One thing I always tell people to do when visiting Paris, France is… leave it. Just get out. *Gasp* What’s wrong with me!? Have I got Nutella for brains or something!? Alright, alright, calm down. Paris is what it is (magic and romantic and crawling with delicious snails that actually aren’t anymore) but the France outside of Paris is, believe it or not, EVEN BETTER. One such reason to leave Paris is for a day trip to Giverny, the tiny village that was once home to impressionist mastermind Claude Monet. Now replace “home” with “resting place” and that’s what the ol’ fella is currently up to.
On the second of my two trips to France last year I toured all over: Paris, the Loire Valley, Mont-St-Michel, Normandy, Giverny, and every sickeningly lavish chateaux in between. (Seriously, how much money these people blew is a proper finger/throat situation.) I did all of this with Amanda, one of my best friends, my faithful travel companion, and, of all things, an art teacher. But while Amanda can appreciate brushwork, composition, and whatever ”diptych“ is, I’m more into snooping around in the former homes of famous people, because I’m creepy like that. Most recently I’ve been creepy in Frida Kahlo’s casa in Mexico, Anne Frank’s secret annex in Amsterdam, Mark Twain’s crib in Connecticut, and, one day, this Memphis, Tennessee native is going to creep Elvis Presley’s palace.
Besides getting to tour Monet’s personal home, on a day trip to Giverny you can also walk all through his gardens, visit his studio, and circle his water lily pond. Like, the Water Lilies water lily pond. Even for someone on the Microsoft Paint level of the artistic ability spectrum, it’s a pretty impressive experience.
DAY TRIP TO GIVERNY | A LITTLE HISTORY
Claude Monet was the founder of French impressionist painting and, by all accounts, the original hipster. Impressionism was the 19th century art movement that emphasized light, movement, visible brush strokes, and blatant rule-breaking. Boy were those fancy pants art critics pissed at him. He also, probably, played a major part in pairing a bushy beard with a beret—a style statement you still see so often in and around craft breweries and artisanal vegan donut/bicycle shops.
In 1883, Monet moved to Giverny (pronounced “Zzshee-vairrrrrrr-nee” – no really, listen), a picturesque village he once saw from a moving train. [Picture any photo on Instagram of a person staring longingly out a train window, here.] Giverny is an hour outside Paris in 21st century time but much longer by 1800s standards. I’m just saying, he didn’t have that beard when he left… Monet lived in Giverny for exactly half of his life, until his death in 1926. It was while he lived here that he painted his entire Water Lilies series, the works he’s most famous for, even long after he developed cataracts. I got lightheaded from standing up too fast yesterday and couldn’t work for a good 20 minutes. Just saying.
Water Lilies—you know what it looks like—is a series of around 250 oil paintings of the water lily pond behind his house at Giverny. Monet was big into doing series work—not unlike Kelsey Grammer or Mariska Hargitay—and has done many others including Haystacks, Rouen Cathedral, and Houses of Parliament. You thought I was going to say House of Cards, didn’t you? Throughout his life and especially after moving to Giverny, Monet was obsessed with gardening, the same way I’m obsessed with not gardening (somebody feed me). To help inspire his work, he diverted water from a nearby source and planted his own water lilies—baller! Monet was also obsessed with perfection (he once destroyed 15 of his Water Lilies in a hipster rage akin to… well just imagine if your co-worker took credit for discovering this hot new band that you’ve been listening to for a year) and obsessed with physical light, painting as fiercely and frantically as possible to capture an exact moment before it passes which, as science has taught us, is impossible without Instagram.
DAY TRIP TO GIVERNY | HOW TO GET THERE
Ahh, so you’re visiting Paris, huh? Now get out. Leaving the city and taking a day trip to Giverny is among the most popular things to do when visiting Paris, right up there with taking selfies in front of the Eiffel Tower and taking selfies in front of the Mona Lisa. It’s just an hour northwest of Paris by car or 14 hours if you choose to walk because automobiles are so bourgeouis.
A day trip to Giverny is a great opportunity to get some background on, like, all the paintings you’ll see in the Paris museums (probably my favorite thing about my line of work is being able to shout, “I’ve been there!” on an annoyingly regular basis) and a chance to really stop smelling urine and human sweat and smell the roses for a change.
My recommendation—because it’s what I did—is to take your day trip to Giverny via an organized, guided tour. For the love of God, let someone else handle tickets, transportation, and hipster temper tantrums so you don’t have to. Plus, these tours usually come with skip-the-line abilities and, visiting Paris and Giverny in the summer, this is worth its weight in goldenrod. You also get private and direct transportation and knowledgeable tour guides who probably know their Phlomis purpurea from their Phlomis italica. Maybe?
It is possible to get from Paris to Giverny independently—check this and/or this page for logistics—but the trip will take much more than an hour, includes the cumbersome combination of metro ⇢ train ⇢ bus ⇢ feet, and the schedules of each of those are less ideal than planting tulips in the spring! Ha! Can you imagine!? Garden snobs, you know what I mean… Here are a few great guided tour options for a day trip to Giverny:
- Versailles & Giverny Day Trip | This uber-popular 9.5-hour tour includes a trip to the Palace of Versailles (another Paris must) as well as a day trip to Giverny, and LUNCH. It includes food, dude.
- Giverny & Monet Small-Group Half-Day Trip | This 5-hour tour is limited to just 8 people and is super informative. It includes visual aids (!!!) and even takes you to Monet’s burial site. OoOoOhhh–a chance to be even creepier.
- Independent Giverny & Monet’s House Tour | This tour includes transportation, admission, and an audio guide but your time to explore is all your own. (And it costs less than transportation alone if you were to do this without a tour. Just sayin’.)
DAY TRIP TO GIVERNY | BEST TIME TO GO
Because of the nature (heh) of this site, a day trip to Giverny can only be taken at certain times of the year. Monet’s house and gardens at Giverny are only open seven months of the year: late March – November 1st, because, duh, flowers. Besides, visiting a garden in the winter would be about as worthwhile as having vegan bacon with a side of O’Doul’s for lunch.
As for when exactly to go during that time… well, this place is SO FULL of beautiful, colorful growing things that visiting any time during those seven months is going to be worthwhile. In fact, I couldn’t tell which was more prevalent: white-haired people with fanny packs or the varieties of flowers themselves. But let’s be real here; you came for the water lilies, didn’t you, you dog! Water lilies as a species bloom between May and September, however, both the Giverny website and our tour guide told us the lilies at Giverny don’t typically bloom until July and we’d might not get to see them. Well, well, well, the pictures in this post were taken during my June 9th visit and clearly the nympheas showed up to play and I didn’t have to go all out-of-beard-oil-level hissy fit on some French gardeners.
But, hell, maybe you hate water lilies and actually get your jollies from holly-hocks or busy-lizzies. Worry not, there’s a Giverny flowering calendar for that. And if July is out of the question for your day trip to Giverny, my recommended backup plan would be to visit in May when Monet’s famous Japanese bridge is drenched in flowering purple wisteria (lookatthisomg). But you tell anyone I’m getting geeky over gardening and I’ll cut you.
DAY TRIP TO GIVERNY | WHAT TO SEE
A day trip to Giverny is all about Claude Monet. You’ll visit his house, his garden, his famous pond. You’ll see his chickens, his cows, his jealousy-inducing collection of copper cookware. Wow, I am not sounding cool today.
Monet lived at his house in Giverny for 43 years, the size of which defies everything I thought I knew about painting as a lucrative career path. Maybe 7-year-old me shouldn’t have been so hasty with her career choices? Monet lived here with his lady-friend Alice and their combined eight children. I think the mystery of his madness has solved itself, am I right? Here at the house you can tour his bedrooms, kitchen, studio, bathroom, and many other places in which he’d be totally uncomfortable entertaining visitors. And as large as the house is, it’s still tight and you will be bumper to bumper on Fanny Pack Ave.
There are 100 varieties of flowers and trees in the garden of the man who was quoted as saying, “Apart from painting and gardening, I’m not good at anything.” So if his success at painting is any indicator, I think you know what you can expect in his anything-but-ho-hum garden. During your day trip to Giverny you’re free to wander throughout his garden, on strictly marked paths of course, and take it all in through your nose. I mean it; smell all of them. Be warned that the garden is almost overwhelming as it’s so full and tightly packed, and everything is taller and more feminine than you. Monet also said, “My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece.” so… yeah…
Monet’s pond is the highlight of his property and where you can find his famous water lilies—in bloom or otherwise. Now every time you see a Water Lilies painting you can shout, “I’ve been there!” but do so internally because museums and fancy French art snobs with a tendency towards being pissed. You can circle the entire pond and walk across the Japanese bridge, see the little boat he used to paddle around in (before paddling around in little boats was cool, obvs) and, if you’re lucky, maybe even fall in because there is legit no barrier whatsoever.
DAY TRIP TO GIVERNY | WHAT TO BRING
ALLERGY MEDICINE | Maybe your allergies are fine at home (or non-existent because you’re a jerk), but you probably don’t have 100 varieties of pollen-producing perennials surrounding your digs—some of them you’ve never been exposed to. Chances are you’re allergic to one of them because you are, in fact, of the human species. Don’t forget the allergy medicine when you travel to a place literally to be surrounded by flowers. Wouldn’t sneezing and falling into a totally unbarricaded pond be the perfect allergy medicine commercial though?
Remember to opt for something that won’t put you to sleep. For me that means running as far away from Benadryl as possible and straight into the arms of Zyrtec. But damn, Benadryl certainly works (spoken by the living, breathing girl who has accidentally eaten an almond a time or two). *I think legally I’m supposed to say here that I’m not a doctor? But you already knew that from earlier when I referred to Instagram as “science”. Wouldn’t conking out and falling into a totally unbarricaded pond be the perfect non-drowsy allergy medicine commercial though?
GUIDEBOOK(S) | I’m a stickler for two things: always get the guidebook, and always eat where the line is longest. (Okay, three: always make audible excuses for taking pictures of your food in public.) Guidebooks give great commentary, historical background, essential logistical, time, and cost information, and yeah, often even where to find the food source with the longest line, ergo, the best grub. I personally recommend:
- The Rough Guide to Brittany and Normandy | (Yes, Giverny is actually in Normandy.) Because what are we doing, class? Getting outta Paris! But since you will be in Paris…
- The Rough Guide to Paris | Latest edition just came out January 2018! Or get one that has it all…
- Fodor’s Essential France | Covering it all (including Paris and a day trip to Giverny) and with a handy pull-out map. Wouldn’t falling into a pond while reading a handy pull-out map be just the funniest?
CAMERA | Your day trip to Giverny and the water lily pond is a thing of rare beauty. A chance to photograph, blow up, frame, and brag about having a real (ehh, not real) Monet hanging up in your living room. Don’t insult Mother Nature by brandishing just any ol’ cell phone for picture taking. And if that thing flips open—oh Lord Jesus. Here’s what I use:
- Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II | And no, I don’t know what any of that means. I assume one of those letters relates to the fact that it’s mirrorless. Probably the ‘M’. With this camera I use…
- Olympus M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12-40mm F2.8 PRO Interchangeable Lens | I don’t know who M. Zuiko is but his lenses are great. As far as the rest, “12-40mm” means I can take a picture of a whole pond and probably some other technical stuff.
- Olympus M. 40-150mm F4.0-5.6 R Zoom Lens | The word “zoom” is right there in it. “40-150mm” means I can take a close up of a water lily and also that you don’t ever want to attempt a selfie with this one. Holy pores!
- For more on my preferred photography equipment, check out this post ⇣⇣⇣
DAY TRIP TO GIVERNY | RECOMMENDED READING
Before I travel anywhere new, I always do my best to get my read on. This way, when I see something I’ve read about I can shout, “I just read about that!” because if the world doesn’t know how awesome you are, are you even awesome? Along with guidebooks, this is a great way to be able to put everything you’ll see into perspective when you see it—historically, biographically, immediately. Here are my recommendations for books to read before your day trip to Giverny:
- Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies by Ross King | I talk about Ross King all. the. time. when it comes to reading before a trip to Europe. He specializes in writing actually entertaining biographies of European artists and their lives. He also covers what’s happening in that place at that time to give great context and you learn so much. Everything I’ve written in this post about Monet and Giverny I learned from this book. Does that make me sound like I’m coming to terms with my adult-ness? Because I’m not.
- The Judgment of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade That Gave the World Impressionism by Ross King | Alright, I haven’t read this one yet but it’s sitting on the bookshelf in front of me as we speak. This one goes beyond the work of Monet and covers the movement of Impressionism and its most popular characters as a whole.
- Dover Masterworks: Color Your Own Monet Paintings | Okay, so there’s not a whole lot of reading required here but I’m totes buying this.
- For more recommended Ross King books, check out this article on what to read before traveling to Italy–I’ve read them all.
WHERE TO FIND MONET’S WATER LILIES
Well, let me put it this way: I don’t think I’ve been to an art museum that hasn’t had one of Monet’s Water Lilies on display. This Water Lilies Wikipedia page does an okay job of listing where many of them can be found but chances are if you visit a fine art museum or a modern art museum or a western art museum you’ll fall into a water lily pond.
…but nowhere will you find an explanation for why I take photos of these every. single. time. I’m chocking it up to: “I’ve been there!”