How To Visit Monet’s Garden After Hours

Alastair Evans Exclusive Visits0 Comments

Monet's Garden An After Hours Tour

“Avez-vous votre billet?” asked the guard.

It was 5.54pm and Monet’s Garden in Giverny was about to close.

I fished into my pocket and handed him my ticket which the same guard had given me 20 minutes earlier.

The crowds were quickly fading and a soft, luminous haze was descending on the garden returning it to the same lighting conditions in which Monet himself used to paint.

I pressed myself against the ticket kiosk to let the last remaining stragglers by and then looked back to the guard expecting some final instructions.

“The exit is through the green door” he remarked in broken English waving vaguely in no particular direction. Then he handed me back my ticket and motioned me to enter.

I was in.

Along with a couple of painters and their easels, I had the gardens completely to myself. And all for the price of a regular €7.50 ticket.

Monet's Garden Giverny Pond Bridge Photo Source: StefanoVenturi

The Art Of “Not So” Extraordinary Travel

Despite its relative inaccessibility from Paris, Monet’s garden still get 700,000+ visitors a year. For the 7 month period it is open that works out to in excess of 2,900 visitors per day. I wonder if the flowers ever feel crowded out.

Maybe it’s just me, but a garden should be defined by its lack of people not by how many it can squeeze in.

Sharing such a pure and delicate space with thousands of selfie sticks and oversized iPads is not my idea of fun.

Moreover, when it comes to bucket list destinations which I might only get the opportunity to visit once in my life, I want the experience I have and the memories I make to be…well…in a word…extraordinary.

Queue Outside Monet's Garden Photo Source: smontgom65

Unfortunately, this is becoming increasingly difficult.

Tourism around the world is booming. In fact, when compared to other popular destinations, Monet’s garden feels like a sanctuary from the crowds.

Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples in Siem Reap, Cambodia welcomed 2.2 million visitors in 2016. Each year, 6 million visitors (that’s 25,000 per day) crowd into The Sistine Chapel. Those people likely also make the short trip across town to jostle for space in the Colosseum which receives around 4 million tourists a year. During the climbing season more than 5,000 people per day share the summit of Mt Fuji in Japan while the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul attracts a staggering 90 million+ annual visitors.

These places are popular for a reason. They are sites of unparalleled natural beauty, historical significance and artistic splendour. They are worth planning a trip around, flying thousands of miles and perhaps most importantly, allocating your precious vacation time to. Why fly long haul to Europe for a week in Italy when a mom and pop motel and a walk in the woods are a few hours drive away?

Because it’s worth it.

The problem is millions of other people also feel the same way.

In the past, if you wanted to be able to flap your chicken wings at popular sites, you simply needed to follow the age old maxims of “smart travel”:

– Buy “skip the line” tickets in advance
– Get there early

These still work to a point.

But these best practices have now become common parlance.

Buying your regular “skip the line” tickets for The Sistine Chapel just mean you join the queue of hundreds of other people who have done the same.

For those who want to have a truly “once in a life time” experience and then have those experiences again and again, a different approach is needed.

Photographer: Hang Meang Khou

In this and forthcoming posts I’ll be sharing stories about my visits to all the places mentioned above: from a private sunrise on top of Mt Fuji to moonlight tours of The Colosseum – and how I was able to visit them alone, without the crowds or from a unique, unforgettable perspective.

This might seem like Commander McBragg talking or something which only the wealthy or famous can accomplish.

But this is not the case.

The closest I have gotten to the Brad Pitt’s of this world was when I worked as a waiter at the London premier of Beowulf back in 2007. To date the most I have paid for exclusive access to these sites is $130 and in the majority of cases they can be had for the same or close to the same price as you would pay for a regular ticket.

Lets get back to Monet’s garden…

 

Monet’s Garden: A Painter’s Dream

Rather than being limp with exhaustion after another day’s performance, the pink tulips which greet new comers swelled with both timidity and invitation as I passed by, buoyed by the light spring breeze.

Jardin De Monet Giverny Photo Source: packshot

Now that the gardens had closed and the remaining visitors departed, a blithe tranquility had settled on the surroundings punctured only by the doppler effect of an occasional passing car.

There are two distinct areas to the Jardin de Monet. A large flower garden adjacent to the house and the more famous, Japanese inspired water garden further back.

Monet's Garden Map Photo: Alastair Evans

For a while I wandered aimlessly among the flowers accompanied only by nature’s melodies. My visit had come at the tail end of 3 weeks discovery in Paris and I was feeling spent.

In this moment, alone in Monet’s Garden was an opportunity to slow down and quite literally, “stop and smell the roses”.

I sat down on one of the green benches, took in the scene and reflected on how easy it had been to arrange after hours access. For some places, getting exclusive visitation rights can be a challenge. In this case, it had been very easy.

All it had taken was a single email.

I had ended up at the bottom of the Grande Allee de Capucines. This much photographed shrinking pathway lead back to the house and was overflowing with jewel toned nasturtium.

Monet's Garden Grande Allee De Capucines Photo Source: Anikstolk

Marcel Proust once remarked, “If I could see one day Claude Monet’s garden, I really feel I would see a garden in more tones and colour than flowers, a garden which could be less an old flower garden than a colourist garden.”

I’m not sure if Proust ever made it to Giverny but his prediction was spot on.

Like many people, despite being my first time here it wasn’t my first visit.

I had admired the same rich play of color and life and walked the same pathways in art galleries around the world. From London to Geneva and on to Tokyo, for me Monet’s paintings have always been the high watermark of Impressionism.

While his flower garden works were impressive, the source of his greatest accomplishment lay a couple of minutes walk from here, on the other side of the road.

Monet's Garden Pond Giverny Photo: Alastair Evans

Earlier that week I had paid my umteenth visit to Musée de l’Orangerie to once again sit before Monet’s greatest masterpiece: his waterlily series.

Although I have yet to figure out how to arrange a visit outside of normal opening hours (I’m working on it), Musée de l’Orangerie is still one of my highlights for any trip to Paris. There maybe more unconventional, memorable and exclusive experiences to be had, but sitting in that white oval shaped room surrounded by Monet’s paintings is something which draws me back again and again.

Like so many others, this was the main reason I had come to Giverny: to visit Monet’s pond.

“Oh my. It’s beautiful!”

An American couple had joined me in the garden along with an escort who I assumed was their guide.

It was time to move.

I stood up, threw my day pack and tripod over my shoulder and headed to the water lily pond.

 

Drowning In Giverny

By the time I arrived it was a little past 6.30pm and four artists had taken up positions around the pond.

Painter in Monet's Garden Photo: Alastair Evans

The sunlight jumped and sparkled off the still water and the lily leaves floated calmly on the surface. A little stream ran adjacent to the pond while a cute path skipped around the outer edges. A cluster of bamboo plants nuzzled the bow of two shabby long boats which lay forgotten close to the Japanese bridge.

Monets Garden Japanese Boats Photo: Alastair Evans

It was on the bridge I stood and breathed it all in. Branches curled themselves around the freshly painted green struts snaking upwards to form a natural sun shade.

It was perfect.

Perfectly calm, perfectly lit, perfectly populated.

Jardin De Monet Giverny Japanese Bridge Photo: Alastair Evans

As I looked on, the artists continued to make use of the light as it creeped towards dusk.

Time for a walk.

I turned right off the bridge and begun to make my way round the pond. I passed a lady sketching in charcoal but reached an impasse at the other end of the pond.

A paint spotted watercolorist stood next to the pond’s other bridge blocking my path. While the other painters sat with their canvas balanced on their knee or tripod, he was using a full sized wooden easel. Dressed in a white breasted jacket and blotted blue apron, a red ruffled cravat and salmon pink fedora framed a face in pure flow.

 Photo: Alastair Evans

I couldn’t disturb him. There was no way.

While I was stood on the edge of the pond admiring it from afar, he was in the water, chasing the play of light, curling his brush between the lilly leaves and drowning in their elusivity.

To pull him back onto the path would be like interrupting a swimmer in mid stroke.

The American couple who had joined me in the flower garden earlier had now also made their way to the pond and I could see that they likely weren’t a couple rather a mother and son.

Their guide was still with them but had detached himself from their side. The woman unzipped her bag, pulled out her blue covered iPad and with a unusual degree of concentration, took a series of shots. The son stood immobile, gazing at the pond with a dizzy, slightly drunk expression. His pocket camera lay unused and forgotten in his hand.

I understood how he felt.

 Photo: Alastair Evans

I needed to cross the bridge to get to the side I had not yet explored and as I passed them by, assuming they weren’t French I offered a polite “good evening.”

“It really is spectacular” shot back the woman, abruptly ending her photo session and surprising me into conversation.

“Is this your first time here?” I asked.

“No. We came yesterday when we arrived” she replied. “But that was in the afternoon so…you know…”

Her sentence remained unfinished but the meaning was clear.

“How did you arrange this?” I asked

“Oh, our travel agency did everything” interjected the son beaming like a man who has made the full ascent of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and then base jumped off it.

Clearly they had paid a lot more than €7.50 for their tickets although I imagined their agent had simply followed the same easy steps I had.

 

How To Visit Monet’s Garden After Hours

I’m sure you’re wondering how this is all possible. How do you get after hour access to Monet’s garden?

It may surprise you to learn that exclusive access to popular destinations around the world is not nearly as hard as you might imagine. Of course luxury travel agencies can arrange it for a large fee. But in many cases, you can also arrange it yourself without this added cost.

It all comes down to 3 things: Knowing who to ask, how to ask and then actually asking.

In the case of Monet’s garden it only took about 30 minutes of research before the answer presented itself.

The Fondation Claude Monet who looks after the house and gardens grants access to painters and photographers who wish to visit once the crowds have dispersed in order to capture the surroundings uninterrupted.

To request permission and be granted a “billet artiste” you simply need to email them and ask. No more than that.

 Photo: Alastair Evans

If you’re wondering whether or not you qualify, consider for a moment the mother and her iPad and son with his compact pocket camera.

Does the fact that they own even the most basic of camera equipment mean they can describe themselves as “photographers”?

If you’re considering this question, like me you’re thinking too hard.

I had brought my tripod with me because I felt it necessary to “play the part”. However, this turned out to be completely unnecessary.

When I emailed the foundation (I got address from their website) I simply introduced myself, explained I was coming to France and that I would love to visit the gardens and photograph the pond after closing time, when the light is most atmospheric.

From my research, I knew they only granted access to a limited number of people each day so I gave them a list of dates I would be available. The gardens are open from late March to early November. For exact dates check their website as they change slightly each year. If your schedule is tight it’s best to contact them as far in advance as you can.

I ended by apologising for my poor French, then threw the text into Google translate, pasted the output into an email and hit send. That was it. No link to my website, no photography portfolio. Just a simple explanation of who I was and a polite request.

The next day I received a reply confirming my visit and letting me know I needed to arrive between 5 – 5.30pm to pick up my artist’s ticket and that I could stay in the garden’s until 8pm.

 

Forthcoming Adventures

So there you have it. The art of extraordinary travel is officially born and there is much more like this to come.

Over the coming weeks and months I’ll be posting more first hand accounts of other after hours, pre dawn or private tours around popular sites all over the world.

I’ll also be writing about other extraordinary travel experiences including how you can eat Michelin starred cuisine for pennies in Paris, the “8th wonder of the world” buried underground in northern Italy (one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen), the 4 days I spent in the largest cave complex in the world and much more.

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