The natural beauty of Étretat has long attracted artists such as Claude Monet and Gustave Courbet, whose paintings entice even more visitors to this special place. (Monet painted a series of canvases depicting les falaises à Étretat, the dramatic coastal cliffs.) Located in the department of Seine-Maritime in Normandy, Étretat is about a two-hour drive from Paris. Famous for the towering white chalk cliffs carved by wind and water, the village of Étretat lies at beach level, niched between the two highest arched rock wonders. The southern formation is called Porte d’Aval and the northern, Porte d’Amont. It’s difficult to say which is more breathtaking.
An excellent vantage point to take in the abundant scenery is at the 3-star hotel-restaurant called Dormy House. Built on the cliffside of Porte d’Aval, Dormy House overlooks the village, beach, sea and Porte d’Amont. Like a comfortable and spacious home, Dormy House includes several buildings joined by pathways and set on a nine-acre estate. There is easy access from the hotel to the paths that lead to either clifftop, the beach or the village. The village consists of some attractive half-timbered buildings that house shops and cafés. Though the beach and village are only a five-minute walk from the hotel, the Porte d’Amont beckons. It requires stamina to cross the beach via the boardwalk promenade and mount the stairs and steep climb ahead to the top. Breathlessly reaching the top, the rewarding views and sea breeze are well worth the trek.
On the Amont clifftop, fishermen constructed the small, sturdy chapelle, Notre Dame de la Garde, in 1856. Further inland is a tall needle-like monument standing as a tribute to flight. In 1927, two French pilots, Charles Nungesser and François Coli attempted to make the first non-stop flight to New York in a biplane called the White Bird. They disappeared over the Atlantic, and this monument was erected as a testament to their bravery. [Editor’s note: The Peninsula Hotel in Paris also pays homage to this flight with a rooftop restaurant called L’Oiseau Blanc.]
The hike up behind Dormy House leads to numerous viewing spots for admiring the Porte d’Aval and a protruding needle rock called L’aiguille. Sharing the summit is an exceptional 18-hole golf course that has been skillfully nestled into the contours of the cliff, 150 feet above sea level.
Return to Dormy House to relax in one of its 60 rooms, or go for a drink at the bar or on the outdoor terrace with a lovely sea view. The restaurant is situated in a spacious rotunda structure with tiered seating and wrap-around windows. The food was beautifully presented and delicious, just like the views enjoyed through the wall of windows. Personable, Dormy House is a home away from home. Rooms from 105 euros/night.