Etretat. Our last destination for this trip into France. The town is situated in a bit of a valley, with alabaster cliffs bookending the beachfront. This is a popular summertime destination, but since it was still the off-season, almost all of the merchant stands were closed, though the restaurants and permanent gift shops along the walk were open. I loved how the fisherman had their boats drawn right up onto the shore. It’s very easy to see why so many artists were, and are, inspired by this region.
It took us a while to find parking. If you can’t get a spot in the beach area itself, don’t worry. As your exiting, take a right hand turn (one way streets, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to figure out) and drive up the hill, as if you were leaving the town. You’ll come across a much larger, paid, parking section with spaces for oversized vehicles and busses. That’s where we parked. It’s not too long of a walk, perhaps 1/4 mile from the parking area, along a garden walk, to the beach.
Just as we arrived, a wall of rain was moving in. As is typical with our family, we were not deterred. When else would we have this opportunity? So, as the majority of people were running for shelter and leaving, we headed out, making our way across the beach to the cave (below: lower right quadrant of the photo).
We were only caught out in the hard rain for a few moments and then were safely sheltered in the cave. You don’t really need the signs to realize you shouldn’t be out here when the tide is high. It’s evident this interior is regularly submerged. What I failed to get a picture of is that after climbing this ladder (below), is a tunnel. Again, signs are posted to warn visitors to ensure they have enough time before high tide to return to the shore. The tunnel was unlit and we could feel a cold wind coming through. I admit, I was a bit apprehensive about entering, not sure how far it went, or where it led to. The Hubs was confident we had plenty of time to return before the tide rose (as we had determined it was going out when we were at Fècamp). So, with some trepidation, we entered, using our phones to illuminate our way.
We were again rewarded with an amazing view. The rain helping to ensure the beach was nearly empty, and many of those who were there when we arrived were departing. We sought further refuge under an outcropping with a view of L’Augille – “The Needle”, before deciding to continue to the largest arch, La Manne Porte (La Manne Porte can not be viewed from the beachfront in the town. The third and smallest of Etretat’s arches, Porte d’Amont, is north of the town).
The rain subsided and the clouds began to move on. The colors of this area were amazing, the vibrant blue sky mirrored in the ocean, the white of the cliffs contrasting with the black/brown algae covered rocks and crisp green. At this point, we knew that we didn’t have much time left before the kids would run out of energy. The Hubs and I were starting to tire too. So, after resting under the arch and soaking in our surroundings for several minutes, we began to head back.
This is probably where we have made one of our most questionable parenting choices. On the way out to the arch, we had noticed a ladder, leading to what appeared to be a trail going up the cliffs. Instead of walking back the way we had come, we figured we’d take the less traveled route. With The Hubs taking the lead, followed by Alpha, Beta, and Charlie – then me, we started to head up.
About a quarter of the way up both The Hubs and I realized this wasn’t as easy as we had originally thought. The ladder gave way to narrow steps, slick from the rain. But those soon ended, the remainder of the “trail” was nothing more than a near vertical climb with a rope to hold onto and guide us. We contemplated going back down, but by now, a couple was also braving the climb behind us. There was no room on the trail to move around each other and the thought of going back down was just as frightening as continuing up. So, with one last shot of La Manne Porte (below), we pressed upward. About halfway up we came to a large “step” (a good three feet), and The Hubs had to lift all of the kids up, and give me a boost, to make it over. There was no way to regain the lead, so Alpha led the rest of the way, with The Hubs now in the rear.
For a while it was pretty scary. The rains having turned the trail into one long mud slick. A few places there were gaps between ropes and we had to trust the grass was rooted deep enough to use for leverage. The kids were amazing, encouraging each other and supportive. For as nervous as I was for their safety (if something bad had happened, which it very easily could have, I would never have forgiven myself for getting them into that situation), I was also extremely proud of how they handled a difficult experience and drew strength from each other. Eventually, though, the trail became a bit easier to navigate and pretty soon we were at the top.
In the photo above, you can see all of Étretat. The top of the cliff opposite us is a monument and church. As much as we wanted to explore that side as well, we just didn’t have the energy to do so. And, we still had a three hour drive back to our cottage in Lison.
After such a stressful experience, we sought out ice cream back in town. It took us a little while to find, as many of the shops along the beach were still closed. But, eventually we did manage to find a small chocolate/gelato store. It was a refreshing treat. The drive back went by quickly, with the French countryside zipping past the car window.
That is the end of my posts for our trip to Normandy, France. I don’t think I can reiterate enough how enjoyable this trip was. My family made wonderful memories at all of the places we visited. Overall, everyone we met was hospitable and we found we could make do with our very limited French-speaking abilities. I loved this trip and I hope to someday return to the area.