What exactly is a Francophile?
Someone who appreciates French history, culture, fashion, art and cuisine, and that describes me. Ever since I lived in Paris, for four years when I was in my 20’s, I jump at every opportunity to go to France.
Last month I jumped at a chance to go to Normandy to follow in the footsteps of the Impressionist Painters. I criss-crossed the countryside from Giverny to the cobble-stoned streets of Rouen, across a patchwork quilt of emerald jewel fields and lush valleys dotted with lambs and cows, to storybook seaside resorts with chocolate shops, toy stores, fresh fish and flower markets, pastries and sidewalk cafes.
TIP: Pack your umbrella, sunhat, sunscreen and a windbreaker.
The art history journey began in Rouen, the capital of upper Normandy; one hour and ten minutes by train from Paris. Filling street after colorfully-restored street are two-stored half-timbered homes. Antique shops, cafes and restaurants fill the first floors and red geranium-choked flowerboxes decorate the upper floor windows.
I meandered down narrow cobbled-stoned streets admiring some of the 800 restored homes dating from the 14th to the 18th century.
The pedestrian street of the Great Clock (rue de Gos Horloge) is the busy shopping area, home to tempting pastry shops and fancy stores. We meandered through this historic part of town, built in the 16th century, then relaxed in a pew at the 13th-century Gothic cathedral (painted by Monet) and watched twinkling red and blue light filter through the stain glass windows. On a more somber note, no visitor to Rouen misses the historic square where Jeanne d’Arc was burned at the stake.
Claude Monet said “Color is my day-long obsession, joy and torment.”
When Monet painted the façade of Rouen cathedral, he worked on up to 14 different canvasses at one time, capturing the ever-changing light and color.
He painted at various times of day and the year and in different weather conditions as he tracked the passage of time, color and light on the cathedral façade. Monet painted – from a window in the second story of a women’s underwear shop – today it houses the office of tourism where we stood to take in his view.
In July and August “Impressionists Nights,” a light show, is projected on the cathedral façade and the Beaux-Arts Museum portraying the life and work of Monet, Pissaro and Gauguin in Rouen.
Red Carpet rolled out for guests at Rouen’s 5-star hotel in a 16th century Renaissance Manor
You can go for a day or rent a car and visit all the Normandy sites in four days or more.
The tourism websites are:
Where to stay. Rouen: A 5-star hotel in a 16th century Renaissance Manor. www.hotelsparouen.com
Air France has daily flights from major US cities.