Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Spring flowers and glorious gardens

A few years ago on an autumn trip to France, I planned a trip to Giverny to visit Monet's gardens. I even bought a ticket to the museum when I visited the Orangerie Museum in Paris. Unfortunately when the day came to take the 45 minute journey out to Vernon, I was really unwell and ended up spending the day quietly in the Luxembourg Gardens instead.

But when I finally got there and stood in the dew soaked gardens of Monet's house and looked at the mass of spring flowers under a  deep blue sky, I couldn't be anything but grateful for that upset stomach a few years ago. Spring time in Giverny is absolutely breathtaking.

I caught an early train out of Paris and arrived at the village in time for the opening and headed straight to Monet's house and garden to beat the crowds that were enjoying a Sunday trip out of the city.  

Monet moved to Giverny in 1883 and lived in the house for the last 43 years of his life with his second wife and eight children in their combined family. He loved gardens as much as he loved painting and apparently he conceived a plan of how they should look and spent a lot of time having things constructed the way he liked. He was entranced by the light and the colours and reflections on the water - and we all know how famously that enjoyment turned out.

My first stop at the site was to walk through the house. Going through historical houses can often be a frustrating experience. You are crammed in with crowds of people, you can't touch anything and often the places feel so sterile that you can't imagine anyone has ever really lived there. But the proportions of Monet's house are surprising and the colour and furnishings really give it a wonderful feel. The studio sitting room on the ground floor is full of light and hung with paintings and the you can see that the large yellow dining room was used by families for the riotous dinners that were cooked in the blue kitchen. Upstairs, the light airy bedrooms have huge picture windows that look out into the gardens below.

The gardens themselves were an absolute delight to wander through. Around the house are the lawns, walkways and kitchen gardens. Then you walk down some stairs and through a walkway to get to the famous water gardens. There are pathways around the outside of the water garden where you can wander alongside a fast-moving stream that is set with cherry trees before you take the inside pathway into the pond.

Pansies, violas, tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, apple trees, cherry trees and hundreds of other flowers I couldn't identify - they were all there and all blooming furiously. The only thing that wasn't actually in flower were the water lilies on the pond itself.

It's slightly surreal to see the green Japanese bridge and the weeping willows draping gently into the water that featured in so many of the most well known paintings of the Impressionist era. I sat on a bench and tried to imagine what it must have been like when it was just the private home of a family but there were just too many gasping tourists to be able to really see it. I think that the tribe of gardeners who care for the property probably have one of the best jobs in the world to be able to work in such beautiful surroundings.

I spent the rest of the day wandering around the village of Giverny. There is also the Museum of Impressionists, artists studios, restuarants and private homes. At the end of the village is the church where Monet and his wife are buried and there is also a monument to some soldiers who crashed their plane near the village during the Second World War. 

Between the perfect spring weather, beautiful surroundings and fabulous flowers, I had a perfect visit to Giverny and I won't forget it in a hurry. It's certainly been one of the highlights of my trip so far.


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