There are few places in France as magical as Giverny, a quaint village that lies just 80 km from Paris. Claude Monet, the father of Impressionism, discovered this gateway to Normandy as he glanced out of a train window back in 1883. On 26 May, Expat Club travellers got a chance to discover it, too.
It was an early start for the weary travellers as we headed down the highway from Brussels. Sitting on our comfortable and roomy luxury coach, we got inspired for the visit with a 90-minute documentary about Monet that showcased his life through letters he wrote.
Soon, the rolling green hills of the French countryside greeted us as we neared Giverny. By lunchtime, we had arrived!
We walked down stone streets, past charming slate-roof buildings and homes, to LesNymphéas, French for the water lilies. The restaurant was a remarkable find with countless varieties of flowers outside the entrance.Known for its home-cooked regional food, it didn’t disappoint.
Our lunch was delicious. We feasted on tender chicken in a Calvados cream sauce with apples, and a side dish of noodles and an egg souffle, complemented by a mouth-watering apple tart for dessert.
Next on the agenda was our group tour of Monet’s gardens. After a quick walk down rustic, stone streets and alleys, we arrived at the entrance, breaking into two groups. We walked from one side of the road to the other, traveling through an underground passage that led to the world-famous Water Garden as our guide Margarita shared stories about Monet’s life. Within minutes, we were in the heart of the garden. It was like walking into a Monet painting!
A sense of tranquillity hits you as soon as you enter the garden. Maybe it’s the giant copper beech tree towering overhead, the wooden bench beckoning you to sit and take in the beauty of nature, or the quiet waters of the oval-shaped pond and its plantings.
Japanese gardens of the 17th-century provided the inspiration for Monet’s water garden, which is immediately apparent as you note an island of oversized bamboo plants along a narrow waterway, created by diverting a branch of the Epte River. The look is evocative of the Japanese woodblocks that Monet collected for decades.
It seems that every shade of green is represented in this magnificent garden with plants, trees and grasses. Native aspen and beech trees provide shade from the sun while delicate weeping willows frame the pond as they drape into the shimmering water. Walk alongside the pond and you, too, will feel inspired.
The meandering paths are flanked by colorful seasonal flowers: azaleas, peonies, irises, rare Japanese lilies, and, of course, the spectacular wisterias that envelop the infamous Japanese bridge, recognized the world over from Monet’s paintings. We were lucky! We picked the perfect time for a visit as the flowers were in full bloom. Delicate light purple and white flowers hung overhead from the bridge, falling gently toward the water and ornamental grasses. There was only one disappointment; there were so many visitors to the garden that it was difficult to get that perfect photo. We were a bit early for the full impact of the waterlilies. According to our guide, the white flowers bloom first, followed by the pink ones and later the yellow. We spotted white waterlilies, but only a handful of the pink blossoms. Still, we were not disappointed.
Next, we headed back through the tunnel to the main garden in front of Monet’s country house where he lived from 1883 to 1926. Wow! What an explosion of colour! Pinks, purples, yellows, oranges, blues, blacks and whites, all planted in tidy, geometric patterns! The garden boasts 100,000 perennials and 100,000 annuals that are replaced each year. For a list of what you can find, click here: l.
The flower garden is a stark contrast from the water garden and its soft curves and angles. Here, rows of irises planted in straight lines stand in front of Monet’s house, which is a colorful masterpiece in pink and with green trim, a departure from the traditional, dark, colors of the era. The pink shade was fashioned after colors found on the French Caribbean island of Martinique. Monet added a pergola and climbing plants so the house would blend seamlessly with the garden. It worked.
The Monet house
Monet loved colour. That’s apparent from his artwork as well as the colors he hand-picked for his home — from the soft blue of the sitting room, to the sunny yellows of the painted dining room to the royal blue and white ceramic tiles of the kitchen. And what is amazing is that everything is just as it was when Monet lived there. Don’t miss the breathtaking views from his bedroom window and the artwork there.
One of the highlights was a walk through Monet’s studio and the reproductions of his works showcasing his career. Many of the originals can be found at Musée Marmottan-Monet in Paris.
Museum of Impressionism Giverny
Monet was not a successful artist during the early years of his career. It wasn’t until the American public discovered his art that he soared to success.
At the turn of the 19th century, Giverny attracted American artists, who also began to experiment with Impressionism. So, it’s no surprise a museum celebrating American Impressionism would find its way to the village. The Musée d’Art Américain in Giverny opened in 1992 under the auspices of the Terra Foundation for the Arts. After the Foundation withdrew from the museum, it was renamed Musée des Impressionnismes Giverny and now runs under the aegis of local authorities, especially the Conseil General de l’Eure, in partnership with Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
The museum is celebrating its 10th anniversary by featuring the work of two artists: Monet and Jean-Francis Auburtin (1866-1930). Like Monet, Auburtin was a fan of Japanese art and painted scenes from Normandy. We enjoyed a guided tour through the exhibition and had a chance to see how two different artists interpreted the same scenes a generation apart.
Touring the village
After our visit to the gardens, Monet’s home and the museum, we had free time to explore Giverny. We wandered a few kilometres to the church where Monet and his family are buried. L’Eglise Sainte-Radegonde dates back to the Middle Ages. It is partially built in Romanesque style and sits at the edge of the village overlooking the Normandy hills.
A highway break
I’m not a fan of highway rest stops, but our stop on the way to Giverny is worth a mention. It may have changed my mind about the dreaded rest stop.
After a few hours on the road, we paused at Assevilliers, a rest stop extraordinaire. Accustomed to long lines at highway rest stops, we were pleasantly surprised by the speed with which bathroom lines moved. Facilities were clean and efficient. They even had super-modern hand-washing facilities with the soap, water and hairdryer functions hidden behind oversized mirrors above the sink.
The Assevilliersrest stop offered a good variety of coffee and food options and a large shop with food, beverages, reading material, French products, souvenirs and gifts. After a 45-minute break, we were back on the road.