Giverny’s Back Roads

As we all know, there’s the fantasy of Giverny…


…and then there’s the reality:


New Yorker magazine cover of June 5, 2000 by the great illustrator Ian Falconer.

 From April to October Monet’s garden at Giverny is open seven days a week and half a million “culture tourists” make the pilgrimage to this tiny village to see the famous Japanese bridge:


When I was there last month the wisteria on what is called the “superstructure” of the bridge was just starting to bloom…


…but the famous water lilies don’t blossom until late July. Since except for bullfrogs calling to each other there was nothing of interest going on in the water, I spent my time watching people take in The Most Famous Japanese Bridge in France:



And then I went exploring in Giverny. I took a walk down the main drag of the village (pop. 505) called, of course, Rue Claude Monet. At the far end of the long wall that keeps Monet’s houses secluded on Rue Claude Monet there is a big green door…


…which is Monet’s old garage door, where he used to pull in his Panhard Lavassor that he bought in 1900. I know! I can’t picture Monet driving a car either!   As you continue your mosey thorugh the village on the Rue Claude Monet you pass picturesque houses…P1160440

…and the tourist information center and the Impressionist Museum of Giverny  that used to be called The Museum of American Art in honor of all the Americans who flocked to this village to paint with the Master from 1880 – 1926:


Nice restaurant, very nice gardens, bijoux collection.

And then you get to the main hub of social life in Giverny the Baudy Hotel…


…where all Monet’s American acolytes used to hang out in olden times and where they are still doing a bang-up business serving lunch and diner and tea.


In the Petit Galerie Baudy, right there at the Baudy Hotel, there is a storefront where Monsieur Frederic Desessard works, a miniaturist after my own heart:


He very kindly let me photograph him painting his latest tableaux (he does not usually allow photographs of him at work):


And he then showed me how he paints with a toothpick:


Here he’s putting the finishing touches on his copy of one of the rare Monet paintings of his flower garden ( if you want to see the original it’s in the Musee d’Orsay in Paris) and has finished one of the 18 similar views of the Japanese bridge that Monet painted between 1899 and 1900 (see: the top of this post). The portrait of Camille Monet  that M. Desessard has beautifully reproduced is in the National Gallery in Washington D.C.

I asked to buy one of these miniatures but M. Desessard told me that he doesn’t sell his paintings, he uses them for the tiny 3D tableaux he makes and sells in his shop.


Photo by Jean-Michel Peers — to see more follow the link below — read on!

Hmmmmm…I think I just got my inspiration for my Giverny Triscuit...


You can find the finished Triscuit at the end of this post.

Anyhoo, If you are going to Giverny, you can’t miss M. Desessard…


Photo by Jean-Michel Peers.

…right on the main drag, at 81 Rue Claude Monet. The French photographer Jean-Michel Peers has graciously permitted me to show you his photos of M. Desessard at work on his miniatures — click onto this link here to see more, and to check out Jean-Michel’s portfolio of wonderful historical photos of Giverny and of Monet’s garden too.

But we, you and me, dear readers, have not finished out our wanderings there. We are going to go further down Rue Claude Monet to the 15th century church of Sainte Radegonde

P1160765…to pay respects to the seven WWII British airmen who are fondly remembered by the people of Giverny; their Lancaster bomber crashed nearby in 1944 and the village honors them with this grave:


British visitors to Giverny leave English coins here.

We will take a walk around the churchyard to the side area where we’ll will find the beautiful grave of Gerald Van der Kemp, the man responsible for restoring Monet’s gardens:


Mr. Van der Kemp lies next to the Monet family grave, the resting place of the Master himself (along with various family members):


Few of the day trippers who come to Giverny bother to make the walk up to Eglise Sainte Radegonde…and it’s not even “off the beaten track”! To really get Off The Beaten Track, you have two choices. You can get out of town on the D5:

P1160437 2

Yes, we are going to walk 4 km to Vernon!

In which case you will walk along the banks of the River Epte…


…on the path takes you past the secluded studio where the American artist (and Monet’s next door neighbor in Giverny)  Frederick Carl Frieseke got the privacy he needed to paint his favorite subject, naked ladies sunbathing. The house used to be home to a community of monks who bred fish to stock the local rivers…


…but do not go fishing in the Epte or the Ru unless you’ve paid your 89 euro license fee :


This is the Epte, which flows into the Seine. The River Ru is a branch of the Epte and it’s the Ru that flows into Monet’s pond in his water garden.

That red signposted on that tree announces that this area is under the control of the Fédération de l’Eure pour la Pêche et la Protection du Milieu Aquatique. You can look them up. France has strict fishing protections on all its streams, brooks, creeks, and rivers.

Other sights along the D5:







Does anyone know what this is? Monique — can you explain your people’s strange foreign ways?




And that’s how you get to Vernon as the lone pedestrian on the D5.

Your other choice of getting Off The Beaten Path is to take Rue Claude Monet alllllllllll the way to the end of town…


…and find the bike path….


…that is easier to walk on than the D5 and “busier” (this is where all those people who rent bikes at the Vernon train station go, but it’s still pretty deserted) and nearly quite as scenic…





…and when you get to Vernon on this route…


…there is this:


The sign says: Attention au chat. You don’t see the chat? He’s there! He’s right there:

P1160702 2

Now, if you really want to get Off The Beaten Track in Giverny…


…all you have to do is take the foot path that starts where the Rue du Chateau d’Eau ends and climb…



…until you find the perfect picnic spot…


Looks like a Plebicula dorylas to me. My guide to French butterflies calls this color “sky blue”. I thought it was a wildflower at first, then I saw it was an elegant French insect.

…where you can sit and plan your next visit to Giverny (maybe walk that highway  all the way to Sainte-Genevieve-les-Gasny?):


I thought I would be finished with Giverny with this post, having told as many stories about my visit as my dear readers have the patience for…but no, I have one more piece of business. I have a Giverny Triscuit to give away!


Seeing M. Desessard’s copies of famous Monet paintings gave me the urge to do something I’ve never done before: COPY. So here it is, My Monet:


And that’s why we call it a Triscuit.

If you would like to give a home to this original watercolor Giverny Triscuit, please leave a Comment below before the Comments close on midnight June 26 and, as usual, Top Cat will pick a winner totally at random, to be announced when we all get together again next Friday.

This was fun, copying one of the most iconographic works of art of the 20th century. I think I’d like to do it again. Anybody got any suggestions for another Masterpiece Triscuit???

56 Comments, RSS

  1. Carol Walls

    What a spectacular little treasure. I would like to put my name in the chapeaux for a chance to give this beautiful little painting a home in Vancouver. Your blog is amazing and I love your books! Cheers, Carol

  2. Caroline

    You could paint nothing but BLOBS and I’d be happy but I do love Triscuit Monet. Thank you for taking me on Giverny’s back roads. I went to see Monet’s garden last year but I’ve just seen more of the village thanks to you than what I saw with my own eyes.

  3. Bev

    I’ve so enjoyed following your adventures in France. Only a matter of weeks until I follow in your footsteps, in Paris at any rate, after being inspired by Le Road trip!

  4. Sapphire

    Acquired infirmities ended my wandering before I got to France. Your book, and now this blog, have made that particular indignity a bit easier to bear. Thank you for taking me there!

  5. One of my girls gave me Le Road Trip, which I love in every way. You must have to eat a lot of Triscuits to keep up with your paintings. For another Mastertriscuit, how about the willow tree at the tip of the Sq. du Vert Galant?

  6. one of my favorite posts of yours, it was a wonderful calming restorative walk in the country. heavy sigh of contentment from me… amazing to meet another triscuit maker, his work looks wonderful. i loved all the details you shared, this is my type of holiday, walking, walking, walking in the beauty that abounds with camera in hand. please toss my name in topcat’s hat, with all the pets we have traveling has been stymied for years, your wee triscuit may be the closet bite i get to the real thing.

    as for mini forgeries, i am very partial to van gogh landscapes, it would be fun to see you swirling about pint size in the warm shades of summer.

    thanks for best visuals and reading week after week, today just felt so comfortable, like i was walking step by step myself~

  7. Isn’t it uncanny that you would meet someone who also paints Triscuits?
    He would appreciate your work..I wonder if you were able to share with him?
    Re “la petite hutte” dans le jardin..?
    It looks decorative to me and it may have a purpose there..tehere are so many such HUTTES in France..But being from QC..I have no idea..
    I will search though..:)
    My friend in France..a gardener and artist would know:) Ronelle..I am going to forward this post to her..stay tuned:)

  8. Janet

    I needed a vacation this morning. Delightful post today. Loved the blue butterfly, and like you, took it for a wildflower at first. Thanks for sharing your trip with us.

  9. Adele

    We’ve never managed to get to Giverny because we usually travel to France in the off season. But your lovely photos make me rethink our planning — it almost seems preferable to go when the gardens are closed and simply enjoy the rest of the town and area.

    Love your books and perusing the Triscuits. Fingers crossed that this is my lucky time!

  10. Cheryl

    Just another reason to be happy on this first day of summer: a perfect weather day in Pittsburgh, another lovely post from Vivian, and a chance to win a beautiful triscuit. Count me in!

  11. Maryanne in SC

    It would be an honor to have a Vivian Swift triscuit, especially this one.
    I have the morning off,and am savoring Friday’s blog post with a proper cup of tea (lapsang souchong) in the company of two cats.

    We liked “Attention du Chat” so much. Thank you for another lovely ramble, Vivian.

  12. Pippa

    I’m still laughing over that New Yorker magazine cover. How do you find these things???

    Pot bellies pigs? Llamas? Camouflage cats? Only you could go to Giverny and SEE these things!

    Of course I’d love to own an original Vivian Swift Triscuit, and I’ll put it in a big huge frame to hang over my fireplace mantel. I’m talking 16 square feet of glazing, at least. Top Cat: Pick me!

  13. Kate

    Am planning a trip to Giverney next June-with your last couple of posts I will expand my trip to an overnight stay.I thank you for that.It has been a lovely ramble with you at the helm.Thanks Vivian

  14. janet bellusci

    i’ve always been more comfortable exploring back roads, whether while traveling or when right here at home. so many things everyone “in a hurry” misses which are a delight to see! thank you for taking us on that wonderful exploration. a great way to start the day!! LOVE the latest triscuit!

  15. SandraK

    Just what I needed today, a wander in the French countryside. Just what I need every week! Thank you again for another fantastic adventure.

    As for a possible Masterpiece Triscuit, how about trying a Van Gogh landscape? Starry Night?

  16. I heard from my friend..from the photo..

    Her guess is a bit like mine..a garden structure..

    She doesn’t know exactly what it is..

    she has a lovely book on medieval gardening where the use of twigs was how everything garden was done. There were gloriettes and huttes and stakes and supports and arches and fences and name it..all was done with wood and twigs. The closest she can come to this little structure, is that it may be something like a poullailler, for two or three poules or another pet, maybe duck or goose. It could simply be decorative as well. If the other side were visible, it would have been easier to say. It seems to her like just a personal structure constructed by the owner. It is custom in France in the countryside to use twigs from the garden for use in the potager and everywhere else. So everywhere you will see stakes in the garden cloches for the salads, round teepees for letting tomatoes and peas etc climb, fences made from tilleul branches.

    The above I copied and pasted parts..
    She is an avid gardener.. and a resident of artist.. and has impeccable taste..I must pull out a book she sent me..with many paintings..perhaps I will find one..

    Hope this helps..whatever it is it’s charming and I would like one here…in my QC garden.
    Right now.

  17. Your triscuit is splendid, but then look at all that inspiration! Parfait!

    I loved this visit with you — brought back many memories of the countryside. I’m so pleased you found the Frieseke home — He was born in the small town of Owosso, MI — just a few towns away from me — and he is quite the local famous person! We see a good deal of his work in Michigan.

    I, too, visited the cemetery and was fascinated by its beautiful gate and some of the graves. And that countryside with its sheep and farms and all that green! Ah, you take me back there — and I make notes for another visit!

    Yes, I am finger-crossed on the triscuit — but then, I always get a gift when I visit and take my mini-desk vacation with you on Friday!

  18. Connie

    Cher Madame: I will gladly carry your luggage, your photography equipment, your sketch books, your lunch if you will let me tag after you on your next trip to France. I am a huge fan of your books and now your blog and I desperately need to follow you around to learn how to wander!

    And oh what a dream it would be to hang an original Vivian Swift Monet Triscuit on my wall!

  19. Constant Comment

    Yes, please, a Van Gogh Starry Night Triscuit. And then will you take us south and show us the real Arles? Please?

    My husband bought me your book for my birthday last week to satiate my appetite for French travel but little does he know that your book and your blog have only whet (whetted?) my appetite.

  20. Sandy R

    Oh Vivian, I adore your stories of France and you are educating me as well. I would be honored to house your “triscut” – point Top Cat in my direction!!

  21. Patricia

    An enchanting post! I love your discoveries both on and off the beaten path. Thank you so much for the link to Frederic Desessard (hopefully got the right number of ssss in his name). Loved his charming shadow boxes. And would love my very own mini masterpiece by V. Swift.
    I love the request for “Starry Night” and I second that.

  22. Nancy Brill

    How about something by Van Gogh?
    You sound as though you had a WonderfuL time in Giverny, how I would have loved to be a fly on the wall to watch you in action!

  23. Joan

    Love the walk about with you. The cover of New Yorker!!! Hilarious. I can’t imagine having a home & front door just feet from the road! Yikes!

    As far as a request for a masterpiece for you to copy: how about something by John Singer Sergeant? Chinese Lanterns? Shows his two daughters letting go of the lit lanterns in the garden. Just lovely.

    Please have Top Cat only draw my name from his cap…I would love to frame this little masterpiece for my hallway gallery.

  24. whimsy2

    I look forward to your every post And Mehitabel enjoys reading you, too. She’s a very educated cat with refined tastes.) (I translate into meow.)

  25. Denise

    Sigh, I didn’t make time to visit Giverny on my trip to Europe last year, but I shall return…. I was always looking for quiet little walks or gardens to escape the tourist traps whilst on my trip, and I owe them my sanity. The only way I could survive Monets garden would be to know I could go on one of those walks, preferably alone ( or maybe with one gorgeous companion, should such a person materialise) after braving the onslaught of people.

  26. Wendy

    The is a great New Yorker cover and your informative and clever post is even greater. It’s clear to me that you are an expert wanderer. I did not spend the time I should have in Giverny, I only saw what all the other tourists saw, so I am grateful that you have taken me with you o your adventures.

    I too would like to see you serve Van Gogh on a Triscuit.

  27. TinyDancer

    Vivian, you could just paint blobs and believe me, people would get excited … but thank you for taking the time to create ART. I love rambling with you!

  28. michelle

    Thank you for sharing your lovely visit with me, a place I have always wanted to go. You did a beautiful job of the painting, and it would be a pleasure to see it grace my home.

  29. Susie

    Thank you for the most beautiful walking trip…..and the laughs, your sense of humor is so wickedly sharp, I always laugh out loud.
    I would love to have that precious triscuit.
    How about doing a Jackson Pollack triscuit? That’s a joke….I also vote for a Van Gogh. One of his olive groves perhaps?
    Of course, anything you do will be wonderful and a treasure.

  30. Laura

    Here’s a concept for a new book, “Swift on Her Feet” – inspired by your strolls off and off-off the beaten path. Keep going!

  31. Karen

    I am a recent follower, having just discovered your book last week. I began reading the evening it arrived and was unable to put it down until “le trip” ended late into the night. I know! That kind of ravenous reading is usually saved for a good who-done-it, right?

    The airiness of your artwork is captivating and your writing insightful. I will certainly find myself retuning to Le Road Trip when I need to escape. Imagine how wonderful it will be to peruse those colorful pages again in the depths of our harsh Midwestern winter.

    Thank goodness you have a blog where my armchair travels can continue. Your Friday blog posts have been added to my calendar, something to look forward to. As a late disciple, I am fortunate there are pages and pages of past writings to fill my cravings until Fridays arrive. And I’ve ordered your first book, which should be arriving any day!

  32. This has been such fun following you thru Giverny.
    I hate to see it end. You did answer something I have always wondered about and that was who kept the garden going after Monet died. I know any garden I ever created and moved from is gone. No one with the vision I had or caring cared to keep it going. At least some one had vision with Monet’s gardens.
    Love your miniature copy. That’s one of my favorite scenes Monet painted and you did it proud. Please add my name to the hat. 🙂

  33. Ann

    I love your miniature world. The trip to Giverny must have been wonderful. The colours are so vivid. Of course, I would love to win the triscuit piece.Happy travels

  34. Eric

    I feel as if I’ve been to France this morning, without all the bother of going through airport security, jet lag, or dragging my suitcase all the way to Giverny. I always look forward to my journeys with you, whether it’s to foreign destinations or deep into the art process.

  35. Carly

    I woke up this morning as I do every Saturday morning, eager to see where Vivian would be taking me today, what adventure would she would show me or what kind of insight she’d share about life, art, travel. I force myself to make a cup of tea first so I can settle in at my computer and truly travel in style with my favorite wanderer.

    Ahhhhhhhh. This mosey through the French countryside was delicious. All that, and a Triscuit too! You know I would build a Vivian Swift shrine around that Monet masterpiece.

  36. LadyVee

    I have not commented in a while because I don’t like to write unless I can add something that hasn’t already been said but in this case all I can do is repeat what everyone else is raving about. This walk through Giverny is wonderful. And yes, I would also love to see you do a Van Gogh triscuit, and I’d go one better than Carly and build a Vivian Swift museum if I were the lucky winner of the Vivian Swift Monet.

  37. Karin

    That New Yorker cover is hilarious!

    Yes, please add my name to the chapeau for the V.Swift Monet, and yes, I agree: Van Gogh is the way to go. ha ha.

    I have so enjoyed my walks on the back roads and highways of Giverny. Oh wait. That was you, not me .. it seems so real, and wonderful, though, like I WAS there!

  38. Jesse

    Oh No. I can’t believe I went all the way to Giverny and did not walk down the Rue Claude Monet, did not stroll the D5 (after hours), hike the lovely bike path, have tea at Hotel Baudy, stay overnight at a charming B&B and drink wine with a chow chow.

    Vivian, you not only know how to travel, you know how to LIVE.

  39. Faith

    Happiness. This trek off the beaten track of Giverny is pure happiness, sheer pleasure. I’ve always wanted to go, and now I’m glad that I haven’t been there before I’ve read your guide to the back roads and secret corners.

    I would love to hang your triscuit on my wall.

  40. Jeannie

    Oh my! I thought if I ever went to France, Monet’s gardens would be at the top of my list. Now I see that the surrounding area is equally as appealing and less crowded! M. Desessard’s art is amazing! I do hope you showed him one of your triscuits or your sketchbook. A toothpick! Wow! The garden structure I have seen before, but never found out what it was. I know they are used for drying flowers, grains, etc. in other parts of Europe. To me, it looks like a bee skeep on steroids. Thanks for another fabulous post that had me pining for a baguette, cheese and wine on a grassy hill with butterlies that look like flowers. 🙂

  41. Sue

    I imagine I will never get to see Giverny in person, due to a number of health issues. And, that is why I love your blog and your books. You have given me so much to dream about. Thank you for posting your wanderings through Giverny; I can almost imagine that I am there! I would be so grateful to win your little Triscuit. Please put me in your drawing and pick me 🙂

  42. Deb mattin

    another delightful travel post. The New Yorker cover is a hoot-sadly right-on given some of the tacky tourists we encountered while in Paris!!

    How freakin’ cool to find another miniaturist ! His tiny tableaux are to die for.

    Love all the photos, but the house in the intersection, the pigs, and the “attention du chat” are my favorites.

    But the Giverny triscuit is so lovely – and would be a great start to my own little tableaux!!

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