So if you’re planning a trip to Paris, the odds are that everyone is telling you to go to Versailles. Right? That seems to be the main go-to day trip out of France’s capitol, plus you get to knock out an awesome palace as well as impressive gardens.
I’m not saying that I don’t love Versailles; I have visited every time I have been to France and I love it. I do not, however, love the hoards of people who also want a glimpse at the Hall of Mirrors. What I am saying is that there are some excellent other day trips to be made -and they may require far less elbowing through clueless tourist crowds (no promises!).
Namely: Giverny. A short 45 minute train ride out of the city lands you in a darling little quaint town along the River Seine west of Paris. It is hard to believe that the bustling metropolis of Paris is only 50 miles away. It is really that easy to get into the French country.
Giverny is where Claude Monet made his permanent residence and where he painted his famed Water Lilies. Today, you can walk the charming town while stepping inside artist boutiques and garden stores, visit Monet’s preserved home- a lovely green-trimmed, pink house crawling with greenery- and stroll the gardens that inspired his stunning works. We enjoyed ourselves so much that we delayed our return tickets to Paris.
Grab an espresso and a croissant and hop a morning train form Gare Saint-Lazare, Paris’s second largest train station, which services long distance intercity trains to Normandy on the west coast. This Paris-La Havre line is one of the oldest in France, having opened in 1843. Your terminating stop is Vernon, the small town that sits opposite Giverny on the River Seine.
Because Monet’s now infamous gardens do attract a crowd on sunny days, there are buses, trollies and cabs waiting to whisk you across the river. I suggest leaving on one of the earliest trains in order to get to the gardens while it is still quiet. Then explore little Vernon later in the afternoon before catching your return train.
We were ushered onto one of these hilariously dorky trollies (we think we were supposed to go to a bus but….who doesn’t like a little schmaltz??) which took a leisurely tour about the town and across the river. The price for return tickets was something like 6 euro, so why not?
The little trolly dropped us off at the main parking lot in the town Giverny, leaving us with a charming stroll up to the gardens.
And when I say charming, I mean….chaaarming. Lovely. Enchanting. Delightful. Take your pick. (I ‘ve got more!) But we are talking vine-covered farm house, stone gates, pergola dripping with rose kind of thing. You just can’t get enough!
In the back of the hotel grounds, there is a secret garden. Fully warmed and relaxed from our long lunch, we saw fit to poke around the place, where we found a preserved artist’s studio, romantic corners and a lovely view over the valley.
I think I may want to return to Giverny and stay at the hotel for a few days, just taking tea in the garden and walking the surrounding hills!
On our way back towards the pick-up lot, we ducked into small galleries and antique shops to appreciate the local art scene and see if there were any hidden treasures to be found. I could have cleared out this tiny, one-room antique shop, if I had the means to transport it home (or if I thought Jimmy wouldn’t kill me if I had…). The store owner knew every detail about each piece, large or small, and was eager to share!
Tiny lanes of foliage-draped stone buildings guided us back to the visitor’s center and, eventually, back to the reality of catching a bus and a train and later a metro back to our apartment.
Our day trip in Giverny was, without a doubt, the highlight of my trip. I was initially so disappointed that it should be raining as we explored these incredible gardens, but in the end it enhanced our entire experience. Not only did it drive away larger crowds, but it also created this incredible mood that you can almost feel when staring into Monet’s paintings. Not no mention, if gave us an excuse to hide inside a cozy hotel dining room, with baskets of bread and no shortage of wine!
If you are at a loss for things to do in Paris on a gloomy day, consider jumping on board a train bound for Giverny!