There are few things more inviting than a landscape by Claude Monet. The pioneer of French Impressionism travelled widely as a painter — notably to London, where he captured the city’s grey skies, and Italy, where he recreated the land and seascapes of Bordighera and Venice. But if you want to put yourself into one of Monet’s pictures, the best place to start is his home region of Normandy.
Head to the coastal hamlet of Étretat in the Caux area to find the alabaster cliffs seen in Monet’s eponymous paintings, then inland to Rouen to find its cathedral, the subject of some 30 works completed between 1892 and 1893.
However, it was once he moved to Giverny, a village midway between Rouen and Paris, that Monet’s style, not to mention his fortunes, rapidly developed. Having found the property of his dreams in 1883, he then set about shaping it to his artistic needs, landscaping the adjoining flower garden, before purchasing a piece of neigbouring land and transforming it into a Japanese-themed water garden. It was here Monet worked on his water lilies series — 250 of the most famous paintings ever created, many of which have since been sold for millions.
Monet’s Giverny house, now run by the Monet Foundation, has been impeccably preserved, and the Japanese garden is a particular highlight. Visitors here will have no trouble spotting the key components from the water lilies series, from the rebuilt Japanese bridge, wisteria and weeping willows to the lilies themselves. fondation-monet.com
Where to start: Seine scenes
Published in the Jul/Aug 2015 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)