Monet painted the cliffs of Etretat in 1885; the spectacular limestone arches and islets off this charming little seaside resort were a popular subject for the impressionists. We often choose a destination from a calendar picture or work of art; for Etretat pictures like this one of Monet inspired the visit.
We had planned our five night Normandy trip to see Mont St. Michele, Bayeaux and the tapestry and the World War II beaches, and Honfleur. Ed wanted to see the Pont Normandie and I noticed that Etretat this inspiration of so much art was just 20 miles north of the bridge, so we decided to spend an afternoon there.
The Pont Normandie across the Seine between Honfleur and LeHavre is just a stunning sight. The French really know how to design beautiful bridges. It is a cable stayed bridge and at the time it was built, the longest of its type. It opened in 1995. It was a thrill to drive across it.
Etretat is an old fashion beach town complete with boardwalk; it nestles between tall limestone cliffs. Here is a view from across a golf course along the path to one of the cliffs. It is famous for three natural arches, two of which are visible from the boardwalk . To the right of the beach is Porte d’Aval, the smallest of the arches. Hikers can climb the cliffs and visit a church on the hill. The day we visited, there was an enthusiastic group of young children taking sailing lessons. As we hiked the cliffs to the left of the town we saw our little crew trying out their new skills on the placid water of the channel.The cliffs to the left of the beach include two more massive arches; one, Porte d’Amont. is visible from the Etretat beach. We decided to walk up the path to the top of these cliffs and also to see the largest of the arches, the Manneporte, which lies beyond the Porte d’Amont. We were immediately struck with how serious the town fathers are about not taking liability for any stupid thing tourists might do in the caves or the along the cliffs or even walking along the strand. We passed a good dozen warning signs. The first alerted us to the dangers of the cables that run across the walk to leverage boats from the water to their positions behind the boardwalk.As we approached the stairs up the cliffside, we were warned repeatedly about watching the tides before venturing out into the caves or arches. Although I couldn’t read this sign, I am thinking it is warning us about being trapped in this cave.And then of course there were the cliffs. And they weren’t kidding about the closeness to the edges. If climbing around the cliffs is not nervous making enough, someone that day was working on even more of an adrenaline rush. The Port d’Amont and its needle are striking. It is easy to see why they were so popular with painters. This is the view to the north from this point. We hiked past here to get a look at the largest arch in the series, the Manneporte. Although the weather was drizzly and grey when we began, we were lucky enough to have a burst of sunlight towards the end of the afternoon. The coast is beautiful here any time, but that flash of sun made it even more special. The day we were there, schools were on vacation and the cliffs were crawling with children and their grandparents. Etretat is a wonderful place to visit and an easily manageable climb for almost anyone.
The impressionists knew a good thing when they saw it.