Romance and mystique are intertwined in the City of Light — in style, in tempo, in a vibe that only Paris can deliver. After all, the capital city of France provides beautiful sights and sounds that await the intrepid traveler.
To rediscover Paris — and the awe-inspiring places beyond it — is to have a renewal of vows with one’s love and fervor for the city that everybody adores. It’s very hard to claim Paris as your “one and only one.” Paris will never be loyal to one because it knows how to wink at all who admire its old world charm that merrily marries the modern conveniences of the city.
But for a few days, my dear friends pastry chef Buddy Trinidad and his lovely wife Rita of Park Avenue Desserts and I were driven by our Filipino private chauffeur Andy Celario to the Palace of Versailles and then to Claude Monet’s gardens in Giverny.
The Palace of Versailles has been listed as a World Heritage Site for 30 years and is one of the greatest achievements in French 17th-century art. It is the ultimate testament to the opulence, decadence and lavishness of the French nobility. The palace contains 2,300 rooms spread over 63,154 sqm.
In 1607, the young Dauphin, the future King Louis XIII, came to Versailles for his first hunting trip. He discovered a forest and meadows with plenty of game, which also pleased his father, Henry IV. The ambiance of this location was made even more charming by the presence of boars, stags and pheasants. The hunting lodge was later turned into a small county residence.
In 1682, when King Louis XIII was already king, he moved his household from the Louvre to Versaille. For over a century, Versaille was the seat of French monarchy. Every counsel was given one apartment each.
As we toured the palace, we were impressed by the elaborate architecture in the Baroque style. Each gallery was met with awe and wonder. The Hall of Mirrors, which is located in the central gallery of the palace is breathtaking, with its mirror-clad arches and magnificent bronze-gilded vaulted ceiling, painted by Le Brun.
Through the central window of the hall of mirrors, one can view the breathtaking perspective of the beautiful gardens of Versailles. Spanning 800 hectares, King Henry XIV considered the garden just as important as the palace. As we made our way towards The Orangery, we could not help but marvel at the genius of Andre Le Notre, the landscape architect of the massive garden. Come to think of it, he created masterful flowerbed compositions without any formal gardening training.
From Versailles, we drove about an hour through the French countryside to Giverny, a small town just outside Vernon, to the home of Claude Monet. Upon our arrival, and before beginning our tour, we feasted on entrecote and frites and traditional French fare at Les Nympheas, the restaurant within the property.
As we entered the property, the first garden that greeted us was the Clos Normand, which is right in front of Monet’s house. The central alley is covered by iron arches in which climbing flowers grow. The ground is divided into beds where perennials of different varieties and heights grow freely and harmoniously. The garden is a work of art in itself because Monet created a garden full of perspectives, symmetries and colors.
History shares that Monet stumbled upon Giverny while on a train, looking out the window. He was drawn to the area because of the quality of light. He got off the train and wasted no time in looking for a house to rent. In April of 1883, the widower moved in with his lady friend and their respective children.
With the passing years, Monet developed a passion for botany; his passion also became the inspiration for his best-known works. Monet became quite prolific and gained financial and critical success during the late 1880s and 1890s.
As his wealth grew, the garden evolved as well. It was a statement of his economic progress. Always on the lookout for rare varieties, he bought young plants at great expense. “All my money goes into my garden,” he said. But also: “I am in raptures.”
After acquiring the property in 1893, 10 years after his arrival at Giverny, Monet also bought the piece of land neighboring his property on the other side of the railway. It was crossed by a small brook, the Ru, which is a diversion of the Epte, a tributary of the Seine River. With the support of the prefecture, Monet had the first small pond dug; even though his peasant neighbors were opposed. They were afraid that his strange plants would poison the water
The water garden has The Japanese Bridge as the central feature with weeping willows and the lily pond. Inspired by his collection of Japanese prints, he filled the pond with water lilies and bamboo on the shores. Walking into this garden was like walking into one of Monet’s paintings.
The quality of light in Monet’s garden, which was what drew him to this place in the beginning, created a symbiotic relationship between the artist and the garden.
Monet was infatuated by art. He fell in love with it. He often spoke of seeing only color. The exterior and interiors of his home and studio spoke volumes about his relationship with color. Upon entering his home, the bright yellow kitchen with copper pots and pans is the best part of the house. Luminous yellow walls and chairs were uncharacteristic for his time but Monet knew how to pair blue and white rouen tiles with copper pots and utensils. He prepared many meals in his kitchen.
On the ground floor was the stunning blue sitting room. As we entered the artist’s studio where he worked, we were further mesmerized. Along the walls, prominently displayed is the Japanese woodblock collection which Monet collected passionately over a period of 50 years (he had over 231 pieces!) and was a great source of inspiration for him.