Monet’s Garden: Biking to Giverny
Much like the story of Monet himself, the story of a trip to Giverny starts most properly in Paris’ Gare Saint-Lazare. Looking very much the same today as it did when Monet lived just nearby in the late 1870’s, to wait for the train to Vernon here is to live for a moment in spot where Claude himself would have once painted. There is, thankfully, a lot less coal smoke these days.
Following his path out of Paris along the Seine, the forty-five minute ride passes through small villages and past lonely houseboats before arriving in the the town of Vernon. As the story has it, after Monet left Paris he moved to Giverny to escape the machinations of the Art Studio there and explore themes of light and movement on his own in the countryside of Normandy. It was a handful of American daytrippers exploring Vernon and the surrounding countryside that stumbled across him working in a field near Giverny and, being American, they ran back to Paris and started spreading the news.
Vernon is many things: site of bombings in WWII, historic border town of the Duchy of Normandy, and construction site of French rocket engines. It is also, as it turns out, a great place for a picnic. After stocking up on delicious things at the market in the center of town, the grassy stretch beside the Seine just before the start of the path that winds to Giverny is a great place to spend an hour or a day – Giverny can wait!
When you do finally work up the motivation to get back on the path to Monet’s haunts, the route is easy to follow and pleasant to ride. You’ll pass by old houses and new, under overhanging trees and along a greenway full of flowers. How to know when you’ve arrived to Giverny? The Rue Claude Monet, of course. Of course.
As the road rises from the level of the Seine to only slightly higher (this hill – if you would even call it that – is the only remotely strenuous part of the biking) you cycle past the church where Monet is buried and one wall after another covered in blooming flowers. I’m told that a few months later its even better, but in April while we were there it was already quite colorful.
When you see the Hotel Baudy, once the center of the Impressionist universe, you’ve arrived.
Monet’s House and Garden, just down the street from where most of the hard-drinking Impressionists would spend their time in Giverny, is equal parts beautiful and maddening. The landscaping, attention to detail in reconstruction, and artwork presented in the house itself and the Clos Normand garden just behind are phenomenal. The half a million people who visit each year… less phenomenal.
The real magic, to me anyways, is just a bit beyond those. Across the street but somehow a world away is the Water Garden made so famous by Monet’s many paintings set here. Imagining for a moment what it might be like to wander through here with just the sound of Normandy’s birds and the garden’s many frogs, it seems easier to understand the reclusive tendencies of Monet’s later years.
Why, it almost makes one feel inspired.
I was in Paris (and Giverny) primarily working as a photographer with GetYourGuide. The Paris Giverny Bike Tour which we did was great, with a guide who was great for practical tips (best bakery in Vernon, farmer’s market for veggies and cheese, where to buy locally produced pear cider) as well as for his extensive knowledge on Monet and the Impressionists. GetYourGuide also offers a Paris Giverny Tour by Bus but, seriously guys, its like 7km of biking on a beautiful old path. My only real complaint is that while we had enough time to explore Monet’s Garden and Home we didn’t have any left over to wander around Giverny village itself. One way to get around this would be to visit on your own and spend a night in Vernon. (There is also a bus running from Vernon Train Station to Giverny during the high season for 4€ RT, but the walk/bike of around 7km is quite nice.)
If you want to go independently, expect roughly the following costs:
Train RT Paris – Vernon: 25€
Bike Rental in Vernon: 15€
Monet’s House and Garden: 9.5€
This is roughly $30 cheaper than the guided tours, but you’ll miss the history the guide can provide and almost certainly end up having to wait in line to get into Monet’s House and Garden.