Giverny is the picturesque little village that inspired artists such as Monet, Renoir and so many others over the years. It’s situated on the right bank of the river Seine where it intersects with the river Epte. The village is 74km or 46 miles northwest of Paris on the border between the regions of Ile-de-France and Normandy.
Giverny has existed as a settlement since Neolithic times. Any history buff will appreciate what’s been unearthed there over the years such as treasures dating from Gallo-Roman times and even earlier artifacts from the 1st and 2nd centuries AD.
Even today the village remains small and rural with a modest year round population of less than 400 inhabitants. Interestingly, when Monet set down roots here in 1883 there were only 301 residents. That’s not to say that the village is not teaming with tourists seeking inspiration from the beautiful surroundings and of course Monet’s house and garden. This is especially so in the spring and summer months.
Paris is a busy place, so it was only natural that I would want to break up the trip with a little three-day excursion to this seemingly storybook village. As luck would have it, we found the most amazing bed and breakfast called, “La Dime De Giverny” which was perfectly situated only a short walk to the Monet Gardens.
Did I mention I love to walk? All the places I will mention below were accessed on foot or bicycle which was really wonderful.
GETTING THERE FROM PARIS
Taking less the one hour, it’s easy to travel to Giverny from Paris via the SNCF train. Departing from the Paris-Gare-St-Lazare station you arrive at the town of Vernon, which is only 5km from Giverny. On arrival you’ll have a few options to get to Giverny. You can take a taxi from the stand outside the station for around 13 euros or, a shuttle bus for 4 euros each direction.
If you’re feeling ambitious, you can walk or rent a bicycle and travel along the old railroad path located just behind the pharmacy. It’s a very pleasant ride or walk along this trail that is almost entirely flat and away from traffic. This trail leads directly to the Monet house and surrounding restaurants and shops. If you choose the bicycle option, you’ll find two cafes located just outside Vernon station that rent bicycles for around 12 euros per day, the Restaurant du Chemin de Fer telephone +33 232 211601 or the Les Amis de Monet telephone +33 232 515516.
WHERE WE STAYED – “LA DIME DE GIVERNY”
La Dime de Giverny was originally constructed in the 13th century to house the tithes (dime) which was a tax collected by the Catholic clergy. The church of Giverny, which was constructed in the 11th century is only a short 1 or 2 minute stroll from La Dime. In the early days Catholics were required to tithe one tenth of all their cattle and crop, which was then transported to the barn at La Dime. The barn served as temporary storage to protect the goods from the elements prior to being redistributed to the secular clergy of the abbey of Saint-Ouen. This practice ceased after the French revolution and the barn lost its secular utility transforming it into a simple farm building.
Over the many years since it was last used as a collection house for the church, La Dime has enjoyed a rich history of ownership from some very noteworthy individuals. However, it eventually fell into disrepair and was abandoned for 20 years prior to its purchase by the current owners in 2014. These new owners, a husband, wife and their three children painstakingly restored this fantastic old property into the magnificent Bed and Breakfast that it is today.
To say I was fortunate to have found such a wonderful and inviting place to stay during my visit to Giverny seems like an enormous understatement. It truly felt like I had stepped onto the pages of a romantic fairytale!!! The setting was absolute perfection with lush gardens, manicured grounds, old timbers and stone buildings everywhere you looked. So much has been preserved to reflect the period it was built in that I could almost envision the ghosts of priests walking back and forth in front of me while I enjoyed a glass of wine from the open-air courtyard of the estate. Even our room completed this fairy tale setting with a claw foot tub and lovely Juliette balcony.
The church even has a graveyard for those brave and curious souls looking to find a connection with the past inhabitants of this place. Although graveyards are not places I like touring through... those who do, will be happy to know that the tomb of Monet is located here.
WHERE WE ATE
My favourite thing to do in Giverny was to picnic, but there are a few cafes and coffee shops dotted along the main street leading to Monet’s Garden. Each one is quaint and full of atmosphere, my favourite and most noteworthy in my opinion is Hotel Baudy. It has a very reasonably priced traditional French menu and everything we tried was prepared flawlessly! I think my two favourite items had to be the Duck Leg Confit with Root Vegetables and the Salade Normande which consisted of apples, grapes, walnuts, duck breast and duck fois gras…they were both DIVINE. If you’re not in the mood for such traditional fare, they do offer steak and good old French fries too lol. The service was very friendly and dare I say even a little cheeky. You must be sure to get a picture with Antoine Poplimont, he’s one of the servers there and is easy to spot with his traditional waxed moustache.
The Hotel Baudy has quite an interesting history. It was once just a simple nineteenth-century roadside café owned by Angelina and Gaston Baudy. It became a favourite place for Monet, Manet, Cezanne, Renoir, Cassatt and many others who met there to discuss their paintings. Oh, if those walls could talk!!!!!. Behind the restaurant is an ancient rose garden complete with meandering pea gravel paths where these legendary painters would bring their easels to paint the blooms that flourished there in May and June. Many of their paintings were finished in the tiny studio located within the rose garden. That little crumbling vine covered building which was built in 1887 is the perfect example of “the perfection of imperfection.” It really is the most inspiring space and I could have stayed there for hours!
CLAUDE MONET’S HOUSE AND GARDENS
For forty-three years Claude Monet called this inspiring place home. It was such a surreal feeling to look out at the very same gardens I’ve seen so many times on everything from paintings to postcards. To think that my eyes were looking at exactly the same scenery that inspired this master to create his own unique style of painting that went on to inspire so many others was awesome. As interesting as his garden was, I found the humbleness of his home even more appealing. I got the impression (no pun intended) that this was a complex man who enjoyed the simplicity and beauty in ordinary everyday things. His bright yellow dining room which was adjacent to a blue and white kitchen is a must see for foodies and art lovers alike. Even everyday items like his copper pots were hung like pieces of art to be admired.
As I continued wandering throughout his home I kept trying to put my finger on what set this man apart. I then came upon the studio room where he did a lot of his painting. His masterpieces were hung on every wall from floor to ceiling and many of them were of the gardens right outside the window of his studio. In this room, it was easy to see that Monet was a man of passion…passion for beauty, life and colour. Visiting his home reconfirmed what I’ve always known about life… finding ones passion often reveals true genius. That passion is what I think set Monet apart. What an amazing experience!!!!
As I mentioned earlier, the train from Paris stops in Vernon, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to chat about this town as well. While Vernon is not a place I would ever put on my list of, “must see places while in France” it does have some endearing attractions that are certainly worth seeing when you are there. First, I have to mention THE OLD MILL, it’s a 14th century timber house balancing on two piles that belonged to the medieval bridge that once connected Vernon with Vernonet. If you’ve ever scrolled through pics of Normandy, I can almost guarantee you’ve seen a picture of this structure.
A short stroll away from the OLD MILL is the CHATEAU DES TOURELLES. It was built in the 1800’s as a keep.
Right in the heart of Vernon is a large church that was built between the 11th and 16th centuries called COLLEGIALE NOTRE-DAME DE VERNON. Monet painted this particular church several times during his lifetime.
Right next to the church is a building, which was erected in the 14th century called MAISON DU TEMPS JADIS. It’s particularly striking with its numerous wonky timber frames and leaded glass windows. It now houses a tourist office where you can buy tickets for Monet’s gardens…I highly recommend doing this because in peak season the ticket lines can be very long.
Another interesting structure in Vernon is TOUR DES ARCHIVES, it’s an almost exact replica of the Joan Of Arc Tower that is 60km to the north. Unfortunately, you can’t go inside unless you are lucky enough to find a tour that has permission enter.
Vernon also has a quaint little market on Saturday mornings. It's the perfect place to find everything you need to set up your own little picnic. As with all the markets in France, everything is beautifully displayed and is of the best quality. I have to admit, outdoor markets are perhaps one of my favourite things about travelling anywhere in Europe.
I'm so glad that I chose to include Giverny on our list of places to see while in France. It was such a wonderful, relaxing and inspiring place. There is no doubt that when I return to France again I will be spending more time there.
Feel free to leave comments or ask questions about our experience in Giverny below. I'd be happy to chat with you!!!