etretat garden

A Whimsical Garden in France: Les Jardins D’Étretat

After spending time in my studio painting a few weeks ago, I started browsing through a magazine online (I forget which one) and I came across a short article about Les Jardins D’Etretat located on the Normandy coast about a two-hour train ride from Paris. The picture below captivated me and I transported myself into the shoes of the painter. I visioned myself perched on top of the ragged cliff with a paintbrush in one hand while admiring the breathtaking scenery. I could taste the salty air, hear the thunderous roar of the crashing waves from down below, and feel a cool breeze move across my face. Then, out of nowhere, I snapped out of my hypnotic state and my immediate thought was: “We really need to buy tickets to France.”

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This past weekend I spent some time in my own garden to tidy things up a bit. As I was working, I remembered the image I came across a few weeks ago. The property was once owned by a famous French actress, Madame Thébault, who was a friend of artist Claude Monet. Monet frequently visited Thébault and encouraged her to plant a garden. The scenery greatly inspired Monet and over the course of his artistic career, he painted numerous pieces of art capturing the cliffs and shoreline below. I don’t know exactly how many paintings he created of Étretat because conflicting research indicates anywhere from 30-50 individual paintings, including the two shown below.

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Etretat is becoming more and more amazing. Now is the real moment: the beach with all its fine boats; it is superb, and I am enraged not to be more skillful in rendering all this. I would need two hands and hundreds of canvases.  –Claude Monet

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Étretat is best known for its chalky cliffs and rock formations. It’s no surprise that Monet was so inspired by the natural beauty of the region.

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I would love to see pictures of what the gardens actually looked like in the early 1900’s when Thébault planted the original garden. The current gardens that I am highlighting in today’s post were restored in 2016 by Russian landscaper Alexander Grivko and are open to the public to enjoy. I am sure Thébault and Monet would be happy to know that the area continues to inspire.

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The whimsical garden combines landscape and sculpture. The willow “painter” is a tribute to Claude Monet.

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The website for Les Jardins D’Etretat is currently being revamped but be sure to check out the video on their homepage. I won’t say anything about the video other than it’s “dreamy”….. Once you check it out, you’ll know exactly what I mean. 

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Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte

Before traveling home from San Francisco we were able to spend some time in one of the airport lounges before boarding our flight. To help pass the time I grabbed a couple of newspapers to read, including the French newspaper Le Figaro. The front page immediately caught my eye with an article about the French Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte, the largest privately owned chateau in France. If you plan to visit France, the chateau is an easy day trip from Paris.

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I don’t actually read French but I was able to gather a little from the article…

The current owner, Count Patrice de Vogüé, received Vaux-le-Vicomte as a wedding gift in 1967. After they were married, Count Patrice de Vogüé and his wife Countess Cristina (seen below) vowed to open the château to the public. They made good on that promise a year later by opening it up to the public in 1968. This month marks the 50th anniversary of Vaux-le-Vicomte being open to the masses. What a wonderful milestone and gift to all that enter its gates.

Vaux-le-Vicomte is “a masterpiece of classical art, the apogee of grandeur and refinement ….”. –Count Patrice de Vogüé

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Vaux-le-Vicomte was originally built in the mid-1600’s by Nicolas Fouquet, who served as a chief financial officer to King Louis XIV. Upon its completion, Fouquet held a lavish party at his new château and invited the King to attend. (Who wouldn’t want to host a party here?!) Unfortunately, bringing much attention to himself and Vaux-le-Vicomte backfired because one of the King’s advisor’s felt that Fouquet had certainly been embezzling money to finance his new estate. Fouquet was sent to prison and the King eventually seized the property. Ten years after Fouquet’s imprisonment, Madame Fouque was able to gain back control of the property but eventually sold it in 1705 after the death of her husband and son.  There were a series of owners after that but in 1875 after 35 years of much neglect, the current family purchased it through auction. As mentioned previously, the property is now owned by Patrice and Cristina de Vogüé, the Count and Countess de Vogüé with their three sons (shown below) helping with the continued administration of this grand estate.

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The Château is surrounded by a moat and beautiful French gardens. It is said that Vaux-le-Vicomte was the actually the inspiration for the construction of Versailles.

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Vaux-le-Vicomte plays host to many events throughout the year including an Easter egg hunt and celebration for both kids and adults. Can you imagine how fun that would be!!??

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During a portion of the year, an array of 2,000 candles are lit for you to enjoy the gardens at night. Firework displays are also displayed.

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Check out this article by Sotheby’s to learn more about Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte, it’s history, and is restoration. The official Vaux-le-Vicomte website can be viewed here. 

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