As I sit in my new office looking out at the beauty of the Blue Mountains and trying to find my inspiration and creativity, I see a postcard that is part of our marketing material for our trip next year. On the front is my friend and artist, Kathy Karas’ painting she did of a Paris Café.
It takes my mind down the path of visiting France next year. And to be honest, I am wondering what it is that I am hoping to find in France. Because if you have read my previous post on Going Back to Paris, you will know it wasn’t always plain sailing on my last visit.
But that’s where I realise I have had it all wrong. Like so many people I wrap Paris and France all into one, and I have to remind myself that I should not judge France on Paris. How stupid that I was!!
On that visit, my daughter and I joined a bike tour to Monet’s Gardens in Giverny (you can read all about it in My Tour to Monet’s Gardens). We loved that part of our stay in France the best, and it was because it was out of the city and in the country, where I prefer to be.
For me, discovering France is not about visiting specific destinations. It is more about capturing the feel of France, the history, the food, the people, rather than a particular place. I want to discover historic villages and cities where the great impressionist painters found inspiration. I want to eat traditional French cuisine and taste and enjoy the classic flavours authentic to different regions. I am a cheese freak so where better than to indulge my passion than in France? And of course, there are the wines to taste.
My style of travel has never been about ticking off as many places as I can within a country, but more about staying for a period in one place and getting to know it. To find a favourite café, to meet local people and to simply enjoy all that a place has to offer.
So while I will get a chance to rediscover Paris, I am most looking forward to heading into the countryside and getting to know France itself and add more destinations to my future travel wish list.
For now, these are the places I am looking forward to revisiting and discovering.
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Vernon is the stop you will get off at when heading to Monet’s Gardens in Giverny. But don’t just jump straight on the bus to Giverny, take some time to discover Vernon first.
Explore its medieval streets and afterwards visit Patisserie Rose and drool over the delicious displays of sweet treats, choosing something to eat later as part of a picnic or straight away with a coffee. The staff here were friendly and helpful with our selection.
We also purchased bread here and teamed it with cheese and olives bought at the supermarket (and a bottle of red) as a picnic for our lunch, before we cycled to Monet’s Gardens.
You can sit in the park opposite the Old Mill of Vernon, Le Vieux Moulin de Vernon, and enjoy your meal and the view. Or take in the Château des Tourelles which dates back to the 1200s.
Vernon is located in the Normandy region of France and is only 45 minutes from Paris by train. It is well worth a look around before moving on to Giverny. Buses run from the train station in Vernon straight to Giverny and Monet’s Gardens.
Giverny is most famous for being the home of the great Impressionist Painter, Claude Monet. His home and gardens are now run by the Fondation Claude Monet and are open to the public. It is a popular tourist destination, and it was one of the highlights of my trip to France years ago.
While exploring Giverny make sure you also visit the Musée des Impressionnismes, an art museum dedicated to the history of Impressionism and you can also grab a bite to eat at the Hotel Baudy, once a gathering place for artists.
If you are heading to Giverny, my advice would be to go early to avoid the tourist crowds. It is a beautiful location to explore, and I highly recommend you add it to your France itinerary.
Giverny is 80 km from Paris and is easily accessible from Vernon. Buses run regularly to Giverny from Vernon train station, but you can also hire a bicycle and ride or even walk if you prefer.
On our trip to France, we will be heading to the Provence Region in hope of discovering the flowering Lavender Fields. Unfortunately, we will be too early for the sunflowers, perhaps that will be for another time.
Provence is a region located in the South East of France. Tourists flock to Provence every year discovering its delights, so many it would take a lot longer blog post to name them all.
The light in Provence is something artists have been capturing for centuries and it is van Gogh that we will be chasing on our trip and what inspired him. That and the spectacular Lavender Fields.
Starting their fragrant bloom late in June and through to August, the Provence Lavender Fields can be found around Apt and Gordes, Mont Ventoux, around Sault and Luberon.
The Lavender Fields can be explored on foot, by car or by bike. There are many tour companies you can join to see the best of these gorgeous fields. And of course, we will be hoping to capture this glorious sight in watercolour paint.
I’m not too sure how I will go, but I am very certain Kathy will produce something spectacular if the painting below is anything to go by. Not only will be painting whilst there, we will be taking so many photos they will provide painting inspiration for years to come.
To learn more about the history and cultivation of lavender you can visit the Lavender Museum in Coustellet.
We plan on staying in Avignon and making that our base for 5 days while we explore the city including the Pope’s Palace built in the 1300’s, which it is most famous for and the Saint Benezet Bridge, both UNESCO World Heritage sites.
From here we will take a tour to the lavender fields and day trips to town like Arles.
Other days will be spent painting and getting lost. I plan on meandering through markets, getting lost in the bohemian quarter nestled along the river and sampling the cuisine at the many cafes.
I don’t think it will be too hard to find painting inspiration being surrounded by houses and squares dating back to medieval times.
Avignon is located in the South East of France and is a small city in Provence. A great place to base yourself and explore from.
Because we are on the trail of Vincent van Gogh I thought Arles would be the perfect day trip for us from Avignon to discover more about the famous artist and of course, more about Arles.
I am looking forward to exploring its streets and seeing what inspired van Gogh’s many artworks from the time he lived here from February 1988 to May 1989. We will visit the Fondation Vincent van Gogh and it will be the perfect finish to a trip that starts in Amsterdam and includes a visit to the Van Gogh Museum.
Arles is a small city located on the Rhone River in Provence. It holds a market every Saturday which is said to be one of Provence’s best.
All in all, I'm looking forward to forging a relationship with France outside of Paris. Not only will I be travelling with a good friend and talented artist, but I hope to travel there with a group of like minded people. Others that are in search of the magic that France promises.
If you would like more information about our Painting Trips, take a look at our Trips section. I would love to have you along on the journey.
Cindy Reid is the founder of Travel Charm. Cindy has travelled extensively both personally and with her groups. She has now combined her love of art, food and travel and hosts Painting Trips to Europe and continues to explore and roam in Australia.