Paris is lovely but…
Paris is undeniably a beautiful city. As a teenage Francophile, I’d always dreamed of visiting Paris. When I finally got the chance, I was bowled over. I loved Paris – the museums, the French architecture, the diverse people. The city is indescribably enchanting.
Paris isn’t the only delight to experience in France, though. In fact, you could argue that non-Paris France is lovelier than the capital. I got my first taste of the “rest of France” when I took a day trip to Giverny.
Getting out of the city and getting to Giverny
I was visiting Paris with my friend, Grace. She was more interested in the Giverny tour than I was at first. If it had been up to me, our one day outside of Paris would’ve been spent at Versailles. I still feel a small twinge of regret that I’ve never seen Versailles, the political and historical nerd that I am. When I recall the sight of Monet’s gardens in full bloom, though, I get over it.
Grace managed to convince me, so we went with Giverny over Versailles. We booked a day-long bike tour. Giverny was home to famous French painter Claude Monet. The house and gardens where he lived and worked from 1883-1926 are open for visitors. The village of Giverny isn’t the most accessible, so our tour included a two-hour bus ride (one-way) from central Paris.
After dozing on the bus – a feat made easier after struggling to listen to our tour guide’s ceaseless trickle of facts on Monet’s life and work – we arrived in the town of Vernon. Vernon is the closest city to Giverny.
A picture-perfect picnic
As it was around lunchtime when we arrived, our guide pointed us to the local boulangerie, épicerie, and charcuterie. We were to buy provisions from each shop to supply ourselves a picnic. There was also a local restaurant for the folks less inclined to eat outside on the ground. Grace and I wanted to feel “French”, so we opted for buying fresh sandwich ingredients from each place to take on our picnic.
With lunch secured, our guide led us to a garage where the bikes were kept. After everyone on the tour was given a bike and a quick traffic lesson, we rode off toward the river, away from town. We parked on the banks of the Seine – yes it’s the same one, just further north – to have lunch. With our bikes, baguettes, and the picturesque Vieux-Moulin close by, we felt indefatigably French. We were already giddy, and it was only noon.
After lunch, we mounted our bikes and followed our guide about 4 kilometers through the countryside to Giverny. The weather was perfect for an unhurried bike ride. Grace and I marveled at the cottages that dotted the bike path, imagining what it could be like to live there.
Once in Giverny, on the main road rue Claude Monet, we hooked up our bikes and our guide turned us loose. There were a few restaurants, auberges, cafés, and art ateliers to accommodate the tourists for Monet’s gardens. We were left to wander among these places and at our designated time, enter the Monet site.
Monet’s house and gardens
The gardens are more impressive than the house. But the house is unique and downright quirky in its own right. The rooms are all bright, playful colors, throwing visitors into a real-life painting. The house couldn’t stand alone as an attraction as the gardens could, though. Wandering the paths around the pond, gazing at the trees, flowers, and the famous lily pads, it’s easy to see how Monet was inspired.
The house and gardens were restored as closely as possible to what they resembled during Monet’s time there. During renovation in the 1970s, the curator of the site conferred with contemporaries of Monet, including a prominent gardener, to reconstruct it faithfully. He even planted the same flower species that Monet grew.
The serenity that I’m sure Monet drew from spending time in his gardens is a bit lessened with the number of tourists walking around. Nevertheless, you can find a quiet place to sit and relax, or snap the perfect photo of the Japanese bridge if you’re patient.
Giverny and Monet’s gardens are a must-see
To say that the whole day was an absolute pleasure would be an understatement. To say that we took too many photos in Monet’s gardens would also be an understatement. It was great to get out of the bustling city and stretch our legs on a leisurely bike ride. It was great to see part of France that wasn’t Paris.
I was in awe of Paris practically every moment we were there. What stuck in my mind more than anything else, though, was the day trip to Giverny. This small slice of French culture was the impetus for my return to and living in France the following year. I wanted more of the “rest of France.” I certainly got it, but that’s a story for another time.
Want to visit Monet’s gardens? It’s open 7 months out of the year, from April through October. You can visit every day from 9:30 am to 6:00 pm. Check the website for more info.