Stop & Smell Giverny

While not an entirely bold statement, I have to admit Impressionism is my favorite art movement.  For as long as I can remember, I’ve been surrounded by impressionist art.  Both my parents and grandparents have a number of Paul Sawyier watercolor paintings (great Kentucky artist) throughout their homes and these served as the first form of “art” that I remember seeing.  The popularity of impressionist work continued as I grew older.  From a first grade art contest (we were asked to recreate this painting – Girl with a Watering Can – I came in second), to a Monet print at my best-friend, Becky’s house, to pop culture references in movies like Clueless, to art classes and trips to museums to see and appreciate Van Gogh, Cezanne, Degas, Manet, Cassatt, and even Seurat).

Interestingly enough, though, I had never been a huge fan of Monet.  I guess I bought into Cher’s comments in Clueless that up close it just looked like a big mess, but they never spoke to me in the same way that Renoir (my favorites are actually his landscapes), Degas (those ballerinas), Cassatt (those families), and Van Gogh (those vibrant strokes & colors).

I want to say I started coming around to the power of Monet’s paintings when we visited the Musée d’Orsay.  If you haven’t hit that museum in Paris yet, it was my favorite (because of all the impressionist art), and I highly recommend it.  Inside you can see so many variants of Monet paintings.  So many of his water lilies and his bridges.  Each one looking slightly different based on the season, time of day/light, etc.  Seeing them all together with the slight variants, I started to become a believer.  Fast forward to this past weekend, and I am a full-blown fan.

Why am I now such a huge fan?  Because we visited La Maison et Des Jardins du Claude Monet in Giverny.  Giverny is about an hour and a half outside of Paris and great as a day trip or a bookend to a trip through Normandy (we hit it on our way back, after the D-Day beaches).  The gardens are open late March through October, and I imagine the most packed in summer months.  So, if you can make it in the springtime or early fall, I think you’ll have the most successful (and least crowded) trip.

It’s a pretty and idyllic drive to Giverny, and the town itself (as well as the garden) was much larger than we had anticipated.  There’s ample (free) parking and the freedom to roam around the city once there.  The “city” is really more like one main road with a church at one end (where Monet is buried) and Monet’s house/gardens at the other end.  We purchased our tickets online, arrived close to 10am (it opens at 9:30am), and it was already pretty packed.

Monet’s gardens are split into two sections:  The Clos Normand and the Water Garden.  The Clos Normand is the large garden in front of his house (all planted when they moved there in 1883) while the Water Garden was added 10 years later when they purchased additional land on the other side of the road.  It’s hard to say which was my favorite, but probably the Water Garden.  As such, we’ll start there.  Once you enter the park, you’ll travel through an underground tunnel to the Water Garden (going under the road).  Once you emerge, you’re met with a stunning melange of colors, flowers, and trees.   A small sidewalk/path leads you around the perimeter of the pond, taking you across various bridges (including the Japanese bridge – pictured below with the purple wisterias) The “pond” if you can even call it that is huge with multiple bridges and loads of tourists.  It’s easy to see many of the inspirations for many a Monet painting here.  Unfortunately, we didn’t see any lilies on the water (maybe that’s more of a June thing?).  I was, however, surprised to find so many warm tones (yellows, oranges, reds) in the gardens, as I typically associate more of a cool palate with Monet.  Due to the rainy/cloudy day, the boat photo is the one that turned out the best.

Below is another close up picture of me (in the blue jacket) on the Japanese bridge under the wisteria.  It was gorgeous on a cold, rainy day, so I can only imagine how magical this place is in the sunlight.

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Once we’d toured the water garden, we made our way back to Clos Normand.  Somehow, this garden was more crowded than the water garden, perhaps because many of the rows were roped off, insuring only one path of movement through.  The photo below is in the middle of the garden, right outside of Monet’s front door.

With a few closeups of the flowers, I was (again) mesmerized by the melange of colors and types of flowers in the garden.  I don’t think I’ve ever see so many different flowers mixed together to make such a pretty sight.  Additionally, I’ve never seen tulips of that size.  I swear the petals were the size of my hand.

After touring the garden and inside Monet’s house (which is COVERED in Japanese art as well as other impressionist works), we decided to walk through the town toward Monet’s tomb in the churchyard of Église Sainte-Radegonde de Giverny.  There was also a bust of Monet that was along the walk, but somehow we missed it (twice).

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We opted to grab lunch at the Ancien Hotel Baudy, which was quite nice.  The menus included a little story about the hotel, which said it had become known as the American Painter hotel, as this is where many American painters who wanted to study impressionism and see Monet’s gardens would take the train from Paris and stay at this hotel, often paying for their board via paintings.  In addition to a restaurant and hotel, there is also a huge courtyard along with rose garden in the back.  If you’re passing through, we’d recommend eating here.  It was tasty.

In sum, I’d wholly recommend you make a quick day trip from Paris to Giverny.  I can’t think of many lovelier ways to see some French countryside and take in an absolutely vibrant garden.  I’m now curious how it looks throughout various seasons.  It’s also making me excited for our excursion to Amsterdam later this month!

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