Guy de Maupassant’s House Put Up for Sale in Étretat, Normandie

By Irina

“Have you ever been to France?”
“Yes, I visited Paris.”
“Oh, that means you have never been to France…”

Two hours’ journey and three hours’ ecstasy. Étretat is a tiny town on the French Atlantic coast of Normandie with famous chalk cliffs as the main attraction. This coast is also called the Alabaster Coast of France.

Driving around in France and noticing how unlike the French provinces are to each other, we decided to go where we’ve never been before: to Normandie and Brittany.

The Arch Porte d'Aval in Etretat. Normandie, France.
The Arch Porte d’Aval in Etretat

The initial plan was to see the ruins of the Benedictine monastery in Jumièges, take a ride along the cheese and cider routes, and finally visit Mont Saint-Michel. But we managed to eat so much Camembert and Livarot during the first two days in Jumièges that we could hardly handle visiting the Cheese Farm. So we changed our route on the way and went to Normandie’s White Cliffs in Étretat.

Bright yellow carpets of rapeseed. Normandy, France.
Bright yellow carpets of rapeseed. Normandy, France.
Horse. Somewhere in Normandy. France.
Somewhere in Normandy
Chapelle Notre Dame de la Paix inside of the oak tree. Allouville, France. The oak tree is between 800 and 1,200 years old.
Chapelle Notre Dame de la Paix inside of the oak tree. Allouville, France. The oak tree is between 800 and 1,200 years old.

We knew that the famous French writer Guy de Maupassant once lived in Étretat. When we arrived, we found out that his estate called “La Guillette” was up for sale. Someone would have a perfect chance to acquire a historic property, and in an exclusive location, as well.

Étretat is located on the very edge of the Côte d’Albâtre. Upon arrival, we left our car in a parking station, unerringly came out to the sea and… stood still in delight. There were they – the White Сliffs of Étretat, notable around the world as the focus of some of the paintings of Claude Monet. He was a constant guest in Étretat. No matter what the weather, Monet took his easel, came down to the coast, and spent hours drawing.

The Cliff at Etretat, the Porte d'Aval oil on canvas, 1869. Jean Desire Gustave Courbet, French painter.
The Cliff at Etretat, the Porte d’Aval oil on canvas, 1869. Jean Desire Gustave Courbet, French painter.
The Arch Porte d'Aval in Etretat. Normandie, France.
The Arch Porte d’Aval in Etretat

The grandiosity of this part of the Normandy coast impresses to the very root of your being: the ermine white cliffs extend to the horizon; the air is oversaturated with sea salt, it seems you could even drink it; the tremendous roar of the ocean; and the relentless wind. In order to take some photos we needed to flatten ourselves to the ground like snipers. It looks like such rude winds are constant here; but they are also a part of that common impression of Étretat that gives such a thrill. A symphony of water and wind.

White chalk cliffs of Etretat, French Normandy.
White chalk cliffs of Etretat

The town of Étretat consists of only 5-10 streets and inaccessible steeps around. You really need to book hotels far in advance. Just as before, it is mainly the French themselves who come to take a rest here. Étretat is away from the standard tourist routes, and that brings a lot of advantages. The rest of French Normandie is at one with nature. This land combines a palette of color, taste, nature, and history.

Seen from the height of the cliffs, the whole beach and town spread out before the eyes. Étretat cannot be compared with its famous neighbors – Honfleur, Caudebec-en-Caux, or Deauville – for size, and only thanks to the writings of the French clerisy of the XIX century, this modest fishing village has become a fashionable and poncy resort in the north of France.

The Church of Notre-Dame in Caudebec-en-Caux is an attractively ornate church that Henry IV reputedly said was the most beautiful church in his kingdom.
The Church of Notre-Dame in Caudebec-en-Caux is an attractively ornate church that Henry IV reputedly said was the most beautiful church in his kingdom.
Etretat, Normandie, France.
Etretat, Normandie, France.
Old house in Etretat. Normandie, France.
Old house in Etretat

Many artists-impressionists before our time admired these beauties: Gustave Courbet, Eugène Boudin, Henri Matisse, Eugène Delacroix and Claude Monet, who eternalized the magnificence of the cliffs on their pictures. The composer Jacques Offenbach built his villa Orphée here. Writers such as Victor Hugo, Gustave Flaubert, Alphonse Karr, Alexandre Dumas and Guy de Maupassant resided in Étretat for long periods. Why don’t you feast your eyes on high white cliffs, laced with fancy arches, carved by the wind, the sea waves and the time?

The arch called Amont Cliffs, which is located in the north, is notable for the memorable marble Chapelle Notre-Dame de la Garde, rising above on a hill. Unfortunately the original was destroyed in World War II, so now we can only see the reconstruction. Just outside, there is a monument to two brave pilots who attempted the first continuous flight from Paris to New York, United States, through The North Atlantic in 1927. The plane was never found.

The Customs trail, laid high above the seashore on the Manneporte Arch commands a magnificent view. The lonely cliff in the water on the left is called “the Aiguille.” And of course the famous La Falaise d’Aval – Guy de Maupassant compared this cliff with an elephant, immersing its trunk into the sea.

The Alabaster Coast or Cote d'Albatre. Normandie, France.
White chalk cliffs of Etretat and the Chapelle Notre-Dame de la Garde
Sunset by Claude Monet, 1883
Sunset by Claude Monet, 1883
The Aiguille D'Etretat. Normandie, France.
The Aiguille D’Etretat

Maupassant loved this place to the depths of his soul. He had only ten years to take his place in French literature; it was more than enough. However the noisy capital had never become his real home. Many of the short stories by Guy de Maupassant, as well as the last chapters of his best novel Bel Ami, were created in Étretat.

At the age of thirty, Guy de Maupassant achieved his dream: to come back to these White Cliffs. His mother had earlier bought a plot for him and in 1883 he built a house here. The estate was called La Guillette. Maupassant deeply loved this house and his garden with strawberry beds, apple trees, poplars, and ashes. There is a boat, carved by a local woodworker, which was kept in the garden among the apple trees until modern times. Maupassant assured his guests that this boat was thrown into his garden by a sea wave.

But his happiness did not last for long. Six years later he moved to the south because of his poor health. In Côte d’Azur, Cannes, more and more frequently he had attacks of madness, and finally the last retreat of this young author was a mental institution located in the former Palace of Princess Lamballe above the Seine River. Moments of lucidity occurred less and less often, and the last act of his short life was coming to an end. Once in such a moment of clarity, a hospital attendant took poor Guy de Maupassant for a walk in the garden, where the trees descended to the very river.

“Isn’t it beautiful here, monsieur Maupassant?”

“Yes, it is,” nodded the martyr. “But there is nothing quite like the white poplars in my place in Étretat.”

It was the last hello to the native shore from his fading consciousness; no one ever heard another word from the dying Maupassant, except the rare whispering: Étretat… Étretat… Étretat…

Of course it is a sad story; you feel the transience of life deeply in such moments. Maybe some of the fans of the writer would be interested in seeing his house and remaining garden, and remember the great rake and brilliant story-teller during a visit to Étretat. But it is unlikely you would get inside Maupassant’s house, as La Guillette is private property and advertised for sale now. It is located on rue Guy-de-Maupassant, № 57.

Rest in Étretat is quiet and simple. The chalk cliffs and the beach are the only entertainments; or you could also join those desperate golf players who stubbornly keep trying to score a hole in one on an endless course, getting frozen in the rough wind.

Golf course. Etretat, Normandie, France.
Golf course

White chalk cliffs of Etretat, French Normandy.

White chalk cliffs of Etretat, French Normandy.

However, during the dead season, when the beach is almost empty, I could have spent the whole day, sitting on this large gravel beach, listening to the lapping waves and fingering the stones. It would be even better to take an interesting book and know that my Victor is there, sitting on that balcony and writing something.

Even the gravel is special: large. People say, it protects the shore from the waves and prevents destruction of the cliffs. You may find pebbles of very unusual fancy forms, but you may not collect and take away them, it is prohibited by law. The White Cliffs are in danger of erosion because of it.

White cliffs of Étretat, carved by the impatient attacks of the sea, rain and wind, attract the impressionable audience: artists, writers, and travelling tourists, who wander with acute fascination among these stony giants, some of which reach 120 meters in height. These people draw pictures here, write poems, novels, or simply press the button of their cameras, trying in vain to take away this fantastic scenery.

Gravel on the beach of Etretat. Normandie, France.

The Cliffs at Etretat, oil on canvas, Claude Monet, 1885
The Cliffs at Etretat, oil on canvas, Claude Monet, 1885.

The Aiguille D'Etretat. Normandie, France.

More about France:
Paris: Three Days of Tartare Tasting
Unbroken Oyster Season in Cancale, France

42 thoughts on “Guy de Maupassant’s House Put Up for Sale in Étretat, Normandie

  1. Amazing photos! An interesting article thank you. We recently visited the memorial Nungesser and Coli on the cliffs above Etretat – some pictures here
    It’s a stunning memorial at the place Nungesser and Coli last saw France.
    Also posted is an old postcard of the original memorial blown up in WW2. Memorial styles certainly change!
    We are glad Nungesser and Coli and their bravery are not forgotten.


  2. Guy de Maupassant saw the Eiffel Tower in its early days. He used to often have lunch on it, and stated that the reason was that it was the only place in Paris where one could not see such a eyesore on the background!


  3. What a beautiful post! A joy to read, just like the rest of your blog 🙂 Since I have visited Étretat and other small towns of the Côte d’Albâtre, I know that grandiose feeling you get when you come to the edge of the cliffs… Really a very powerful experience. If you’d like, you can take a look at my scribbles from Normandy:


      1. I understand . There will be few tourists until and if the political situation improves! Sad as that is a huge part of their economy. My architect says he doesn’t want ” to be part of anyone’s political statement!” BTW he hated Egypt , I loved it. . . Welcoming people!
        But we both , very different personalities LOVED incredible India!


          1. You are scared of India? Someone told us years again that India and Egypt are comparable in poverty. Egypt was a first developing country and I cried most of the time. There were aspects of Egyptian culture that David found very hard to take. He said he had wanted to visit all his life and after 20 minutes of his arrival he wanted out! We stayed for 10 days. Tell me exactly what you are scared of in India? I will do my best to explain how I found it. I have discovered there are only two opinions about India….either you Love it or you HATE it….nothing in between! It is not for everyone , I guess!


              1. I am interested in why you know you don’t want to visit India? Lots of Hindu people go to Veransey one of the oldest cities on earth to die and be cremated and sprinkled into the Ganga! Have you ever talked to someone who has been there…except me. . . I am a raving India lover!


                  1. Good way of doing research! I hope you will include my blog. I tried to write about unusual aspects in India and not the traffic and riding elephants etc that are usually mentioned. I have mentioned those….and the poverty. Again if you have questions…fire them my way….not that I am an expert, of course!


  4. You didn’t mention Bayeux tapestry. I hope that room is still open. For a medieval place Mont St. Michel isn’t the same since they put in the causeway. I have Maupassant’s stories, complete, but have not read them. I have read Maugham’s short stories, most of which are terrific. He held Maupassant in high regard.
    You saw beautiful, spectacular sights [good photographs] on the few clear days that Normandy has.


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