Making an Impression: Giverny, Rouen and Le Havre

giverny
Photo by: Aaron Perkins

If you are spending more than a few days in Paris, consider also taking a day trip. So much of Europe is close at hand: Bruges is less than 90 minutes away, while an extra hour train ride will take you to London. And if you don’t want to leave France, you can reach Le Havre by car in three hours, and take longer if you stop at Giverny and Rouen along the way.

Giverny

The landscape of this beautiful village, an hour northeast of Paris, is so breathtaking that it was Claude Monet’s chosen home for more than 40 years.  When the painter arrived at Giverny in the late 19th century, he only had a small barn with sloping hill. As his fame and fortune increased, Monet bought adjacent properties and landscaped them with his unrivalled knack for marrying different colours of flowers.

As Monet expanded the garden, the garden also helped Monet develop as a painter. Ever an admirer of Japanese art, he incorporated a traditional Japanese arch bridge in his garden and his paintings. Starting in 1897, the impressionist created nearly 250 oil paintings devoted to the water lilies found in his garden’s ponds, which would become some of his most celebrated works.

Rouen

Another hour’s drive takes you to the historic capital of Normandy and the place where Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake in 1431. The site of execution is now marked by a small park and a modern-day church. On the literary side, the city’s most famous son is  the author of the 1856 novel Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert. His birthplace has  been converted into a museum.

Rouen
Photo by: Frédéric BISSON

The most recognizable landmark in the city is the Rouen Cathedral. In it lies a tomb of Richard the Lionheart, containing only his heart. The rest of his corpse was buried in Châlus, where he was shot by a Norman crossbowman defending against the English siege.

Monet also had an affinity for Rouen. He created more than 30 paintings of the cathedral, in different lighting and weather. Many of these are displayed in Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris. The series helped the church achieve fame and served as the inspiration for a succeeding generation of  artists.

 Le Havre

One more hour will take you to your final destination: Le Havre. Located on the coast of Normandy, the city was heavily bombed during the Second World War by both the invading Germans and liberating Allies. The famous French architect Auguste Perret, who  designed the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris, carried out post-war reconstruction. The entire project is  recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site – one of Europe’s best examples of post-war urban planning.

Le-havre
Photo: Tetedelart1855

The centrepiece of Perret’s work is the city’s St. Joseph’s Church, featuring a 107-metre tall tower visible from far at sea. The medieval Graville Abbey, is the city’s oldest building,  has been converted to a museum. It is  worth noting that Le Havre’s harbour is the  inspiration for Claude Monet’s  Impression Sunrise, a work that heralded the beginning of the Impressionist movement.

If you do this excursion in a day, you will return to your Paris apartment late,  tired but exhilarated. If you decide to take more time, consider visiting also the idyllic commune of Vernon and the town of Les Andelys, with its impressive medieval Château Gaillard.

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