Remarkable natural site classified as a natural area of ​​ecological, faunal and floristic interest, the cliffs of the Vaches Noires are located astride the municipalities of Houlgate, Gonneville-sur-Mer, Auberville and Villers-sur-Mer, in Calvados, Normandy . A veritable window on an era several hundred million years old, they offer precious ancient treasures to those who show patience and observation.


Cliffs older than Herod

More than 100 meters high, the cliffs of the Vaches Noires extend over more than 4 km between Houlgate and Villers-sur-Mer. The origin of their construction is 150 million years in the past, around the Jurassic era. They come from a succession of layers of different materials that have been deposited over time: there are clay, marl, chalk and marine sedimentary deposits. 

At sunrise, the cliffs of the Vaches Noires are tinged with beautiful colors. A golden brown that warms their hearts.

A remarkable natural site of fragile beauty

Over time, the cliffs have been colonized by many animal and plant species. At the top, vegetation characteristic of temperate zones has established itself. There are thorny shrubs or sea buckthorn: a perfect habitat for mammals and sedentary poultry species such as black-headed gulls, gulls or protected species such as the green woodpecker, Cetti's warbler or even the moorhen.


Did you know?

The name of the "Black Cows" would come from the words of sailors. The presence of large blocks of chalk covered with algae evoked, seen from the sea, a herd of cows grazing at the foot of the cliffs.

Made of clay, the cliffs of the Vaches Noires are, by definition, very fragile structures and sensitive to erosion. It is moreover to preserve this environment but also to protect apprentice archaeologists in search of fossils that the area was classified as a "site of scientific and landscape interest" in 1995. Although access is prohibited, the cliffs remain observable from the beach. And with their 4 km long and 100 m high, you have enough to observe with sight and binoculars.

A fossil is defined as an imprint or debris of a plant or animal species, extinct and preserved in sedimentary rock.  

A Jurassic Park in the heart of Normandy, do you believe it?

The first fossil discovered at the Vaches Noires cliffs dates from 1770. It is a Streptospondylus altdorfensis, an ancient species of carnivorous dinosaur, several meters long. 

After this discovery, many paleontologists, professionals and amateurs, took turns over the centuries to unearth, in turn, in these fragile sedimentary rocks, vestiges of a distant past. Even if nowadays, access to the cliffs is prohibited, it is still possible to unearth some fossils on the beach. 


Historical treasures at your fingertips

Erosion! This is the magic recipe for the Vaches Noires cliffs to release their secrets. You take wind, water and time. To this, you add observation, a large dose of patience and a pinch of luck. For those who have shown perseverance, the cliffs will undoubtedly deliver some fossils just under their feet.

It is good to trust the passage of time: the future always reveals its secrets to us.

Eve Belisle 

If you want to try your hand at fossil hunting, keep this in mind:

  • Excavation is prohibited but the collection of fossils at the foot of the cliffs, on the shore, is authorized
  • Treasure hunting is practiced at low or low tide. Consider looking at the tide schedule.
  • Bring good shoes, a bottle of water, sunscreen and… a magnifying glass!

A circuit to discover the cliffs of the Vaches Noires

If you want to combine paleontological discovery and sightseeing, the circuit of the Vaches Noires cliffs can be a good idea. Available for download and in the offices of our tourist offices, it is a 12 km discovery circuit that takes you to meet the cliffs.

The little extra: the circuit of the cliffs is done in both directions. Depending on the tide times, you can start with the cliffs or the heights. And on the back, is the discovery circuit of Gonneville-sur-Mer.