The Côte d’Albâtre

Beach delimited by high alabaster cliffs near Veules-les-Roses

In order to make full use of the four days available, we leave from Den Haag on Friday evening. The plan is to drive a long way down the road that separates us from Normandy so we will begin to explore the region the next morning. We head to Antwerp and Brussels (A4, then E19, E17), finding some intense traffic near Rotterdam. Just past the French border begins the highway (A1) of which we travel a short stretch before stopping for the night in Curlu, a tiny little village in Picardy, where we have previously found a quiet and safe place to stay, map out on Furgoperfecto.

We arrive just after 11 pm and the atmosphere is pleasant and at this time the roads are deserted. The parking lot where we spend the night is in a clean area, in front of the illuminated village church.

Wheat fields along the way to the coast

After the violent thunderstorm during the night, we wake up in the morning by the sound of the church bells and by the singing of a rooster. We move to the countryside surrounding the village for a quiet breakfast, beginning to plan the day, warmed by a lukewarm sun.

We head towards the coast and in two hours and a half, we arrive in Veules-les-Roses, a pretty village built along the shortest river of France (1100 m overall length). We walk the waterway to the sea, meeting those who once were mills and small locks. At the mouth of the river Veules we find an immense pebble beach and here are the first white cliffs of the Côte d’Albâtre. The coastline so named goes from Le Tréport, just northeast of where we are, and ends before Le Havre. From the wharfs that stand out on the dry beach, we realize that we are at a low tide. The range – that is the difference between high and low tide – in this area can be as high as ten meters. Returning to our steps we cross the village again, crossing the road on the other side of the river where we buy crispy baguettes at the boulangerie patisserie Loue.

The Côte d’Albâtre during low tide

We move on to Fécamp, stopping along the road following the coast to Veulettes-sur-Mer, where we enjoy a Côté Plage crêpes chilling on the seafront, which is still quiet in this season.

We continue and, just before the port town of Fécamp, we follow the signs to Cap Fagnet, a belvedere overlooking the town with ample views of the steep white cliffs. Here are some reinforced concrete constructions, German outposts dating back to World War II. They are just the first of many that we will see the next day, dedicated to the D-Day beaches.

Alabaster cliffs seen from Cap Fagnet
Chapelle Notre-Dame du Salut, Cap Fagnet

Next stop is the most characteristic place of the Côte d’Albâtre: Étretat and its cliffs on the sea. We park in the village, near the station, and walk to the Falaise d’Amont – accessible on foot, by shuttle train or by car – which offers spectacular views. This first high point is north of Étretat while south of the village is visible the Falaise d’Aval, our next destination. We descend from the Falaise d’Amont along the path leading to the beach and walking along the waterfront. The beach is in pebbles that some banners forbid to collect and take away; somebody dares to take a swim.

We arrive at the foothills of the Falaise d’Aval above a characteristic rock formation similar to an elephant trunk. Not far from the coast, there is another notable formation shaped as a pinnacle, made famous by Maurice Leblanc as a legendary hiding place of the treasures stolen by Arsène Lupin (in the novel the pinnacle is hollow). The climb to this second promontory is also worth more than the first, offering good views of the coast, the pinnacle and the trunk.

Alabaster cliffs close to the Falaise d’Aval
The Falaise d’Aval with the pinnacle and the characteristic elephant trunk formation
Seagulls by the seaside

After relaxing into the sun on the grassy cliff top, we get back to the car in the late afternoon and head back to Honfleur, our destination for the night. With a bit of regret we skip the planned stop in Le Havre, a UNESCO site known for the reinforced concrete architecture dating to the post-war reconstruction. The road passes to the Pont de Normandie (toll 5.4 €) that with its 850 m span is the widest bridge in Europe.

On our arrival in Honfleur, we find out that the two campgrounds are already closed, probably because we are in low season. We decide to spend the night in the free parking lot of the Plage du Butin, where we have dinner with crispy baguettes and a selection of local cheese.

Sunset over Le Havre harbor

 

NORMANDY

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It was at least three years that we fantasized about Normandy as a possible travel destination. The information gathered about its weather, often brisk, makes us choose the late spring as the time of the year to try to venture between the Côte d’Albâtre and the Mont Saint-Michel. Once again, since Stefano lives in The Hague, we decide to arrange the short trip in a van, leaving from The Netherlands. Because of the beautiful weather and the few tourists around, we are definitely charmed by this corner of France historically known for the allies landing during World War II. Both the coast, characterized by white cliffs that remind us of the views seen in Sussex, and the beautiful inland countryside, dotted with pastures, farms and tiny villages with straw roof houses, fill our hearts. To crown the short but intense path, the famous small fortified island with the sanctuary dedicated to the Archangel Michael.

Travel log

Period
5 days (19-23 may 2017)
Distance traveled
1600 km
Cost per person
250 €
Transportation
campervan

Tips

Travel planning: Lonely Planet Francia settentrionale e centrale, dedicated Meridiani dossier and Turisti per caso travel logs

We preferred to skip the highway, where possible, to drive on secondary roads like the Route des Chaumieres to appreciate the magic of houses with straw roof typical of this area

Plan the visit to Mont Saint-Michel at the arrival of the high tide to witness the rising water coming “like galloping horses”

Find places to park your van and spend the night on Furgoperfecto