5.16.2014

where to stay in giverny and rouen, where to eat in rouen, where not to eat in giverny

I've mentioned our wonderful accommodations in Giverny and outside Rouen, but each deserves a post of its own. I'll review them on TripAdvisor but for Googleability, I'd like to do more.

Giverny: Les Jardins d'Helene

In Giverny, for comfort, convenience, and an absolutely delightful stay at a very reasonable price, you can't do better than Les Jardins d'Helene. It's located about a 15-minute walk from Monet's house and gardens, on one easy, flat road.

The house itself is a beautiful mix of traditional and contemporary design, and clearly a labour of love by a very creative person. Among the treasures are a collection of vintage cameras and radios, a collection of art and photography books, jazz LPs, and a beautiful library for French readers.

I was travelling with my mother, a senior, and we needed two beds. We booked the "La Toccata" family suite that could comfortably accommodate a family of four, with a private bath, for €120, during the high season. I thought that was very reasonable.

The standard (and delicious) French breakfast is made extra-special by homemade jams, an assortment of cheese, and croissants so flaky and buttery that they practically melt.

Sandrine is the perfect host. She thinks of everything and is happy to accommodate your needs. We were leaving on an early train, so she started our breakfast earlier so we could have an unhurried morning, and arranged for a cab to the station in Vernon. As I was waiting for the taxi, she asked if we would like some bottled water for our trip. That's the kind of thoughtfulness that makes a lovely stay. Knowing I love books, Sandrine also recommended a place to visit in our next town, Rouen. It turned out to be a gem that we would have otherwise missed.

Note that Les Jardines d'Helene does not accept credit cards, and there is no ATM in the town of Giverny. We were caught off guard, but Sandrine drove us into Vernon - which was also an enjoyable opportunity to learn about each other.

Outside Rouen: La Parenthèse Normande

About 25 minutes outside of the city of Rouen, in the village of La Neuville-Chant-d'Oisel, La Parenthèse Normande sits among quiet farmland and lush gardens. We stayed in a family suite that was sheer perfection in style and comfort.

A small house off the main house is divided into two suites. The building is brick, but the front wall is all glass, offering a full view of the garden and farmland beyond. (Don't worry, there's a good curtain for privacy and darkness.) Inside, the decor is what I call "rustic elegance," a mix of sleek blond wood, crisp white linens, stainless steel fixtures, and exposed brick and beams. Our family suite had a queen-sized bed downstairs and two twins upstairs. This was only €80 a night for two! For four, it is currently €105.

Breakfast is typically and deliciously French, with baguettes, croissants, and jam, with the addition of two kinds of home-baked cakes. If you are able, I highly recommend making your stay truly special by booking the table d'hôtes, a dinner with your hosts Elisabeth and her husband Christophe, at their table. Christophe will prepare a typical Normande meal with fresh local ingredients, the kind of meal that can only be considered ordinary to the French, who place such value and respect on food. Dinner will include an appetizer, a main course, a cheese course, and a dessert, plus wine, for (currently) €25 per person. And it just might be the best meal you have on your vacation!

Your table d'hôtes will also be special and memorable because of the lovely company. Elisabeth is such a sweet person, so attentive and accommodating, and truly wants to make your stay perfect. Travelling avec ma mere without a car, we were less independent than I would have liked. But Elisabeth explained all our transportation options, drove us to the bus (about 6 kms away), and was waiting at the bus stop when we returned, called taxis as needed... and more. If you read this earlier post (scroll down to the discussion over dinner), you will see what these perfect hosts arranged for two guests who wanted more time in Rouen, but didn't have a car.

La Parenthèse Normande is about 25 minutes by car from the centre of Rouen. It would be easiest and best to visit if you are driving. However, if you are traveling by train, you should still consider staying there for the wonderful experience. A taxi from the Rouen Rive-Droite station cost €35. You can take a very convenient, easy, inexpensive bus from the B&B to the prime sightseeing area. The bus stop is 6 kms away. Elisabeth drove us and picked us up, or if you know your schedule in advance, she can reserve a shuttle bus to the regular bus. Don't be daunted, it's easier than it may sound. It is worth a little planning for such a memorable experience.

Where to eat (and not eat)

My experience when travelling in France, anywhere and anytime, has always been marked by eating excellent food. We almost always choose small, neighbourhood restaurants and are blown away by the quality and attention given to any simple meal. For example, on this trip, in Paris we tried the bistro across the street from the hotel, and ended up eating every breakfast and every dinner there (see earlier posts about Au Tramway). So I rarely have specific restaurants to recommend, and I've never had a bad meal.

This trip marks the exception.

First, the good news. In Rouen, I highly recommend eating at D'Eux Memes, located on Vieux Marche, opposite the church commemorating Jeanne D'Arc (actually on the site where she was killed). The food and the service are perfect. There are three different levels of menus (complet). We tried the €30 menu, and were astounded. This would have been a four-star meal in New York City, and cost three times as much.

The bad news is the food in Giverny. If you drive to Giverny, it's easy enough to pop into nearby Vernon. It's a thriving little town and I'm sure there are many excellent places to eat there. If you don't have a car in Giverny, I hope you do better than we did.

Arriving early in the morning, we needed breakfast, and there was nothing open. At 10:00 we were able to go to Terra Cafe at the Impressionist Museum. They would serve us only salads or desserts. If you're open at 10:00, why not offer le petit dejeuner? All you need is a basket of baguettes, butter and jam, and coffee. Of necessity, we ordered salads with cheese and hard-boiled eggs. They were no better than what I would prepare for myself in my own kitchen; in other words, extremely ordinary. For lunch, we found La Botanic Cafe, connected to La Capucine Giverny. Service is cafeteria style, and you can have soup, already-prepared sandwiches, or quiche. The sandwiches were ordinary and not bad, and sadly, that was the best meal we had in Giverny.

Dinner at Restaurant ancien Hôtel Baudy wins the prize for Worst Meal I've Had In France. My lamb brochette was seared on the outside and completely raw inside. Not rare, the way cote d'agneau is usually served: cold and purple. My mother's salmon was tasteless and swimming in a gloppy, salty sauce. The apple crumble dessert seemed to be canned applesauce with breadcrumbs dumped on top. My mother is extremely uncritical when it comes to food: the joke is that each meal she eats is the greatest meal she's ever had in her life. So imagine that she didn't finish her salmon or dessert, and pronounced the dessert "disgusting".

The restaurant itself seems not to know what it's trying to do. The decor looks like they're trying to be "fancy" - an inexperienced person's idea of what fancy looks like - but our server was a slouching 20-something with patchy facial hair, sloppy, wrinkled clothing, and absolutely no idea how to wait tables. In a country where taxi drivers are unfailingly polite and professionally dressed, and serving tables is a respected way to earn a living, this was quite remarkable.

On second thought, even if you're visiting Giverny without a car, treat yourself to a cab to Vernon, and get a decent meal.

5 comments:

Stephanie said...

I am very curious to know what inspired your travel to Rouen?

laura k said...

Mostly the opportunity to see another great cathedral. Plus there's the Monet theme to the trip - Marmottan, Giverny, Rouen. And I am interested in Jeanne D'Arc.

We were already heading to Giverny, and when I saw Rouen was in the same direction, and my mom was up for doing a night or two out of Paris, it seemed like a good choice.

We wanted to see Flaubert's home (my mother loves Madame Bovary), but we didn't get to it.

Stephanie said...

Okay, I understand. I recognised the Monet theme, of course, but wasn't sure if you were really interested in Jeanne D'Arc. I am also interested in Jeanne D'Arc for many reasons one being that Jeanne D'Arc is my mother's name.

Stephanie said...

I must clarify...J'eanne d'Arc is my mothers middle name since like all good catholic francophones her first name is Marie but as was the custom she always went by Jeanne.

laura k said...

Wow, that's cool! Or it seems cool to me, anyway. Seems tres exotique.

I've wondered if having a young woman hero as a foundational story, so deeply ingrained in the culture, has helped French women achieve a higher degree emanicipation and equality, and achieve it faster, relative to other cultures.

In general, though, my desire to see Rouen was (a) cathedral that neither of us had seen, (b) Jeanne D'Arc, and (c) proximity.