With so much to see and do in Paris, giving up an entire day to leave the city and visit someone’s garden may sound like a ridiculous suggestion. But you don’t have to be an art lover – or know anything about flowers – to enjoy this outing and if you have ever looked at, and admired, Monet’s waterlilies then a visit to the gardens that inspired him should definitely be on your bucket list.
Firstly – a bit of background and history – Claude Monet was the founder of French Impressionist painting. He was one of a group of painters (including Renoir and Sisley) who were frustrated with the constraints of the French Academie. They organised their own exhibition in 1874. Monet had entitled one of his paintings ‘Impression – Sunrise’. A critic compared his painting to an unfinished sketch or ‘impression’ and the term ‘Impressionist’ caught on to describe the work of these artists.
Working from nature was a hallmark of the impressionists. Monet often painted the same scene several times in order to reflect the change in light and seasons.
Monet caught sight of Giverney from the window of a train. He moved with his family and lived here for exactly half his life – from 1883 until his death in 1926. At first he rented the house and 2 acres but as his wealth grew he was able to purchase it and build up the gardens. He hired up to 7 gardeners who followed his daily instructions and designs. He bought a strip of marshland across the road and constructed a waterlily pond and Japanese bridge. In 1899 he began painting water lilies (One gardener’s job was to paddle out each morning to dust and wash the lily pads before painting began!)
The gardens today are replanted exactly as in the past
Getting There –
There are plenty of organised day trips which allow for either guided or independent viewing of the gardens.
There are free car parking facilities in the village if you are driving.
Its very straightforward to travel to Giverny from Paris independently.
- Get the train from St Lazare Station to Vernon. It takes about 45 minutes. (Note – not all trains were still available when I went to book online so allow some flexiblity in your plans). There are plenty of helpers in the station – wearing blue jackets – to direct you to the correct platforms.
- Outside the train station at Vernon you have 4 options:
- Shuttle bus – pay €10 on board for return trip. Get a timetable (in the bus beside the driver) to plan your return trip from the gardens.
3. Mini Train -€8
4. Bicycle hire – available across from the station and a very popular alternative.
- There are maps around the village to help you find your way (don’t worry – the place is tiny!)
When to go –
The gardens are open from 1 April to 1 November. The best time is supposedly May – June but the displays vary throughout the summer and autumn. We were there at the end of May – there were still a few irises in bloom and the water lilies were just opening.
The gardens are open from 9.30 a.m. to 6.00 p.m.
I bought tickets in advance (€9.50) and they allowed for admission at any time of that day (there are no time slots). There is a separate entrance for groups and visitors with tickets.
We’d intended arriving at 9.30 am to avoid the bus tours. However, the only available train at time of booking left St Lazare at 10.18 am so that changed our plans to say the least. We got to the village at about 11.30 and as our return train was not until 6.50 pm we decided to do everything else – graveyard, museum and lunch – before heading into the gardens. We got to the entrance at about 2.30 p.m. There was no queuing at all for us but we did not see the entrance for non ticket holders. We visited on a Wednesay and the weather wasn’t great so that might have made a difference but there was no sign of the hordes of visitors we were dreading. There were only a few groups around throughout the afternoon and there was even plenty of seating available whenever we wanted to rest.
(Here at last!)
(The last of the irises)
(Planting continues every day)
(Monet painted weeping willows – a symbol of mourning – in response to the First World War)
(Blue Sitting Room)
(His first studio later became his smoking room)
(His main waterlily studio is now the gift shop)
(Temporary exhibits as well as some of Monet’s works)
(The grounds of the museum include a wild garden)
(We’d a lovely lunch in the museum restaurant)
Shops and Cafes