Normandy Weekend Guide: 5 Things You Must Do When Visiting Etretat
Rooksana Hossenally Contributor
A small seaside town clustered along a sweeping pebbly beach bookended by magnificent white cliffs that jut out from the water, Etretat, being just a two-hour drive from Paris, has long been a go-to spot for city types desperate for fresh sea air and big skies. And with the addition of a brand new boutique hotel, there’s even more reason to put this little windswept spot on your radar when planning a weekend in Normandy.
Etretat’s towering white chalk cliffs carved by wind and water into photogenic formations like the Porte d’Aval Arch and L’Aiguille (the Needle; see above) were put on the map by the impressionist artists Gustave Courbet and Claude Monet who were fascinated by its natural beauty. “Etretat is becoming more and more amazing. Now is the real moment: the beach with all its fine boats; it is superb, and I am enraged not to be more skilful in rendering all this. I would need two hands and hundreds of canvases,” Monet famously said.
Located in Normandy, in Northwestern France, Etretat’s known for its murky waters and inky skies, long walks, and sea food restaurants. In terms of places to stay, there are a couple of options, but Les Tilleuls, which opened last summer, is the town’s finest upscale boutique hotel, turning the Etretat experience into a real luxury getaway.
Sample French Country Living at Les Tilleuls
When a Parisian tells you they’re going to Normandy for the weekend, it usually means they are headed to their country home – often a big beautiful half-timbered affair with moody sea views and manicured sloping lawns – to enjoy the simple, and in my humble opinion, best things in life: oysters and long seaside walks. If however, you aren’t lucky enough to have your own place to pop over for the weekend, then you have beautiful Les Tilleuls.
Opened last June by the daughter of a Belgian family that already has several hotels and restaurants under their belt, Camille Gersdorff has taken over this exquisite 18th-century villa with all the trimmings of a family mansion home and turned it into a countryside sanctuary that will win over even the staunchest of urbanites.
A picture of French country living perfection – and that includes Tilia the friendly house golden retriever – Les Tilleuls is the sort of place where you feel at home as soon as you step into the black and white chequered hallway and catch sight of the library den with its roaring fire.
Complete with creaky floorboards, antique furniture, and nooks for reading – the upstairs den comes with a window seat suspended close to the ceiling so you look out at the views of the town and nearby Etretat gardens. This den also doubles up as a yoga studio throughout the year, as well as during retreats managed by yoga and mindset coach Salomé.
The five guestrooms are light and airy, painted in soothing country greens and cornflower blues, and come with huge beds and windows that look out onto the leafy garden. The ‘presidential’ suite, where French A-list actor Jérémie Renier was staying while I sojourned here, has a distressed Chesterfield and a Louis XVI dresser with a free-standing bath and 1930’s fixtures, giving the space that added air of grandeur steeped in its 1700s epoque.
Supper, a hearty affair rustled up with local, seasonal produce by the resident chef, is laid out by a crackling fire either in the library or living-room, and must be booked ahead. Breakfast is served in the dreamy country home kitchen dining room, where guests sit at a large wood table by a stone fireplace in winter and out in the garden in the warmer months, while chef Cory, a Canadian import, puts together energy-boosting açaí bowls and smoothies – there are also croissants and pains au chocolat, crisp baguette and homemade jams, for those craving French staples, bien sûr.
Les Tilleuls is the perfect spot for staying out of the cold and catching up with some reading, writing, and even films you’ve been meaning to watch as it has a private cinema equipped with top-notch surround sound in the vaulted basement. However, if you can bear to tear yourself away for an hour or two, there’s plenty to explore outside too.