Étretat: Fairytale French Village on the Atlantic

If you’ve already seen the gardens of Versailles and all of the magic that Paris has to offer, and you’re looking to take a quick day trip to one of France’s shorelines, I recommend renting a car or reserving a BlaBlaCar to see the majestic cliffs of Étretat, Normandy.

Étretat is a small seaside village located around two hours northwest of Paris. The village, which inspired some of France’s most famous artists and writers, has now become a major touristic spot for travelers from all corners of the globe. What makes this seaside village so special? Its famous cliffs, of course.

Here are 5 Things You Should Do in Étretat:

1. Explore the famous cliffs. There are widely-used hiking trails and much-more-discreet caverns to explore at the famous falaises d’Étretat. And it’s doubtless you’ll snap your perfect fairytale photo of the tiny village and its enormous cliffs from the bird’s-eye view at the top. It’s not so certain that you’ll lug a bottle of cider up the cliff like I did, innocently hoping to enjoy a sunny-day picnic with the ocean at my feet and instead being met with hurricane winds slamming my back into the cliff every 2 seconds, thus resulting in my hurrying to finish the damn bottle of cider because the sunny-day picnic was actually horribly uncomfortable, further leading to my getting piss drunk and stumbling like a drunk high schooler after prom with empty bottle in hand (I recycle) on the descent back towards the village, which “professional” hikers were ever so eager to snicker at. Amateur.

2. Order moules-frites at a restaurant on the beach. There are only a few restaurants a few feet from the sand, and they offer mostly identical “specials” of the day for the same prices. If there’s the option of ordering your moules-frites (mussels and fries) cooked with famous Normandy cider, then do so. And then smile and flirt with your waiter, because when you travel alone like I do, that’s a recipe for lucking out on a free tour guide or bottles of wine on the beach or a corner of his floor to sleep on when you show up at his door crying at 2 a.m. because your hostel bunk was infested with bugs.

3. Buy loads of cider and biscuits. Normandy is your dream come true for finding impersonal-with-a-personal-touch gifts for the distant aunt who gives you knockoff Louis Vuitton bags every Christmas. Many people recommend La Mer à Boire for cider, although you can get quality and cheap cider all over town. I went to La Biscuiterie Jacques Delaunay for my biscuit fix, and they sell their biscuits pre-packaged in cute tin boxes with an Auntie’s cheek squeeze guarantee.

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3. Visit Étretat’s #1 supplier of all things goat, La Valeine Goat Cheese Farm. The mom-and-pop farm tour lasts about an hour and if you want excellent, fresh goat cheese, I wholeheartedly recommend the visit. And don’t forget to pick up a chocolate or pint of ice cream made out of goat’s milk. Sharp and delicious. 

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Play away your troubles at the casino. It seems so odd that with the four main streets that Étretat has (you can literally walk anywhere you need to be in 2 minutes or less), they dedicate half of one of these main streets to a casino. A casino. Hardly fitting for a village on the beach, you may think. But you’ll never be more grateful for the flashy and warm insides of the casino if you’re unlucky enough to find yourself in Étretat on a rainy day. There is absolutely nothing to do in this village when it rains. I know, because I asked every waiter at each of the 5 restaurants I took refuge in that day. If your sunny-day picnic and hiking plans are ruined because of shit weather, plop down on one of the plushy couches in the casino. They have free wi-fi, and you can watch 80-year-olds either stare mindlessly at slot machines or dance away their troubles through soft, muted dancing, the way old, old, old people do. 

One thing that you probably can’t do in Étretat: swim. I brought my bikini with a hoping heart and found out when I got there that apparently no one bathes in Normandy. HA! Stupid tourist, go to the south if you want to splash water at your tan man while having “fun in the sun.” Here, the water is cold, the “sand” is actually fist-sized rocks, and the view? Well. Can’t say anything about that.