As much as we love Paris, the city life gets a tad exhausting, with crowds flocking to the city in the heat of the summer. We love the ease of train travel in Europe and find it a pleasure to whisk ourselves away to small towns and the French countryside whenever possible. In all of our trips to Paris, we had yet to make a visit to Giverny, France, the site of Monet’s exquisite gardens. Giverny is a tiny village on the outskirts of Vernon, a small town just 45 minutes from the Paris Saint Lazare station. Monet painted this station in 1877, when the clouds of steam that filled the station empowered his craft.
Once you arrive in Vernon, you must find your own transportation to Giverny. Through our own research, we found one of the best ways to get there is by renting a bicycle at one of the local cafes. You can hop a bike in Vernon, cycle a short distance through town, make your way over the Seine, and then take the trail straight into Giverny. In total, there and back, it is a very pleasant six and a half mile ride.
After all of our research, we were ready to set out on this adventure on our own until we discovered that Fat Tire Bike Tours offers a Monet’s Gardens tour. Since, in the past, we’ve used this company to take bicycle tours both in Paris and London, we felt confident that we were making the right decision by traveling to Monet’s Gardens with them. As expected, the tour was absolutely fantastic and we highly recommend using this company to take your first trip to Giverny. For 60 Euros per person, you can be reassured your trip will be safe and informative.
Our day began with a quick Metro ride to the Gare Saint Lazare train station where we met our Fat Tire guide on the designated platform. From this vantage point, you can stand and imagine what the station must have looked like in Monet’s time, a station filled with steam engines, carrying passengers to and from Paris. After boarding the train, you have no responsibility but to sit back and relax and enjoy your ride to Vernon while your guide handles the ticket holding.
Upon arrival in Vernon, you then take a short walk to the town square to pick up your supplies for a picnic lunch. Unfortunately, our tour was on France’s independence day, most commonly referred to as Bastille Day, or fête nationale. For this reason, a lot of the shops and markets were closed, but Paul and I were able to pick up baguette sandwiches from the boulangerie and a bottle of local cider at the Monoprix (the local chain of grocery stores).
After shopping, it is time to pick up your bicycles at a small garage just around the corner from the town square. Here you will be able to outfit your bike with a basket, the perfect place to stow all of your important picnic items.
Your first stop on your ride will be to Notre Dame de Vernon, a church which suffered significant damage during World War II. As you can tell from the dark facade, this church has not seen the restoration that the Notre Dame de Paris has seen. In fact, many of the figures on the exterior of the church are missing their heads!
After a stop at the church, you will make your way over the Seine (this is a bit of an incline) via a large modern bridge. Just at the bottom of this bridge, you will wind your way to this charming park, where you can sit with the one you love and enjoy a picnic next to the old bridge. If you are lucky, the swans will pay you a visit.
Just a side note: I think Paul and I made the best choice as far as food goes here. Instead of picking up various meats and cheeses like others did, our baguette sandwiches were not only extremely delicious, but outrageously convenient. While others were working at cutting their cheese and bread with plastic knives, Paul and I just sat and munched away on our sandwiches. If you’ve never been to France, you can pick up some seriously tasty pre-made sandwiches at the local bakeries. The baguettes are super fresh and the filling is quite simple. While you have various options to choose from, Paul and I went for the ham and cheese with egg, butter, lettuce, and tomato. These sandwiches are very different from those back in New Jersey. Instead of being piled high with meat and cheese, you will find only a minimal amount of ham and cheese (often one slice) inside the bread, the perfect amount for a couple who doesn’t normally eat meat or dairy. In addition, your sandwich is stored inside its own paper bag for easy transport and manageability.
Once you are fueled up, it is time to make your way to Giverny. The trail is situated along the route of the old abandoned train tracks that Monet used to take into town. You can enjoy the ride along this dusty path and observe the beautiful homes along the way. You will know when you’ve reached Giverny when you hit Rue Claude Monet.
Upon arrival to town, you will lock your bikes next to the historic Hotel Baudy, now a picturesque cafe situated just steps from Monet’s home and gardens. Your guide will escort you to the gardens, give you some tips on the best way to navigate your way through, and send you on your way. You are given a full two hours to explore all Giverny has to offer: the gardens, his home, and the town.
Of course, everyone wants to see Monet’s water garden where the famous water lilies were painted. These grounds are astoundingly gorgeous yet completely overcrowded with people. It is almost impossible to get a good photo of the bridges and the water lilies when there are a thousand tourists milling around you. We hear that if you get to Monet’s gardens early and head straight to the water gardens, you can avoid these crowds.
If you are a garden person, we imagine you could spend hours upon hours identifying all of the flower varieties blooming on Monet’s grounds. The colors that inspired Monet’s work are vivid and the plant life is plentiful. We are sure our mothers would have been naming each and every petal if they were visiting with us. Unfortunately, Paul and I aren’t very knowledgable when it comes to gardening, but we enjoyed the beauty and historical significance of it all.
So, if you ever find yourself in Paris and looking to escape city life for the day, get yourself out to Giverny on the Fat Tire Bike Tour. We agree this is the best Fat Tire tour we’ve been on and we loved every minute of the ride, especially the picnic stop. There’s nothing like traveling and seeing the world on two wheels.
You can find more information about the tour here: https://paris.fattirebiketours.com/tours/monets-gardens-bike-tour
Fat Tire Bike Tours are available in Paris, London, and Barcelona.