26 April 2017 – Vernon, Giverny and Monet’s Garden in snowy Spring! [France]
We were heading our of Paris and off to Normandy for the day, to visit the towns of Vernon and Giverny, and a return visit to the beautiful Monet’s House and Garden. We had last visited in the Autumn of 2012 and we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to revisit the garden in its spring-time glory. Sadly the weather was doing it’s best to scuttle our plans with snow forecast for the day!
It was our last full day in France, before an evening departure to London the following day. Even though we were happy to spend more time shopping and eating in Paris we’d had the Giverny visit planned since before departing Australia. Originally we’d been thinking of booking a one day (fat tyre) bike tour for this day but the cost (and lack of actual riding for the cost) was making us rethink that plan. After weeks of bike tours on our own, 15km of riding in a large group wasn’t that appealing. The weather forecast for the day was the final nail in the coffin of the bike tour plan – the temperature was forecast to be 0 to 8 degrees, with snow and rain. At this point we were even debated going at all, and instead hiding out in our Paris apartment eating yummy food.
In the end we decided not to pre-purchase our train tickets to wait until the morning and recheck the weather before making a final decision. The trains from Paris to Vernon only run every 2 hours for the majority of the day, so we needed to be on the 10:18am train to give us sufficient time to see the gardens. Well the kids made that pretty easy for us by waking up nice and early at 6.15am due to all the noise on the street. The weather forecast looked just as appalling, really cold but currently clear until later in the afternoon, so we decided to just go ahead and aim for the earlier 8:18am train in the hope of beating the bad weather.
We dragged out all those warm clothes we swore we weren’t going to use again after Finland and Estonia. The weather on this trip has been bizarre and we used every item of clothing we had at some point to cover the huge temperature swings.
With plans for the day a go, we managed to throw some chocolatey cereal down the kids, and coffee down the adults, and made it out of the apartment at 7.50am and picked up breakfast pastries on the way to Sentier metro station. We used to do the same thing on all our side-trips from Paris with a 1-year-old Astrid back in 2012!
We were quickly on the metro and it was a short ride to Gare St Lazare, where we were catching the train to Vernon. As we hadn’t pre-bought our tickets we then had to find the ticket machine and correct train.
When we got off the metro it was 12 minutes until the train to Vernon departed and the ticket machine was taking an age. With 4 minutes to go I grabbed the kids and started walking towards the track, which happened to be at the opposite end of the station. Anto managed to get the tickets printed and met us at the track 1 minute before the train departed, all jumping on in time! We didn’t fancy 2 hours hanging around not doing much.
The train trip to Vernon was pretty uneventful and only around 40 minutes long, just enough time to consume breakfast pastries.
The train was fairly quiet this early on a Wednesday morning. When we did the same trip 4.5 years ago, the train had been full and we barely managed to get seats. That trip happened to be the last opening day of the gardens for the season, and at a much more civilised time of day though!
It had been a rather efficient morning of travel and we arrived into Vernon a mere 1 hour and 15 minutes after walking out the door of our Paris apartment. When we departed the train in Vernon it was actually snowing but the snow wasn’t sticking. There was luckily no wind so it wasn’t too cold……..
When we visited in 2012 we hadn’t spent any time in the town of Vernon and had headed straight to Giverny. Today had a little more time so we had decided to check out the market being held in the town (market days are Wednesdays and Sundays).
Vernon is in the Normandy region of North France and is mid-way between Paris and the city of Rouen (the capital of the Normandy region). The town is relatively small and borders the Seine. Our original plan was to check out the market and buy some supplies for a picnic lunch to be eaten on our walk over to Giverny. Since we made the earlier train that plan probably wasn’t going to work so we just had a wander around the market instead……
As most people come to Vernon in order to visit Monet’s Gardens in nearby Giverny, there are clearly marked paths to the buses that take you to the gardens, 5.5km away. During our 2012 trip the bus portion of the trip annoyed us. It’s 5 Euro each way and while not expensive it’s just time-consuming waiting for the buses that run infrequently. It was apparently a nice walk through Vernon and then along the Seine so we thought we’d walk there. Yes, we are those weird people who think that walking 5.5km sounds like a better idea in freezing temperatures than sitting on a heated bus!
We wandered down through the town and past some cool fountains down near the Seine. Vernon is obviously a port for many of the river cruises as we saw some impressive and expensive looking river cruise boats parked along the Seine. We saw another bunch on our return that afternoon. Once we crossed the large bridge spanning the Seine and wandered past a large school there was a fairly good off-road walking track, that was full of plenty of other people out walking and riding. The Giverny side of the river was quite scenic and we wandered past plenty of fields with animals and lovely houses and gardens.
It still wasn’t all that hot, but we’d probably overdressed with scarfs and merino layers and were all getting a little hot as we walked. This was still a better situation than the day before when we ended up freezing cold while up the Eiffel Tower……but I did end up carrying a lot of extra coats, gloves and 2 bags as we starting stripping off layers.
The last kilometre of the walk through town of Giverny was particularly scenic with lots of cute B&Bs, beautiful gardens and small restaurants. This would be a lovely little town to spend some time in.
We arrived at the gardens around 10.45am and it had unfortunately just started to rain, not ideal for exploring the gardens. Luckily by the time we had bought tickets, gone through security and walked through the gift shop it had pretty much stopped.
The gardens are open for 7 months of the year and our last visit was the final day for the year, so we had seen the gardens looking rather Autumnal. This visit was only 1 month into the season and Spring was in full force. We were surprised at how different everything looked. We were obviously expecting far more flowers but the gardens were barely recognisable with the Spring colour……
There are two parts in Monet’s garden: a flower garden called Clos Normand in front of the house and a Japanese inspired water garden on the other side of the road. When Monet and his family settled in Giverny in 1883 the piece of land sloping gently down from the house to the road was planted with an orchard and enclosed by high stone walls, this is the Clos Normand, the area you first explore when you enter the gardens. This part of the garden spans about 1 hectare and Monet’s vision a garden full of perspectives, symmetries and colours.
This area of the garden is divided into flowerbeds where flower clumps of different heights create volume. Fruit trees or ornamental trees dominate the climbing roses, the long-stemmed hollyhocks and the coloured banks of annuals. Monet mixed the simplest flowers (daisies and poppies) with the most rare varieties. Claude Monet did not like organised or constrained gardens so he married flowers according to their colours and left them to grow rather freely.
We could have spent hours looking at all the beautiful plants but decided to head over to the water garden next.
In 1893, ten years after his arrival at Giverny, Monet bought the piece of land neighbouring his property on the other side of the railway. It was crossed by a small brook, the Ru, which is a diversion of the Epte, a tributary of the Seine River. Monet had the first small pond dug, to the opposition of the neighbours as they were afraid that his strange plants would poison the water. Later on the pond would be enlarged to its present day size. The water garden is full of asymmetries and curves. It is inspired by the Japanese gardens that Monet knew from the prints he collected avidly.
Again the ponds didn’t look the same as our previous visit, the spring flowers added some colour and the trees were so green compared to the Autumnal colours of the last visit. It was nice to see it looking different.
The kids easily identified the gardens as the inspiration for many of the paintings of Monet. No, they aren’t art scholars, they have just seen the paintings displayed in Monet’s house and we have some prints of his artworks at home, purchased after our last visit to the gardens.
The gardens were pretty busy, despite the average weather but we were still able to move around fairly freely and enjoy the beautiful surroundings.
After we had our fill of the water garden it was back to main garden for a closer look. The gardens aren’t huge (nothing like the scale of somewhere like Keukenhof in the Netherlands which take hours just to walk around briefly) but they are very impressive on a small-scale.
The kids were on a hunt for a bumble-bee, they are enormous here, not like our little ones in Australia. We saw plenty but didn’t mange to get a photo of any…..
After circumnavigating the gardens again we had a quick walk through Monet’s house. The house is lovely and much more homely than some of the châteaus we’d been visiting. It has gorgeous views over the gardens. The yellow kitchen has always been my favourite room and the copper pan collection makes Anto envious every time!
At this stage we were all hungry and we weren’t going to make the next bus back to Vernon for the next train, so we decided to lunch in Giverny. The offerings right near the gardens were quite pricey and not that exciting looking. On our wander through the town that morning and we’d seen quite a few good options in the town so decided to walk back through and see what we could find.
The town is just lovely to wander around, and is full of galleries, and quirky shops. There are also a number of plaques on buildings explaining the relationship to Monet.
We settled on a cafe which was an artisanal boulangerie. It didn’t have the most interesting menu but surprised us. They served us some really good house breads including an amazing lemon one.
The kinds ordered from the ‘menu enfant‘ which included a croque monsieur, a salad , thyme potatoes, a ‘sirop’ drink and an icecream. They were happy kids! Anto had the burger of the day which was appropriately under-cooked to his liking, and a really good salad and the same potatoes as the kids. They made me a vegetarian tartine which had at least 3 different types of cheeses including smelly goats cheese Anto would have hated, and the same great salad that the kids also enjoyed.
To finish off our meal Anto and I shared some tart which was appropriately good.
Lunch was a leisurely affair that we’d thoroughly enjoyed. You can’t go wrong with food in France! All feeling full and much warmer we then wandered back through the town and thought we’d take the bus back to Vernon instead of walking as the kids were tired, and the weather was rapidly deteriorating.
By the time you wait for the bus and then wait the half hour at the other end before the train, it takes almost as long as just walking….. but was less effort! During the bus ride back Soren entertained some American tourists on the bus with his non-stop chatter and questions.
Back in Vernon we had a half hour wait for the train and it was hailing by the time the train arrived. At this point we were almost glad the kids had woken up early and we’d caught the early train, or most of the afternoon in the gardens would have been in the horrid weather.
All tired, once on the train the kids were convinced to nap on our laps and Anto and I also fell asleep and were awakened by the women next to us having a very protracted argument with the ticket inspector. If only my French was good enough to understand all her carry-on as it did seem amusing! The kids did not want to wake-up but we eventually managed to carry them off the train before a wander around Gare St Lazare, checking out the many shops and listening to people play the public pianos scattered around. Even the train stations have more atmosphere in Paris than back home…..
Off on the metro and back to our street and it was a very short walk to pick up a few dinner supplies. It was our last night in Paris and despite the dazzling array of food we still wanted to try, we had a lot of left-overs that needed eating so just grabbed a baguette and some quiches to go with left over salads and spätzle.
We did have to indulge in a little more patisserie since it was our last chance. The kids chose the ‘cochon‘ or pig that they’d been after since they spied it several days ago. It was actually tastier than it looked.
Anto and I shared one of our favourites, a gâteau opéra and drank the Sardinian Malavisa wine we’d been carrying around. We definitely wished we’d bought more of that!
There was another big thunderstorm as we were eating dinner and we were again glad that we were back in Paris and not wandering around in the cold……. in 24 hours time we’d be off to tropical Singapore so our last rainy wet day in Paris was somewhat enjoyable.
It had been a great few days back in one of our favourite places in the world, and we were sorry to be leaving so soon. I think there will be more visits to Paris in the future! Luckily we had most of the next day to fill up those suitcases and our tummies before heading to the airport for journey home.
Daily statistics for Wednesday the 26th of April 2017 in Giverny and Paris, France – the temperature range in Paris was 1 to 11 degrees celsius with a mean of 6 degrees and thunderstorms. Meanwhile in Giverny, the temperature ranged from minus 3 to 11 degrees celsius, with a mean temperature of 4 degrees, rain and light snow!
The total walking for the day was a very respectable 14.5km, we were pretty much ready to rest our weary legs on the long flight home.
Up next, our final bit of Parisian shopping, and French food, before we started the journey home. We flew business class to London and then Singapore, which is always a highlight for the kids……. Nothing like a day that starts with crepes in a Paris park and ends with a swim and satay in Singapore!