Monday, May 16, 2011



Waterlilies. Gardens. Rouen Cathedral. Welcome to Monet Country. A short drive from Paris, and with a reliable GPS, you can find the small and quaint French village of Giverny, near the banks of the Seine (Monet actually had its waters diverted to build his now-so-famous lily pond). On a lovely warm sunny weekend in May, you will also find about a million tourists – but don’t be deterred. The house and garden are wonderful. I was assured that the gardens were at their wonderful best on this particular weekend, and in a riot of cottage confusion everything seemed to be in bloom. Purple iris. Lovely yellow iris. Roses. Peonies. Pansies. Sweet William. Rhododendrons. Jasmine. Tulips. [Insert many others whose names I don’t know]. The excellent artistry of the plantings, carefully co-ordinated and contrasted, made the gardens look like, well, a painting.

One enters Monet’s realm through – you guessed it – the gift shop, which does have the added allure of copies of many of his waterlily paintings, just to get you in the mood. Then, as the pretty, artfully rural garden comes into view, sloping gently away, you meet the chickens in the chicken coop. One would of course have chickens at one’s country house, n’est ce pas? The flowers climb over pergolas and archways, line the paths, are broken up by patches of lawn, set off by an artfully-placed rustic wooden wheelbarrow.
But then you can go indoors, to Monet’s house. His studio is the big, well-lit room at the end, with canvasses all over the walls, an inviting window seat, a door to the garden, an easel at the ready. The bedroom upstairs has windows opened wide to the warm day, the ivy, the bees. My favourite room, though, is the yellow kitchen-dining room – not a formal dining room, but a pleasant rustic table, a big one, surrounded by plenty of chairs for family and friends. A great blue-tiled kitchen with copper pots and pans leads off, but the eating room, with its splendid yellow, is so inviting.

But wait – there’s more. Walk down to the bottom of the garden (where I am sure there are fairies) and you can find a path (under the road which now bisects the property – ugh) to the famous lily pond. Wonderful plantings, great garden planning – Monet planned the original garden himself – and, of course, the famous Japanese bridges: all evoke those oh-so-famous Impressionist canvasses. Of course, today your mind’s eye will have to delete the hoards of summer visitors, but it isn’t too difficult. The bridges, those lovely low-arched structures, are at this time of the year shrouded in ivy, wisteria, jasmine and admiring people.

Japanese bridge, water lily pond

After your visit to the house and gardens, you might like to pause at one of the little cafes or bistros in Giverny and try the Normandy specialities (cheeses, terrine) and a glass of local cider. Refreshed, continue on your tour of the delightful villages of Normandy – Forets de Lyons, Verdot, Les Andelys. At Petit des Andelys I can highly recommend Le Chaine d’Or if you would like a room for the night overlooking the Seine, overlooked yourself by a Richard Coeur de Lyon ruined medieval castle beetling on the ridge above the town. Dinner, with the doors open wide to the Seine and a beautiful Spring dusk gently falling, wonderful food, local cheese, some excellent French vin....ah, yes. The French countryside. You’ll understand Monet’s inspiration.

One of Monet's many interpretations of his garden.

Annette locator: Giverny

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