.
Hiking, Cycling: The paths along the cliff edges offer a fantastic view on the cliffs and ocean. Very worth to go for a walk there, even just for a few hundred meters. The country roads through the hilly inland are nice for bike rides.
Check the galleries (Etretat, surfing the left) for more impressions.
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