The High Normandy Chalk Cliffs: An Inspiring Geomorphosite for Painters and Novelists

  • Stéphane CostaEmail author
Part of the World Geomorphological Landscapes book series (WGLC)


The High Normandy coast specificity relies on the existence of remarkable landforms, such as white chalk cliffs and pebble beaches. Due to the low mechanical strength of chalk, these cliffs are very susceptible to erosion, and the rapid cliff retreat (~20 cm/year) threatens homes located inconveniently at the top of the cliff. Because of cumulative factors (exposure to strong west wind, beach sedimentary crisis, low altimetry of valleys), this study area of the eastern English Channel is also particularly sensitive to storm flooding. Moreover, the High Normandy cliffs, with their imposing verticality, their whiteness varying in tone with the ever-changing light and tide and their ghostly shapes, exerted also a powerful attraction to painters and novelists. One of the most famous chalk cliffs known in High Normandy, and probably in France, is Etretat. This site is remarkable because of its geological features and its very low rates of cliff erosion at a historical scale (few cm/year). The touristic site of Etretat, which has been affected by the fashion of sea bathing of the nineteenth century, has inspired painters. French writers, such as Guy de Maupassant and André Gide, also fell in love with the site, not to mention Maurice Leblanc, father of the “gentleman burglar”, Arsène Lupin, who hid the treasure of the kings of France in the “hollow stack”.


Chalk cliff Coastal erosion High Normandy Etretat Geomorphosite 


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratory of Physical Geography and Environment (UMR-CNRS 6554 LETG-GEOPHEN)University of Caen Basse-NormandieCaenFrance

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