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Day Trip to Étretat by Public Transport

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Normandy had been a familiar yet unknown name for me. I reckoned I must have come across it in a history book, and it felt like a destination I had to visit. Aware that it is by the sea, I sought a seaside spot in Normandy and discovered Étretat. Though a fairly small town without a train station, it is renowned for its chalk cliffs and being the residence of the author of the fictional character Arsène Lupin. Once again, I wasn’t familiar with Lupin’s stories, but one of my favorite characters was inspired by him. Thus, my romanticism fueled my desire to visit.

Flixbus operates daily between Paris and Étretat, making it an easy day trip. However, due to COVID-19 related restrictions at the time of my travel, they paused the route just as I was about to visit. Undeterred, I decided to explore alternative ways to reach the town. It helped that I was willing to venture beyond it, so I researched nearby cities accessible by train.

Even then, it was no easy task trying to figure out how to get to Étretat. Google Maps didn’t quite provide the answers. All I could rely on were Google Translate and as many relevant local websites as I could find.

Settling on my base

The only mistake I made at the time was choosing Rouen as my base. Don’t get me wrong, I love Rouen for its beautiful medieval buildings, but my primary destination was Étretat. It turns out that, although both are in the same Normandy region, the bus company (Astuce) operating in Rouen does not travel to Étretat. The only way was to take the train to Le Havre, a city that sits by the coast, and then catch the public bus to Étretat.

I soon discovered a trick. Almost all tourism websites recommend taking bus number 24 operated by Kéolis Seine Maritime, which runs between Le Havre, Étretat, and Fécamp. What I found was another bus company, LiA, that travels in the same direction on number 13. It runs nearly every hour and doesn’t cost more than 2 euros per trip. It’s easy to buy a return ticket from the office at the bus terminal beside Le Havre train station, and the lady behind the counter was so nice to speak English with me and direct me to the right bus. She even ran after me when I forgot my purse on the counter (my bad!).

The ride took no more than 40 minutes, and I caught a glimpse of the coast in Le Havre as we headed out. It was clearly telling me that I should have spent extra time in Le Havre.

Arriving in the town

Bus 13 proved to be the best choice as it ended right in Étretat, eliminating any worry about missing the stop. The destination was a carpark, the same place where I would wait for the return bus at the chosen timing stated on the schedule.

With the pandemic lockdown in place at the end of 2020, none of the restaurants were open. Consequently, the only thing I could do was skip over the town entirely and make my way towards the beach. On the way, I found traces of Lupin, rekindling my awe for the gentleman thief.

While I wasn’t looking to swim during the winter, the pebble beach didn’t seem all that safe for it anyway. Although unique, many signs indicated that the pebbles were there to protect the coast from erosion, thus advising not to remove a single stone even for a souvenir. Despite this, I enjoyed the sound of waves and seagulls amidst unusually few local visitors.

To the right of the beach

I made my way towards the right side of the beach to the iconic white cliffs. They appeared more yellow, perhaps due to the overcast and other phenomenon. Nevertheless, it was majestic in its own way.

I backtracked from the cliffs and followed some stairs and signs up to the top of the rocks. The wind was strong with no safety railings for the steep climb, but the view of Étretat from this point was breath-taking. I easily found Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde, followed by Les Jardins D’Étretat, which might look more beautiful with the flowers in the spring. Further past them were more cliffs and colder wind, so I opted to turn back and hike the other side of the beach.

To the left of the beach

The climb to the rocks on the left was more straightforward with stairs, paths, and signs. I weaved through the WWII bunker and took in a different view of historical Étretat, but otherwise was hindered by incoming rain that eventually got too heavy for me to continue my exploration.

Peaceful getaway

If it weren’t for the pandemic, the resorts and beach would be thriving with activities and tourists. However, I got to enjoy a serene sight instead, so I wouldn’t complain. No wonder Monet found this place worthy of his famous brush. Once again, while it is possible to get here by a 5-hour bus from Paris, I found the bus journey from Le Havre a lot more charming. I truly got to see what a beautiful region Normandy is from this perspective.

Behind the trip

I’m Angie, a traveller, web developer and blogger behind A Head Full of Travel. I’m here to document my adventures through words and photography, kindling a love for life. You can trust that all content and advice shared here is genuine and from my own experiences.

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