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One of the best parts about visiting Paris is that it is so close to several of France's most beautiful chateaus and quaint village towns. If you are interested in taking a day trip to a chateau, there are three quite close to Paris.
First, of course, is Versailles, the palace of Louis XIV. Built in the 17th century, this chateau is by far one of the most visited in the world. With Marie Antoinettes private house, the sprawling gardens, impressive fountains and light shows during the summertime, there is plenty to see while visiting the chateau grounds. The town of Versailles is quite nice as well, especially on the weekends when the outdoor market takes place just next to the chateau.
Two other chateaus you can easily access for a day trip from Paris are the Chateau de Chantilly and the Chateau de Vaux le Vicomte. The Chateau de Chantilly was originally built in the 16th century and was then destroyed during the French Revolution and rebuilt in the late 19th century. The chateau itself is impressive, but perhaps moreso are the grounds surrounding the chateau. The acres and acres of forest are littered with chapels, ponds, rivers and grassy areas where the royals' friends or family members would stay. Chantilly is also known for its equestrian culture. The chic event every spring and summer are the horse races, which take place each weekend.
The Chateau Vaux le Vicomte was built for the financial superintendant of King Louis XIV in 1661 architect Louis Le Vau. This impressive abode is located just 55 km southeast of Paris, and was built on an elevation surrounded by a garden created by famed French landscape architect André le Nôtre. The interior of the chateau was painted by Charles Le Brun, which marked the beginning of the Louis XIV style combining art, architecture and landscape design.
“There are flowers everywhere for those who choose to see them”, said Claude Monet (1840-1926); however, in the summer, when flowers are in full bloom, you don’t have to be a philosopher or an impressionist to decipher the flowers of your mind. Instead, you can hop on a train to Giverny, the garden that inspired the French impressionist artist for over 20 years.
Never before had a painter shaped his subjects in nature before painting them. His work became two-fold; engraved in nature and on canvas. After the Japanese bridge series, he would devote himself to the giant works that you can see today at Paris' Orangerie museum (Jardin des Tuileries, metro Concorde lines 1, 8 and 12). Always looking for mist and transparency, Monet would dedicate himself less to flowers than to reflections in water, a lonely and very personal inverted world.
Monet and his family arrived in Giverny in 1883, which was when the orchard that we see today was planted. Monet's garden comprises two main parts: the Clos Normand at the front of the house and a Japanese-inspired water garden on the other side of the road.
The Clos Normand is a work of art in itself. About two and a half acres in size, Monet's creation is a play on perspective, symmetry and colour. You will find various varieties of flora (lily pads, bamboo, tamaris, weeping willows, climbing rose, holly hocks and carob trees...). The artist combined the simplest of flowers (daisies and poppies for example) with the rarest varieties, layering them, teaming flowers of varying heights to give the garden shape, relief and volume, providing a spectacular show of nature that is different according to the season. The central alley is covered by iron arches covered in winding climbing roses. Monet's aim was to escape the linear, organised, constrained and highly controlled styles of gardens that were in fashion at the time.
Ten years after his arrival at Giverny, Monet bought the adjoining piece of land to the Clos Normand, which lay on the other side of the railway. A small brook, the Ru, flowed across it. Monet had the first small pond dug, which was enlarged later on to its present day size. The water garden is full of asymmetries and organic lines. Inspired by the Japanese gardens in the prints Monet loved to collect, this is where you will find the famous Japanese bridge. Covered with wisterias, which Monet planted himself, there are also several other smaller bridges adorned with weeping willows, a bamboo wood and the famous nympheas, most commonly known as water lilies, which bloom throughout the summer.
After Claude Monet's death in 1926, his son Michel, inherited the property and Monet's step-daughter Blanche, ran it. After the Second World War the house and garden fell into serious disrepair, forcing Michel Monet to donate the property to the Beaux-Arts Academy in 1966. Restoring the property to its former glory took almost 10 years and it has been a favourite day-trip from Paris since it opened to the public in 1980.
Getting to Giverny: hop on the train at St Lazare (which Monet also painted) to Vernon, which is on the main Paris / Rouen / Havre line. The journey takes 45 minutes. Once at Vernon, catch the 240 bus to Giverny (three miles away), which leaves 15 minutes after the train arrives.
Extra information about the visit:
To prevent people from treading on the plants, the inner alleys are closed to the public. To get to the water garden you must take an underground passage (in Monet's time it was necessary to cross the railway and the road). From the Japanese bridge you can explore all the hidden recesses of the water garden. Taking pictures is permitted in the garden, but only from the walkways. Picnics are forbidden. Pets are not admitted. Allow two hours for the visit. Open from 1 April; 9.30am to 6.00pm daily.