19th-century seaside resorts: Etretat, Deauville & Trouville
Nature has carved fabulous shapes out of the white cliffs at Étretat, which drew Impressionist painters in their droves. Erosion has created extraordinary arches in the chalk either side of the resort and there’s an amazing needle-like structure that every visitor must see. Besides the cliff formations and thick pebble beach, the small resort behind is full of charm – along with some extravagant hotels, the remarkable wooden covered market stands out, as does Le Clos Lupin, a typical old villa in town with mysteries waiting to be uncovered. The churches around Étretat are also well worth a detour. But the highlights for many visitors are the cliff-top walks: you’ll stumble upon a truly spectacular golf course and if you return to the cliff formations on the beach at night, you’ll witness them magically lit up.
Built upon a few acres of marshland and dunes 150 years ago, Deauville is today one of the most memorable seaside resorts in Normandy. It’s an international centre for horses with its two racecourses and range of prestigious international races, training centre for 300 horses, national steeplechase competition, international polo championship and 75 stud farms in the surrounding area. Deauville is also a seriously arty town, home to or associated with numerous artists, fashion designers, photographers and filmmakers, all inspired and influenced by the sea, the light and the special atmosphere. Culturally, the Easter Music Festival has become a renowned meeting place of new-generation musicians and the book show ‘Literature & Music’ is the highlight of Deauville’s literary life each May, focusing on books inspired by music. The immense sandy beach in Deauville is dotted with multi-coloured parasols where children and adults alike can have fun – throwing balls, flying kites, making sandcastles or just relaxing. There are four fabulous golf courses here too. Deauville’s shops satisfy all passions for shopping and, come nightfall, the town is all illuminated: its casino blazes with a thousand lights, and after an excellent dinner, why not visit one of the numerous bars and nightclubs?
Artists and writers have long fallen for Trouville, Deauville’s older sibling. It’s equally as glamorous with its villas, splendid sands and boardwalk, but it also has a vibrant fishing port. It’s been immortalised in canvases by Monet, who painted memorable scenes of 19th-century bourgeois society promenading along Trouville’s beachfront; in fact, Trouville was one of the first coastal resorts to be developed in France. By Napoleon’s time, the rich and fashionable flocked here too, commissioning grand villas and palaces of entertainment such as the glitzy casino. The fishing port is accompanied by a covered fish market and surrounded by a plethora of seafood restaurants selling scallops, sole, prawns and mackerel dishes. Don’t miss the Wednesday and Sunday markets as well as a good browse of the typical seaside shops. Also, wander up the slope into the winding lanes to enjoy the calmer side of Trouville and characterful 19th-century architecture. Culture vultures can find their fill in the galleries around town, while Trouville’s beach – declared ‘Queen of Beaches’ in the past – and is greatly appreciated by both bathers and walkers. Famous French writer Marguerite Duras became a devotee of Trouville, spending her summers here; she said that everyone she’d ever met who had experienced the resort for the first time said they dreamed of returning.