SOLO TRAVEL DESTINATION – 3 DAYS IN GIVERY, FRANCE
One of my favourite solo travel destinations is Giverny, France. It’s the perfect place to slow down and stay a few days. The guidebooks say you can “do” Giverny in half a day by public transportation or a taxi from Paris. I encourage you to stay for a night or two. La Maison et Jardin de Monet is the home and inspiration for Monet’s water lily masterpieces. His gardens were as much of his artistic creations as his paintings, there really wouldn’t be one without the other.
I visited Giverny for the first time last year and stayed for two nights. Giverny was on my itinerary because I wanted to see Monet’s garden and who doesn’t want to see the gardens that he created and inspired him to paint over 200 paintings which included his favourite subject water lilies. I’m not sure why I’m drawn to Monet’s Garden but I am. I had previously spent nine weeks in London learning the art of street photography and while I was there, I was wondering about my true photography and travel priorities.
One of the moments that I remember clearly occurred at the National Gallery in London, in this moment I realized that I’m an enthusiast of impressionist art. I no longer wandered the hallways of art galleries to glance at paintings that were extraordinary but did not inspire me, now as I travel, I seek out exhibitions of impressionism with a focus on Claude Monet’s work.
Arrival in Giverny – 45 minutes from Paris
As a solo traveller I’m a believer that the arrival at a destination always sets the tone for an incredible visit. To find out why check out my Travel Safe blog.
Solo travel to Giverny is easy and safe, take the train from the Saint Lazare Station in Paris and travel 75km to Vernon and then take the local bus the final 4km from Vernon to Giverny. Another option to reach Giverny is to drive or if you are lucky, your B&B host in Giverny will pick you up. My arrival in Giverny was in very good hands with the beautiful weather, colourful flowers and my amazing B&B hosts. Imagine arriving at the bus station in Vernon, the gateway to Giverny and being met by your B&B host Gilbert, an elderly gentleman wearing a blue jacket and driving a blue car. We didn’t speak the same language but as a traveller, communication can be made with a smile and kind gestures. I was immediately happy with my choice to return to Giverny for a few days.
Marie and Gilbert’s B&B
Gilbert and I arrived in the driveway of their home, I remember this beautiful two story blue and white house from my wanderings last year. Marie and their grandson Oscar, came around the corner from the backyard to greet me and show me around, this was to be my home for the next three nights. Walking towards the back of the house, there were beautiful flowers everywhere including bushes of pink roses and grapevines. My accommodation was beautifully decorated in blue and white with both French and Italian touches. Absolutely spotless which is very important to me, a desk, local information, a kettle with coffee/tea and some cookies, lovely linens and an awesome bathroom (showers are also important to me), my space had lots of window light and the best part was a lovely private patio to enjoy my morning coffee or a glass of wine in the evening. That was the bedroom part of B&B.
The breakfast at my B&B was a welcome start to each day. I was so happy to receive a full pot of coffee each morning because as a Canadian, I do enjoy my morning coffee. Breakfast included fresh squeezed orange juice, just baked croissant and baguette along with a variety of cheese, meats and preserves, cereal and a few other extras. My favourite part of breakfast was the pungent camembert cheese, absolutely delicious.
5 Unique Ways to Experience Monet’s Legacy
The guidebooks give Giverny a half day but I recommend a minimum of 2 days. I have no desire to “hit and run” to/from a place that I have flown so far to see and experience. Here in Giverny you have the opportunity to feel the space that Monet spent his last 40+ years of life, the space where he created “Les Nymphaes”. Giverny is where he created his masterpieces and a community where other great artist’s came to play. He created a legacy because here we are, on a journey to experience what he has left for us, to discover our own inspiration.
Here are five unique ways to experience Monet’s legacy:
View Monet’s Masterpieces before you arrive in Giverny.
Visit Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris and experience Les Nymphéas de Claude Monet in person, observe the light and the seasons from a distance and then close up and remember this once you arrive at the gardens in Giverny.
Visit the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris. This museum holds the largest collection of Monet masterpieces in the world.
Are you an artist? Painter? Photographer?
Ask your B&B host to buy you a ticket for an evening in the gardens. From 6pm to 8pm, you can explore, paint or photograph the gardens without the daytime crowds. This is the perfect experience to reflect and to create your own moment and masterpiece and truly a moment you will not soon forget.
There is also a possibility of registering for a gardening internship at Les Jardins de Monet but you must plan months ahead of time for this opportunity. Contact the Munn Volunteer Program at Fondation Claude Monet to submit your application to be a gardener for a day or a week.
The Garden’s Flowers and Seasons
Check out the website for Le Fondation Claude Monet for all of the practical information to visit the gardens but also to learn about the specific flowers and seasons in the garden. So much information is available on their website and will provide you with a depth of knowledge and understanding of this outstanding garden and its changing seasons.
Change your Perspective
Monet’s garden is magnificent with so many trees, flowers and pathways that it can be overwhelming to take it all in. My suggestion is to change your perspective, slow down, sit on a bench, close out the sounds and sights of other people and get closer. Take a closer look at the flowers and what do you see? The centre of a flower is complex and has incredible patterns, subtle changes in colour and fascinating details. Watch for the insects too, there is so much activity going on in this magical garden world created by Monet.
My Favorite Moments in Giverny
Two Artist Evenings and One Daytime visit to Les Jardins de Monet
Let’s face it, I was in Giverny to have the opportunity to explore Monet’s garden once again and to observe the changing light during the day into the evening. The tickets are reasonably priced at 10.20€ for the day and 9.00€ for the evening ticket.
August gardens in Calgary were beginning the end of their season after a summer of heat, sunshine and no rain so I had low expectations for the gardens of Giverny. Early morning with my ticket in hand for my first visit, I went to the side entrance to see Monet’s world once again. I was happily surprised to be greeted by a world of flowers, alive with colour and beauty, layers of growth taller than me. I couldn’t wait to explore up and down every pathway and especially to see the Japanese water garden in full summer bloom. And so began, two days immersed in the beauty of Les Jardins de Monet.
The interaction of the sunshine, clouds, shadow, shade and seasons make each visit to the gardens unique. Bright sunshine is very sharp and limits the reflections in the water garden but provides fantastic light for capturing images among the flowers and greenery but a cloudy day is best for capturing images of the reflections in the water garden.
I had lots of time to enjoy the gardens over the next two days but I was guilty of trying to capture everything I saw immediately with my camera, my phone and video. I took a complete and quick walk around the gardens to see what caught my eye for my evening of Monet inspired photography. And then I took a breath and a moment to take in the reality of this remarkable experience that I would enjoy for a second time, I was in the impressionist master’s garden by myself.
I am captivated by floral beauty, in the spring there are tulips, blossoming trees and the incredible variations of “spring” or “young” colours of green. In the summer, there was a kaleidoscope of dahlias along with deeper and mature shades of green. As my attention became more immersed in the garden, I was slowing down and started to carefully make choices of composition and floral subject. My most cherished images are the ones that I capture in moments of photographic brilliance, the dragonfly with a dot of white behind him, getting down low and capturing perfect reflections of the mature lily pads, the willow tree reflections or the perfect image of floral details and colour.
Visiting with my B&B host Marie
My B&B hosts Marie and Gilbert were fantastic. They seemed to have an understanding on how to operate their B&B, Gilbert would run errands and Marie would be busy with guest relations, making breakfast, ensuring that everything was going well or if anything was needed. As I was the guest, I can only say that this was a fantastic place to stay.
There are times when I wish that I was fluent in the language of where I am travelling. In general, I can get around with English (of course), Norwegian, Spanish and some French. I needed to have a conversation with Marie because my schedule had changed and I would be leaving a day early to attend another engagement. I wasn’t sure how I would communicate this change and be very clear that I was happy with my stay too. Between my limited French and google translate I was able to explain my situation and from there the conversation continued.
Marie and I talked about family, growing up, kids, war, careers and lots of other things. These are the true highlights of travelling and these are moments where strangers connect. My honest recommendation is to start learning a bit of the language of the country that you will be travelling to, it doesn’t matter if you are fluent but it makes a difference to try to communicate in the local language. Remember to smile and laugh as you do your best to speak the language.
Sunrise Hike above Giverny
It was still dark when I left my B&B to take the short hike to the area above the village of Giverny and watch the sunrise. Although the colours in the sky were not spectacular, it was all about the details as the soft sunlight gradually moved across the late summer farm fields, seeing the distant Seine River flowing through the valley and a half timbered home peeking through the trees. I caught a glimpse of a hot air balloon further down the valley hoping it would come closer.
There are several hiking trails just above the village which start through the neighbourhoods and then along the trail among the farmer’s fields. I couldn’t see any cows, but they were definitely in the area and last year there were horses. While I was busily photographing the landscape two gentlemen passed by with their walking poles in hand likely following the trail to and from the nearby town of Vernon, about 6 km away.
Now it was time to return to my B&B and enjoy a hot cup of coffee, breakfast and then head over to the gardens for a few more hours.
Cycling to Vernon for an Afternoon of Exploring
Last year I walked the 6km from Giverny to Vernon and return. The trail is a flat and direct pathway, there was once a train that travelled through the valley but it is no more and the community has replace the tracks with a walking/bike path. I didn’t have a chance to explore Vernon the previous year because I ran out of time so this I planned to ride a bike with a plan to explore the old town. Be sure to rent a bike or if you’re lucky, you might be able to borrow a bike from your B&B host.
It’s an easy and flat ride to Vernon, bring water and be sure to wear sunscreen on a hot day. Once you reach the town of Vernon, the pathway will take you in front of the Saint Nicolas de Vernonnet church, to the left of the church is an amazing bakery called Aux Saveurs de Vernonnet. I highly recommend that you pop in and buy one of their scrumptious pastries.
Ride away from the church and head towards the Seine and here you will find a picturesque old mill and the Tourelles Castle cross the bridge over the Seine, follow the bike path to the 11th -17th century mostly gothic church. It is easy to enjoy an afternoon in Vernon, explore the old town where you will find 200+ wooden half-timbered houses, the oldest is from the 15th century. Time is always in short supply, so I wandered for a while and then enjoyed a lovely lunch at Le Domino Brasserie. Le Domino has received mixed reviews on Tripadvisor but I enjoyed my stuffed chicken breast with a rich mushroom sauce and fries.
After lunch it was time to return to Giverny for another evening in Monet’s garden. Although I didn’t go further than the old town of Vernon, there are many bike pathways to ride in the area.
Discovery of “Le Buste de Claude Monet” – Sculpture of Monet
I’m a wanderer wherever I travel mostly without a plan or direction. It was hot in Giverny this summer and often my wanderings took me to places where I could see shade. I ended up on a pathway across the main road beside Giverny. I followed the path and found a beautiful bust of Monet. Here are the words inscribed by the sculptor.
“I wanted to place the sculpture here out of respect for a sense of solitude, a notion Monet held dear. He loved this area and found inspiration here for numerous masterpieces. I invite you to meet his eyes. This bust and this site are complementary: one speaks of Monet, the other, of this land which sculpted his thoughts in order to give us answers to his creation and as a result to the recognition, the importance of this place. : Daniel Goupil – Sculptor
I thought these words were very meaningful and spoke to the quiet part of me. Meeting Monet’s eyes, even in this sculpture or photo is a gift and has great depth.
Top 10 Solo Travel Tips for Slowing Down in Giverny
Giverny is all about the gardens, Les Jardins de Monet. Plan to visit, slowly explore the gardens, sit on a bench and take your time.
Buy your tickets online before you arrive. You can also buy tickets to the garden at Musée des Impressionismes Giverny. I’m posting a picture of the lineup of those who did not buy a ticket before they arrived, this does not look like fun.
Stroll through this lovely village, along the streets and alleyways. Imagine the village as it was during Monet’s time. Look for the historical signs scattered around Giverny.
Visit the galleries of present day artists who have settled in this village inspired by the genius Monet.
Stop to enjoy an apertivo, a coffee, a pastry or lunch at one of several cafes or restaurants in town. Les Coin du Pain’tre is a great café, La Capucine for an apertivo or any of these for a full meal: Restaurant Creperie La Musardiere, Restaurant Baudy or Restaurant Les Nymphaes.
Take an easy hike above Giverny to enjoy the view across the Seine Valley among the farmer’s fields or all the way to the nearby town of Vernon.
Enjoy the air-conditioning, the gift shop and more beautiful gardens while visiting the current exhibition at the Musée des Impressionismes Giverny. Check online for future exhibitions.
Ice cream and people watching is always a delicious and fun thing to do.
Walk a bit further across the highway and enjoy a moment of solitude with the sculpture, “Le Buste de Monet.”
With Giverny as your home base, take a day trip from Giverny to visit the quaint and picturesque towns of Rouen, Les Andelys or Honfleur.