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I am making good progress in writing my fifth book about French travel despite the constraints of lockdown and the fact we cannot travel. This one will tour from Normandy through Burgundy, down to the Languedoc and Lot before returning north to Brittany. It spans our travels over 20 years. I will start to post more excerpt next week but please enjoy this taster from Monet’s village of Giverny
Monet’s House & Giverny
The story goes that Monet in his search for a house to accommodate his growing family set out one day from Paris by train and spotted what was then the tiny hamlet of Giverny. Standing out in the cluster of properties along Giverny’s long main street he saw from his carriage a long but low house set in surrounding scrubland. The railway line is no longer there although there was no halt in any case at Giverny so Monet walked back through the fields from Vernon to find this property. What made this building stand out was that unusually it faced away from the road towards the river. For a modern day visitor there is no inkling of the beauty behind the stark long wall on the main street. He found to his delight that this property was available for rent and the rest is history. Monet eventually purchased the house and garden and you could say it is bequeathed now to all the visitors that can experience this most magical of places.
Monet was at the time a widow after the death of his first wife and mother to his children – Camille Doncieux. Before her death however he had begun a relationship with a woman of a higher social standing than himself. Alice Hoschedé became his lady-friend as they would have been discretely known and with Camille and their children they lived as a menage for some time up until Camille’s death. At Giverny Monet and Alice set up home with his two sons and her six children although they could not marry until 1892 after the death of Alice’s husband Ernest. The house would be Monet’s delightful home for the rest of his life and he was completely devoted to the property and gardens, all becoming synonymous with his name. In front of the house lies the Clos Normand, full of flowers. The other side of the road he developed into what we see today by having the waterlily pond constructed. To achieve his aim, he was decisive and didn’t hesitate to change the landscape by diverting a branch of the Epte River. We shall visit the house and gardens more than once on our stay but first we must find our accommodation for the final leg of this trip.
La Pluie de Roses is located some way past Monet’s house as you come to the end of the village. We are welcomed after our rather fraught day collecting and driving our hire car by Philippe and Elisabeth. They couple have recently sold this gorgeous property but the current owner appears from the excellent reviews to have more than maintained their high standards. Giverny is blessed with some fine Bed and Breakfast accommodation with this property exceeding our expectations. The rooms are beautifully decorated in a style that could only be encountered in France. There are some quirky touches especially in the downstairs bathroom that is adorned with theatre posters and related photos. It could be a place to linger and read the walls. Our bedroom is sumptuous and in sympathy with the period of the house. It also has a quirky feature in that the fabulous shower has to one side a full-length plain window. You get a great view out over the village and presumably someone in the right place at the right time will get more of a view than they bargained for. The odds are in your favour due to the position of the bathroom – but you just never know. The house has a wraparound garden that is lovingly tended. The grand stone steps that lead to the French doors at the rear of the house are a very typical feature in a house of this style. It has an intimate grandeur.
The hosts do not provide an evening meal but there are some good options for dining in Giverny. We contented ourselves on this first evening with a light snack before sleeping very well, only waking with the birdsong, ready for the main event of our visit – Monet’s house and garden.
Our hosts at La Pluie de Roses have an especially useful scheme whereby they can sell you tickets to enter Monet’s house and gardens. It is only when you gain a sight off the house that you realize just how much of a life saver this is. Strolling to the front of a queue that stretches back way down the main street and gaining instant admission to the accompanying despair and groans of the waiting throngs was a great relief. Actually we did not go straight into the gardens. Just by the entrance a young newly married couple were emerging after having had some wedding photographs taken in Monet’s garden. It would be difficult to beat that for a location for your photographs. They kindly obliged while I took a couple of photographs of my own and they added a touch of glamour to the scene on this hot sunny morning.
As you pass through the entrance the gardens are on first impression slightly underwhelming. I think it is because you feel that an iconic Japanese bridge should be right there in front of you. There is no question that expectations are extremely high. Initially, however, you must make your way around a grassy section complete with discarded garden tools and a wheelbarrow before you come round to your first view of the long low house that Monet so loved. Now you are completely engrossed and drawn into this magical place that Monet created and has been lovingly maintained as an incredibly special place in France. The house is gently shaded from view by the lush growth of the trees and plants as Monet skilfully teases you to explore and find the perfect view of his house. That perhaps is to be found when you reach the main pathway leading up to the house, a view that Monet captured so well. Today that pathway is flanked by a gorgeous array of flowers in the lush borders either side of the path. One of the tricks he used, one which shows his skill not just as a painter but as a gardener, is how he leads you around the pathways to continue giving you different glimpses of the house. It is stunningly beautiful. If you have done your homework and have a love of his Giverny paintings, you will also be able to imagine and indeed expect one of his children to emerge from behind a tree or shrub or emerge from the house into the garden.
The setting for painting his young ones would have been magical and inspiring for him and you can clearly understand why he painted so many canvases of a personal nature here at Giverny. Monet also liked to take himself away and be alone in the garden. He would not have lacked for any number of beautiful subjects in the garden in front of the house. Then he could go across the railway into the Japanese garden and be quite peacefully secluded to paint the images that he is most famous for. Today the Japanese garden is reached by a short subway that takes you under the road where you are transported back in time to an atmospheric setting that is beautifully tended and familiar to anyone with the slightest knowledge of Monet’s work.
The Japanese section of Monet’s garden is a delight and very sympathetically maintained. Although the lily ponds and the ubiquitous bridges are of course the highlights you have come to see it is the secluded, tucked away parts of the garden that really delight. The area shaded by the trees with a small river of water, a rowing boat tied up by the bank waiting for Monet to step in with his easel and paints.
These atmospheric tableaux really transport your imagination back in time, giving a genuine sense of how Monet must have delighted in the construction of this gorgeous garden and then to enjoy using it to paint some of his most enduring landscapes. They are also a welcome quiet section to enjoy before embarking on the path around the Japanese garden, a path that will need a little patience to negotiate. Being one of the world’s most famous gardens you will find it busy at most times. Waiting for a loving couple to finally finish their photography on one of the famous bridges does need some tolerance on your part but it is worth the wait. The views from the bridges over the lily ponds are spectacular and do not be put off or intimidated – take your time and get the shots you want. You will be glad you endured when you get home.