Giverny, a tiny village about 50 miles SW of Paris. It is quiet and unspoilt but it sheltered a famous resident,
Claude Monet, one of the most renowned of the
French Impressionist painters, who settled here in 1883 and painted over 250 versions of
"Waterlilies" in the rural garden of his home. Now many of these famous canvases are displayed in Galleries around the world, a few of which I have been lucky enough to view, but there is nothing like the real thing, as I discover on entering this green oasis in this quiet corner of France.
The house and gardens were badly neglected after Monet's death in 1926 but in 1977 a restoration program began with generous donors, many from North America, and now 500,000 people a year visit this lovely spot, which somehow remains unblemished, despite emerging as a popular tourist destination in the last few years.
Monet designed the garden and gave it almost equal time with his painting. It is divided into two parts, a flower-filled garden of roses, daisies, poppies, sunflowers and flowering shrubs. A riot of colour surrounds the house with a more formal peaceful Japanese-style water garden across the road.
Ours was the first tour of the day. Come early if you can, before coach loads of visitors arrive to disturb the peace and tranquillity of this entrancing place. Entering through a rustic turnstile into a cool green space with ancient overhanging trees, weeping willows and shady nooks, I'm back in the last century when Money set up his easel here, utilizing the light and colour combinations to paint his masterpieces. Meandering along the winding pathway around the iconic lily pond, I'm photographed in front of the famous waterlilies. With flourishing plant life and a replica of the famous Japanese style humpback bridge over the pond, it is easy to imagine how Monet felt compelled to paint the scene many times over.
Back at the pink stucco cottage style house, it has been restored exactly as it was when Monet lived there with a partner and her six children. Furnished in cosy French country cottage style, with painted wooden furniture, much of it decorated by Monet, and some artifacts of the period, including the room the artist used as a studio, it has the feel of a lived-in family home and reveals a relaxed but productive lifestyle. An interesting glimpse into the life of one of the World's best known artists.
Take time to walk around the village of Giverny as well. Parts of it date from medieval times and grey stone buildings have withstood the centuries well. On the day of our visit it was quiet and almost deserted but the ancient inn, where we stopped for coffee, hosts visiting artists. Monet died in 1926 and is buried in the churchyard, but there are few relics of an illustrious past, and it remains the quintessential French village, untouched by time.
But another treasure awaits. We walked up the hill and around the corner to a well-kept secret, a lesser known tourist attraction in the treasure-filled Loire Valley, an area known for its magnificent Chateaux.
Chateau du Clos Luce and
Parc Leonardo da Vinci, in nearby
Amboise is a small chateau, notable for being the last home of
Leonardo Da Vinci who resided there from 1516 until his death in May, 1519. Invited to live in France by King Francois I, his Patron, and Marguerite of Navarre, the king's sister, who both had a great affection for him, the chateau was made available to him along with an allowance, and he was free to pursue his dreams and ideas, with only the pleasure of his company required in return.
At the age of 64, he crossed the Alps from Rome by mule, accompanied by a few attendants and bringing three of his most valued paintings in his saddlebags, two of which he completed, at Chateau du Clos Luce.
The chateau, built in 1471 on 12th century foundations, is a wonderful repository of treasures.
A guided tour starts in the gallery with its remnants of a fortified medieval past, through 18th century salons with magnificent French provincial furnishings, Marguerite of Navarre's bedroom with a beautiful Renaissance four poster bed and the downstairs kitchen quarters. But most interesting are Da Vinci's bedroom which he chose for the view, where he worked and died, and the model room in the basement, where the rooms are devoted to Da Vinci's inventions. Forty exact copies, produced by IBM, remind us of his genius in the field of civil engineering, optics and other fields with models of the first tank, automobile, swing bridge, flying machine and more.
In Parc Leonardo da Vinci, which surrounds the house, you can walk in Leonardo's garden among statues and models of his ideas and inventions, reflect his bond with nature, and follow the trails around the grounds among other historic markers. There is a permanent Leonardo Da Vinci exhibition, a fine gift shop and a restaurant, to round out what proved to be one of my most memorable and interesting discoveries, over many years of explorations as a travel writer.
France From Above - High Definition Views of the Chateaux de la Loire
Tess Bridgwater is a travel writer who lives in southwestern Ontario, not far from Oxford County. She writes for the Record and other publications in Kitchener/Waterloo County, national magazines and is a member of SATW, the Society of American Travel Writers
The Loire Valley, spanning 280 kilometres (170 mi), in central France along the Loire River and its tributaries, is distinguished by vineyards, farmland and majestic châteaux. A wine-producing region, it's known for dry whites such as Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé.
It is referred to as the Cradle of the French and the Garden of France due to the abundance of vineyards, fruit orchards (such as cherries), and artichoke, and asparagus fields, which line the banks of the river
The city of Orléans is famed for Gothic Sainte-Croix Cathedral and its association with Joan of Arc. The region's capital, Tours is a busy university town with a medieval quarter.
In 2000, UNESCO added the central part of the Loire River valley to its list of World Heritage Sites.