In the footsteps of the Impressionists on the Alabaster Coast of France

Claude Monet’s paintings of the Alabaster coast in Normandy, and in particular Etretat, are hung on the walls of the most prestigious art museums throughout the world. (Above: Etretat painted by Monet in 1885, now hangs in the Musee des Beaux Arts, Dijon). Monet spent time in the Etretat fishing village in February of 1883. He painted over twenty views of the beach, capturing different perspectives, various weather conditions and changing lights from different times of day.

But Monet was not the only impressionist to be spellbound by the dramatic white chalk cliffs on the Alabaster coast. Other impressionism painters like Gustave Courbet, Berthe Morisot, Eugene Boudin and Camille Pissarro also felt inspired to capture the seascapes of the Alabaster coast on to their canvases.

Once you visit the Alabaster coast yourself, it is easy to understand how the painters derived so much inspiration from these amazing cliffs, nature’s sculptured wonders, the result of thousands of years of thrashing seas and roaring winds.

The Alabaster Coast

Monumental cliffs loom over a sandy beach on the coast of Normandy France

The Alabaster Coast, also known as Côte d’Albâtre, is 130km in length. Its name is derived from the alabaster white limestone, making the cliffs white in appearance.

This gorgeous coastline begins at Cap de la Hève and ends at the Bay of the Somme. The Alabaster coast is dotted with charming fishing villages and seaside resorts. However, the most well-known villages are Etretat, Fécamp and Dieppe.

Things to do in the Alabaster Coast

Visit Etretat

The most famous of all the towns on the Alabaster coast is the magnificent town and beach of Etretat. The little town of Etretat, once a fishing village, has drawn the artists for centuries and later photographers from across the globe.

Thousands of pictures of Etretat can be found on the Web. However, nothing compares with viewing this coastline with your very own eyes. It is incredible.

Take your time and walk along the many trails. Each trail provides you with different perspective for viewing the white, chalky cliffs and the incredible rock formations. If you only have time for one trail, make sure you hike up to the cliff top so that you get those fantastic bird’s-eye views from above. If you’re fit, climb the 341 steps to the chapel and monument, as the views from there are magnificent as well.

Etretat town is charming and worth exploring. You will see beautiful half-timber buildings that are typical of the Normandy region. The small streets are dotted with quaint shops selling local specialties and souvenirs. Also there are many fresh and delicious seafood restaurants serving the daily catch from the sea.

Visit Dieppe – the oldest Seaside Resort in France

Busy market place in a street lined with tall houses in the port town of Dieppe, Normandy, France

It would be a shame to visit the Alabaster Coast without popping into Dieppe. Dieppe is the closest beach to Paris and is lively throughout the year. Historically, this town was the first seaside resort in France during the 19th century. It was here that the aristocracy discovered the summer leisure-time activity of sunbathing and swimming.

Today, Dieppe has a beautiful and lively port, lined with fresh-from-the-sea restaurants. The small town is also known for its stunning architecture, beautiful beaches, lovely churches and extensive maritime history. It also has one of the best markets in France.

The GR21 Hiking Trails on the Alabaster Coast

Claude Monet's painting Impression Sunrise, Le Havre which gave birth to the term impressionism

The GR21 hiking trail on the Alabaster coast is 186km long. The trail begins in Le Havre and ends in Le Tréport. On this beautiful trail, you will see the best of Normandy’s beautiful white cliff coastline, its luxuriant green countryside, centuries old architecture and World War II sites.

You don’t have to hike the entire length. You can choose to hike sections only (according to location, difficulty and length). All the GR21 trails are clearly indicated with red and white markings and detailed maps can be obtained in the tourist offices in Normandy.

If you decide to walk a multi-day hike, it is easy to find accommodation and food supplies in the villages en route. There is no better way than experiencing the magnificent scenery of the Alabaster coast than walking this fantastic trail

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