If you’re heading to Normandy and interested in gardening, a visit to Monet’s garden at Giverny will be on your bucket list. It’s an easy hour’s drive from Les Iris and a wonderful day trip.
For those in London before April 20th 2016, a great warm-up is Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse at the Royal Academy. Bringing together an immense number of works by Monet and his contemporaries, the exhibition examines the role gardens played in the evolution of art from the early 1860s to the 1920s.
It’s a blockbuster exhibit that brings many works together for the first time in living memory. Book ahead and expect crowds. The exhibition is free for under 16s, and the free Art Detectives guide kept our children engaged.
And if you can’t make it to London, the Royal Academy have produced an informative series of videos introducing artists’ gardens in northern France – Monet at Giverny, Pierre Bonnard’s garden at Vernonnet in Normandy, and Henri Le Sidaner’s garden in the medieval village of Gerberoy, Picardy.
All over France there are green routes or voies vertes that let you explore the country on two wheels – without contending with traffic. The cycle roads are well signposted and often built over old rail routes. These pictures were taken along the route between Evreux and the abbey at Le Bec Hellouin, in Normandy.
Another visit to the wonderful zoological park at Clères, which we have visited before. The collection was established as a private zoo by ornithologist Jean Delacour at his chateau north of Rouen. Later donated to the state, the collection of animals reflects his travels in Vietnam, Madagascar, and Central America. On this visit the gardens were a mass of spring flowers and blossoms, and the animals and birds, who live in semi-freedom, were active and full of song.
We’re getting excited about the forthcoming French film of Posy Simmonds’ comic novel, Gemma Bovery. Set in Normandy, it’s a modern retelling of the classic French novel Madame Bovary – with a heavy dose of English irony thrown in. The book is great on the English and the English in Normandy, on our relationship with the food, the countryside and the French. The film is released on September 10th in France, and stars Gemma Aterton. Here’s the trailer.
What’s better than an attic full of the things someone once treasured, then grew up or turned in another direction, and now here’s the thing, dusty and worn yet special in some way just waiting to be discovered. Ebay thrives on this market of lost things but it isn’t the same, is it. There isn’t that physical thrill you get when you’ve sorted through the junk to find the very thing, shined it up with the palm of your hand, and imagined it into your life.
Maybe that’s why the brocante still thrives in France, this most sensory of cultures being reluctant to part with the thrill that comes with the hunt. Here are our latest finds, from consignment brocante type shop La Grange de Janna, just relocated from Honfleur to Pont-Audemer and helpfully open every day. Furniture, books, electronics, audio, vintage and modern – it’s all here in a cavernous warehouse.
At Les Iris the walls are fairly bare and we’re always looking for pictures that connect to our lives here in Normandy, while small enough to suit the cottage’s dimensions. The miniature oil of a vase of flowers will be perfect. The fashion plate will remind our daughters not to complain about the clothes they have to wear.
And the mandolin – an impulse purchase, redolent of Picasso, southern summers, Shakespearean serenades. It needs re-stringing and a polish, but is in good shape, and made by Masspacher in Paris. A fine old thing will get new life.