The Ebb and Flow of Life in Étretat.

Normandy in the north of France is known for; amongst other “choses” (things); Camembert cheese and “cidre des pommes” (apple cider). When we arrived in Étretat, I almost thought I would “tomber dans les pommes” (literally, fall among the apples a.k.a to faint) such was the beauty of this town with it’s white chalk “falaises” (cliffs).This formation, part of the “falaises d’aval” is know as “l’aiguille” (the needle).

Notice the famous signature in the bottom left corner of this painting. It belongs to Monsieur Claude Monet. He loved to come and vacation in this quiet little seaside village. This painting of his was completed in 1885.

Compare the photograph above, taken at “marée haute” (high tide), with the one below at “marée basse” (low tide).

It’s incredible how the sea subsides a substantial 200m in six hours!

Mr B and I took advantage of the ebb to explore some of the caverns and edifices in the chalky caves.

Inside the eye of the needle; below.

We later discovered the signs that warned of falling rocks and advised visitors to keep at least 50m away from the cliffs so we did …

we gained another perspective to the facets and faces of the “falaises” when we hired SUPs and paddled through the tunnels.

To get another viewpoint, we all hiked up above the eye of the needle and took a picture of the Porte d’Aval arch to the “droit” (right) of the “plage” (beach).

Another of Monet’s painting in Étretat is of fishing boats with the Falaise d’Amont arch in the background.

This photograph of the arch was taken at low tide and the one below, when the tide was high.

The chapel on top of the hill, built between the 11th and 12th centuries, is known as Notre-Dame de la Garde. It was bombed by the Nazis during the Second World War; and later rebuilt.

It’s not particularly pretty and we couldn’t go inside but “ça vaut le pain” (literally; it’s worth the bread ie worth the effort). I love the way the clouds make it look like there is light falling onto the cross on top of the steeple.

From here, one can see three spires: to the left, the needle; the Notre-Dame de la Garde in the centre; and to the right, a monument that was erected to mourn the loss of two French pilots who tried, unsuccessfully, to be the first to fly across the Atlantic to New York from the top of this cliff in 1927. Their plane, “L’Oiseau Blanc” (The White Bird) was never found.

Just next to the monument lie “Les Jardins d’Étretat” (Étretat Gardens): an open-air art gallery inspired by Claude Monet.

Below are two of the faces in “Le Jardin Émotions”. The sunglasses are to show the scale of these sculptures.


and pain.

The pieces are modelled on the work of impressionists. Initially the garden belonged to a famous actress in 1905.

It was opened to the public as recently as 2016.

We walked on further and explored the arch from the other side…

Below is the needle from the other side. It has been likened to an elephant dipping its trunk into the water to drink.

Étretat has a sobering side to it. During the “La Seconde Guerre Mondiale” (WW2) it was captured and used as a base for Nazi Germany.

It later became a passage where American troops congregated on their way between the US and Germany.

The small fishing village became a popular seaside village in the 1850s. Queen Marie Antoinette allegedly fell in love with the oysters that were farmed here.

Once bathing became more popular in the early 1900s, “les plongeoirs” (diving boards) were wheeled onto the beach in summer to please the patrons.

The carousel opens up for a few hours every evening.

Children try to catch a woollen ‘mop’ which is swung back and forth over their heads. The child who succeeds is given a free ride

The busyness of the late afternoons and evenings is starkly contrasted by the quietness of the mornings. Mr B and I took a walk down to drink our morning coffee at 9am and a single fisherman was the only person in sight.

Later that day, we enjoyed a meal at one of many of the beachfront restaurants. I had creamy cod on top of dauphinois potatoes and leeks. It was delicious accompanied by the regional organic cider. The children ordered coke and they brought us organic coca-cola. It tasted the same just not as sweet.

While we devoured our fish ‘n’ chips we had two non-dining guests looking on. Visitors are discouraged from feeding them so that they remain healthy and so that they don’t become pests. Seagulls; I knew them to be “mouettes” but here they refer to them as “goélands”; have become synonymous with Etretat. Even as a write this in our apartment 300m from the beach, I hear their cheerful calls and see them sitting on the rooftops. I won’t be able to untether them from my tender memories of this charming town.

Another of the impressions embedded in my brain is that of the “galets” (pebbles) that makes up the beach.

It’s not as soft on the soles as our sandy beaches back home but it less messy!

Sadly I’m not permitted to keep even one as a souvenir as it is “interdit” (forbidden) to remove them from the shore.

As our time here draws to a close and the tide turns to draw us out further to other unexplored banks; I leave you with these parting pictures and these words from the book of Ecclesiastes:

4 Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. 
5 The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises.
6 The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course. 

7 All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again. 

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