Giverny is located 40 minutes away from Paris. You hop on the €9 morning train, arrive to Vernon at 9am, are whisked onto a shuttle, and enter the tiny, picturesque village 15 minutes later. Within a walking distance, a queue was gathering along the fence of Claude Monet’s estate. Luckily, I had pre-booked my ticket!
Once inside, you’d either head left towards Monet’s house, or turn right and begin your visit at the famous water lily pond. I followed some of my friends’ advice to choose the latter - those narrow pathways weaving through the lush vegetation would get rather crowded by noon.
Bamboo and typha clustered along wooden bridges. An old boat stood still under the shade of willows. The waterbed of green patches carried the reflection of azaleas, tulips, irises, snowdrops, primroses, daffodils, poppies, sunflowers, dahlias, gladiolas, and carnations. The Japanese bridge covered with wisterias faced another such green pathway on the other side of the lake. A dock extended close to the water’s surface - rose bushes had enveloped an arch above which kept the sun from fully casting its rays onto whomever was glaring at the nymphéas.
I had emerged from a tunnel into what seemed to be the most peaceful, harmonious, beautiful and strangely secluded place on Earth. It couldn’t belong anywhere else - it was imbued with the artist’s spirit. It possessed spirited movement and everlasting stillness all at the same time.
In 1893 Monet acquired this vacant piece of land located across the road from his home which he then transformed into a water garden by diverting water from the Epte river. Marked by his fascination with Japan, the garden is full of asymmetries and curves inspired by his collection of Japanese prints.
Back into the tunnel I went. On the other end, the Clos Normand awaited me - a garden full of perspectives, symmetries and colors. This land sloping gently down from the house’s porch to the road was initially planted with an orchard and enclosed by high stone walls. A central alley bordered with pines separated it into 2 parts. Monet had the majority of pines cut down. He spent years transforming the garden into a living en plein air painting, planting thousands of flowers in straight-lined patterns.
Flower clumps of different heights, fruit or ornamental trees dominate the climbing roses, the long-stemmed hollyhocks and the colored banks of annuals. Monet mixed the simplest flowers (daisies and poppies) with the rarest of varieties. The central alley is covered over by iron arches on which climbing roses grow. Rose trees cover the balustrade along the house. At the end of the summer nasturtiums invade the soil in the central alley.
Claude Monet did not like organized nor constrained gardens. He grouped flowers according to their colors and left them to grow rather freely. Always seeking mist and transparencies, Monet would dedicate himself less to flowers than to reflections in water. He gradually developed a passion for botany, exchanging plants with his friends Clemenceau and Caillebotte. Always on the look-out for rare plants, he’d confess, "All my money goes into my garden," but also: "I am in raptures."
Monet lived and painted in Giverny from 1883 to his death in 1926, and directed the renovation of his house, retaining its pastel pink-painted walls. Colors from the painter's own palette were used for the interior - green for the doors and shutters; the dining room bathes in van Gogh’s favorite yellow, complete with Japanese Prints from the 18th and 19th centuries; copper pans lean against blue tiles in the kitchen.
Following the artist’s death, the estate’s ownership passed through his relatives, as well as the Académie des Beaux-arts, until 1977 when Gérald Van der Kemp, then curator at the Château de Versailles, played a key role in the restoration of the then neglected house and gardens, which had been left in a desolate state. In a bid to raise funds, he and his wife appealed to American donors through the "Versailles Foundation-Giverny Inc.". They, thereafter, dedicated themselves to its restoration.
The Fondation Claude Monet was created in 1980 as the estate was declared public. It soon became very successful and now welcomes visitors from April to November. The ground floor contains the blue salon (the reading room), the "épicerie" (the larder), the living room-turned-studio, the dining room and the blue-tiled kitchen.
Upstairs, the family rooms, including Monet's, as well as Alice Hoschedé's bedroom and their private apartments can be accessed. Also visible is the room of Blanche Hoschedé, which was recreated in 2013 based on archives and existing elements present in the house.
The studio next to the home where Monet painted his large Water Lilies paintings and murals, including those exhibited in Paris' Musée de l'Orangerie has been turned into the Foundation's gift shop.
At the end of my visit, I still had another 3 hours before my shuttle bus was due to take me away. I made the most of my time by visiting the Museum of Impressionists closeby, which contains some of Monet’s works among other famous painters’. I took a walk through this absolutely fabulous village perched above a valley. The highest hill is occupied by the local church and cemetery where Monet’s family and the painter himself were laid to rest.