The excursion next morning was to nearby Giverny, home of Claude Monet and his stunning gardens that inspired much of his painting, particularly his famous Water Lillies. Soaking up the atmosphere surrounded by such a magnificent feast of colour and beauty I almost felt moved to knock out a few paintings myself! Apparently, after Mont Saint-Michel, Monet’s Garden is the most visited attraction in Normandy and even in mid-October, although not crowded, it was quite busy, so if you go hoping to have the gardens or the famous Japanese bridge to yourself you will be rather disappointed. The restored rooms on display in the house are very much as they were when Monet and his family lived there though the many famous paintings on display, understandably, are replicas. Sadly, following the death of his daughter-in-law, both the house and gardens fell into disrepair until rescued and restored by the Monet Foundation in 1980 and now a team of gardeners plant each season to ensure the garden is in full bloom throughout the year. As an alternative some guests opted for the self-guided cycle tour which, on reflection, I wish I’d taken as this gave more time in Giverny and also the benefit of a bit of exercise to work off any additional calories from the plentiful food!
Back in Vernon we had some free time to explore the town, the highlight being the local museum where three of Monet’s works are displayed, including one of his round framed Water Lillies. We were lucky that an exhibition of Monet’s daughter-in-law, Blanche Hoschede Monet, work was on display. Not as famous as Claude but nevertheless an accomplished painter in her own right. We also crossed the river to view the Old Mill Toll house and the two surviving piers that date back to 1600.
Overnight we sailed to Rouen, the capital of Upper Normandy and, outside Paris, historically the most important city on the Seine, as the tidal river is deep enough for ocean-going vessels and it’s only 50 miles from the English Channel. After an excellent walking tour of the old city in the morning and free time during the rest of the day we spent several hours exploring the many sights and had an excellent lunch in a delightful patisserie. For lovers of history, architecture, churches, museums, galleries and good food you could happily immerse yourself here for several days. Rouen experienced heavy Allied bombing during WW2 but incredibly there are still around 2,000 timbered medieval buildings, including 800 classified of historical importance.
Rouen is perhaps best known as the city where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in May 1431 and we visited a fantastic museum with a multi-media presentation of her life and lasting legacy. Her execution took place on Place du Vieux Marche overlooked by La Couronne, the oldest working Inn in France. The Inn dates back to 1354 and their records report that on the day of her execution they were rather busy due to the large number of people who had come to witness the event. Amazingly they are still an extremely popular venue, though I suspect there have been some tweaks here and there to their menu since opening.
Picture-postcard-pretty with its many churches, superb Gothic Cathedral with the tallest spire in France, the Great Clock Tower (1527), the Renaissance Palace of Justice and possibly the most bizarre, Aitre Saint Maclou, a two-storey half-timbered galleried building decorated with skulls, bones and grave-digging equipment which was formerly the site of a cemetery for victims of the Black Death, there is much to see. Rouen is a treasure trove of living history and architecture – another fabulous place to explore on this fascinating trip along the Seine.
Chrissy Nason travelled as a guest of Scenic.Full details of their Normandy & Gems of the Seine cruise and other destinations can be found here.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Scenic.