The pretty little Norman village of Giverny is where the impressionist painter Claude Monet spent the last 40 years of his life, living in a large, picturesque house not far from the banks of the River Seine, and painting the water lilies in his Japanese garden. Having read about Giverny in a travel magazine a few months before I went to Paris, I decided it would be the perfect place for a day trip from the French capital.
Along with Monet’s house, Giverny is home to a small museum dedicated to the impressionist movement, idyllic medieval houses, and a small church where Monet and his family are buried.
The village was already heaving with tourists when I arrived late morning, with the queue to visit Monet’s house and gardens stretching down the street. After around half an hour’s wait, I made my way inside.
Monet’s house boasts two impeccable gardens – Clos Norman, which lies behind the painter’s house, and a Japanese water garden, which is on a patch of land the other side of the road to Clos Norman.
Clos Norman (above and below) is enormous and packed with flowers and plants. The flowers include poppies and roses in various shades of pink and purple, as well as purple alliums. The huge number of plants and flowers means the perfectly curated garden has quite a wild feel to it.
At the bottom of the garden, there’s an underpass that takes you to the Japanese garden. It’s a secluded spot, with lots of bamboo, and green and orange plants and flowers. In the centre is the famous pond dotted with white and pink water lilies (below), which is book-ended by two Japanese-style footbridges.
While the garden is undeniably beautiful, visiting it wasn’t a pleasant experience, largely because it was chock-full of people blocking the paths while posing for photos. I don’t mind people taking photos, we all like to have a reminder of the places we’ve been, but I have found myself getting increasingly annoyed by how selfish people are.
Places like Giverny are becoming full of people who think nothing of spending ages posing for photos with complete disregard for anyone else, knowing full well they’re ruining the experience for others. And worst of all, I often get the impression they have no interest in the places they’re visiting, beyond being able to show off they’ve been there.
Rant aside, the garden would be an idyllic place if there was no-one else there and it’s easy to see why Monet was so inspired by it. The water lilies are delightful and the edge of the pond is lined with willow trees, their long wispy branches dancing over the water, which added to its charms.
Having looked around the gardens, I made my way inside Monet’s house (below). The large country house is full of light and airy rooms, and as far as I could tell, none of the rooms were off-limits to visitors. I toured the sitting room, Monet’s studio, various bedrooms and the kitchen.
The dining room was painted a glorious sunny yellow, while the blue kitchen featured a spectacular blue and white tiled cooker, and copper pans lined the walls. The house was a little art gallery unto itself with paintings by Monet’s fellow impressionists, as well as numerous Japanese works of art, adorning the walls.
From Monet’s house, I strolled through the village to the Musée des Impressionnismes (above), a small gallery dedicated to the impressionist movement. Much of the museum was dedicated to a sizeable exhibition marking the gallery’s 10th anniversary, which compared the works of Monet with those of Jean-Francis Aubertin, a younger contemporary of Monet’s.
Monet and Aubertin painted many of the same locations, particularly around Brittany (the Belle-Île was especially popular) and Normandy, and the exhibition featured several examples of the two artists’ works of the same location side-by-side.
Aubertin was a good painter, but I felt his works were outshone by Monet’s, who came across as the superior artist. Most of the works featured were by Aubertin, rather than Monet, but I didn’t mind as I wasn’t aware of Aubertin before the exhibition and liked his style.
The gallery’s permanent collection is housed in a room downstairs , which turned out to be disappointingly small, and I can’t say the pieces were all that remarkable. I also wasn’t sure you could class any of them as belonging to the impressionist movement (but that could be down to my lack of art history knowledge!). While the exhibition about Aubertin and Monet was interesting, the rest of the museum was a bit of a let down.
After my visit to the museum, I ambled through Giverny, strolling through the gorgeous medieval part of the village until I reached the church at the far end, where I stopped to take a look around.
The Sainte-Radegonde Church in Giverny is a small, typical parish church and is noteworthy for being home to the Monet family tomb. There’s also a memorial commemorating a crew of British airmen whose plane crashed near Giverny during the Second World War.
I enjoyed my day out in Giverny, it’s a lovely little place, and Monet’s house and gardens are enchanting. But I was taken aback by how busy it was – I’ve been going to France every year since I was a baby, and this is the first time I’ve noticed such huge visitor numbers outside Paris. That being said, it’s an exquisite part of the world, and one which has given me a much greater appreciation for Monet’s works.
It’s easy to get to Giverny from Paris. Trains leave the Gare Saint-Lazare every couple of hours and take around 55 minutes to get to Vernon-Giverny station. From there, a shuttle bus or tourist train will take you the 20 minutes or so to Giverny, which is the other side of the Seine to Vernon. I took the train, which cost €8 for a return ticket, and includes a mini-tour of the historic town of Vernon before arriving in Giverny.
Avoid taking a rucksack with you to Giverny, even if it’s really small. My rucksack was tiny and caused problems everywhere – I was told by a very stern woman at Monet’s house that I had to wear it on my front and only just got away with being allowed to wear it on my front at the Musée des Impressionnismes.
If you’re planning to visit Monet’s house and gardens, as well as either the Musée des Impressionnismes, the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris or the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris, you can buy a combined ticket, which will save you money.