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Is there a good way to start the new year? Celebrate midnight in style, and you wake up with a headache and a mess to tidy up, and at least one resolution broken in the first twenty-four hours. This year, with guests to entertain, we decided the headaches had to be ignored. And the mess: we decided to leave it behind.

But where to go? New Years Day was both a Sunday and a bank holiday. Northern France was closed for business. Not a museum or a restaurant to be visited. There were many small children in our party, so a walk in the forest wouldn’t be easy. That left the beach. Perfect.

I like beaches best in the dead of winter. Preferably stony, with the wind whipping salt through my hair, and a moody slate-grey sea. I am not the bikini type: for one thing, my skin fries in the heat, and another is I get bored just lying around. The beach we settled on for New Years Day was at Étretat.

Etretat, Normandy

Étretat isn’t the closest beach to Les Iris, but the 45 minute cross-country drive on narrow farm roads through open fields and villages is pretty. Étretat is famous for its alabaster cliffs, or falaises, which were painted by Monet, Courbet and Boudin among others. There is plenty of parking in town; park as close to the seafront as you can. Two famous rock formations are visible from the town. As you face the sea, to the left is the Porte d’Aval. There is a path to hike up to the top, from which a further falaise can be seen.  At the top there is also a spectacularly situated golf course.

The Cliffs at Etretat after the storm, by Gustave Courbet.

We decided to hike in the opposite direction, up the Porte d’Amont. There were some steep steps, but overall it looked a shorter climb for the children.

Etretat, Normandy

Etretat, beach and the Porte d’Amont, by Claude Monet.

It took us about 30 minutes to climb to the top. There are tables overlooking the town on the way up which would make a lovely picnic spot in warmer weather. On the clifftops, cows were grazing. There is a small church. There are no fences: hold on to your children.

Falaise, Etretat, NormandyEtretat, Normandy

A few minutes along from the church there is a path that goes a little way down towards the sea from which you can look northwards. The views of the cliffs are timeless. You feel that you have been here before, that you’ve walked into a painting. Etretat, Normandy

The town itself is attractive, with typical Norman architecture, and restaurants and boutiques (all closed, of course, on New Years Day).

Restaurant, Etretat, NormandyEtretat, Normandy

There is a small casino, a restored covered market in the main square, and a war memorial.

Flags and Market Hall, Etretat, NormandyLamp post, Etretat beach front, Normandy

But the action is centered on the seafront. The paved boardwalk has these shapely lampposts all along it. Or you can go right down onto the pebble beach, like the children did, and play in and out of the vigorous waves.

And should you find yourself here on New Years Day, bring your bikini/trunks. Because the only way to start the new year in Étretat on New Years Day is with ‘le grand frisson’ – the big chill. Baptize yourself in the frosty Atlantic waters and you start the year with a clear head and the confidence that you’ve kept at least one resolution. Then top it off by sharing a glass of champagne on the beach.

Normandie : Le grand frisson du nouvel an | Paris Normandie.

For more information about Étretat and other things to do in Normandy, visit Normandy in the Press.

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