By visiting this mythical natural site, you can enjoy an unexpected inner experience, mixing contemplation and movement.
You’re entering a special region that has a unique relationship with time and the elements.
The Alabaster Coast owes its name to the 140 km of chalk cliffs between the Seine and Somme estuaries. The most picturesque of them are the cliffs of Etretat: they surprise with their verticality and present a wild and somewhat austere beauty.
Attention: walks under the cliffs are forbidden, please refer to the municipal by-law.
The Porte d’Aval (on the left when looking at the sea), a huge flint archway, was carved by the waves beating the end of the Falaise d’Aval. The 51-metre-high needle bears witness to the geological past of the cliffs of Etretat. It has become famous, gained a universal reputation and inspired many painters and writers. Is it hollow and did it shelter the treasure of the Kings of France discovered by Arsène Lupin, as recounted in Maurice Leblanc’s novel, L’aiguille Creuse? You can find out more about this enigma by visiting Le Clos Lupin, the property acquired by the novelist in 1919.
La Manneporte, even more monumental, is located on the other side of the Porte d’Aval, at the end of Jambourg Beach. Guy de Maupassant claimed that a ship could have passed through it with all sails billowing.
The Falaise d’Amont is the cliff on the other side of the beach, to the right when looking out to sea, and less than a century ago it was called Falaise du Blanc-Trait (White Line Cliff), because of the whiteness of the chalk, visible from the open sea a great distance away.
How can we not pay tribute to Maupassant’s keen sense of observation, who in “Une vie” compares the Arche d’Amont (arch) to an elephant dipping its trunk in the sea? It’s all there: the trunk, the head and ears, the front and back limbs and even a Maharajah’s palanquin on its back!
At the foot of the Manneporte, a vast circular room called Le Petit Port (Little Port) shelters green slopes watered by small springs whose cold waters cascade down: the “Pisseuses”. The Courtine is the thick wall that stands in front of us and pushes out into the sea. An access has been dug there towards Tilleul Beach.
To the right of the Falaise d’Amont, at the end of the beach, the surprising Aiguille de Belval rises skyward. It seems to be held upright by amazing balance alone: its wave-bitten foot is gradually getting thinner and thinner. Roche de Vaudieu, a refuge for guillemots, looks like a large section of wall standing alone amid the ruins.
Formed underwater several million years ago, the cliffs are made up of deposits of light-coloured calcareous marine organisms and skeletons of siliceous organisms. They then rose up to become these limestone giants streaked with flint.
Particularly hard-wearing, they seem eternal but are nonetheless fragile and constantly changing: wind, tides, rainwater infiltration, freezing and then thawing weaken them: erosion causes regular landslides and the cliff to retreat.
The flint which has fallen down onto the shore takes on its rounded shape in just a few months thanks to the sea, becoming pebbles that protect the cliffs and the town of Etretat, which is built below sea level.
These giants are at the heart of many legends and ancient histories written into the local toponymy: the “trou à l’homme” (cave) saved a sailor’s life, the “ladies’ chamber” became the grave of three innocent young local women.
The cliffs are even more impressive from the sea: the association Voiles et Galets (Sails and Pebbles) invites you to discover the cliffs by kayak, stand-up paddle or sailboat. Starting from Le Havre or Fécamp in season, you can also view them on sea trips.
For the more energetic, the GR21 hiking trail, from Le Havre to Le Tréport, which runs along part of the coastline, takes you through the different valleys of the Alabaster Coast. Geological curiosities peculiar to the Pays de Caux, these cliff openings, these small valleys perched up high or opening onto beaches are exceptional places, intimate and sometimes perilous. Don’t leave the hiking trail and don’t go near the edge, as the cliffs can be unpredictable!
The local flora has adapted to this confrontation between the immensity of the sea and the gigantic cliffs: specific vegetation has developed on this coastal environment, such as the sea cabbage with its thick, fat leaves, resistant to wind and salt.
Protected animal species also live on the site: seabirds, insects and amphibians. The cliffs and their cavities provide shelter for herring gulls and seagulls. Take your time: observe the animal life around you!
You can find out more about these protected species during guided tours offered by Naterra.
Le Havre Etretat Tourisme