We arrive at the penultimate stage of our Tour de France.
Mantes La Jolie is merely 55 km from Paris. But this is a region packed with things to do. It is situated on a large bend of the Seine between Rouen and Paris.
It was inhabited in the Gallo Roman period and became a town in the Middle Ages.
There are a quite few castles (!) and remarkable religious edifices. French kings loved to stay here before Versailles was built. Legend says that Henri IV wrote to his mistress Gabrielle d’Estrées Je suis à Mantes, ma jolie. (I am in Mantes, my beauty), thus giving the town its name.
The town grew over the centuries, developed industries, and swelled to a population of over 40,000 inhabitants. For the last forty years, it has unfortunately become an area of social discontent. Despite this, the town has managed to preserve its historical heritage and is worth visiting. But this article will not do this part of France any justice.
Sixteen kilometres away is Giverny. It is where Claude Monet settled with his family from 1883 – 1926. The gardens were a source of inspiration for Monet’s impressionist paintings. In front of the residence is a garden named ‘Clos Normand”. In this garden are many rose bushes. Each spring and autumn, they offer a vibrant array of colours.
There is also a Japanese inspired garden that Monet created himself. It is called Le Jardin d’Eau. Here you will find the world-famous water lilies he painted so often. There are weeping willow trees, bamboo, peonies and lilies. It is a charming and highly romantic presentation.
The pink house with the green shutters is a must-see and can be visited from April to November. Inside, you can admire his Japanese prints and soak in the unique atmosphere of the impressionist painter.
Everybody will have heard of Versailles, this masterpiece of classical art and architecture, constructed in the 17th century by Louis XIII and completed by Louis XIV, the Sun King. It is a symbol of excessive splendour and luxury. French monarchs gave numerous prestigious festivals and events. Now a UNESCO world heritage site, this castle boasts 700 rooms and 2513 windows.
The absolute masterpiece is the Gallery of Mirrors. There are 357 of them. Books have been written, films have been made – go and visit the castle and its magnificent and huge gardens.
Vernon, classified as a historical monument, is a town midway between Paris and Rouen. It is famous for the half-timbered houses, especially around the church, saved from former times.
Before leaving Vernon, go to the “Pont Clemenceau” and its view of the Seine and the old wooden mill with its wooden blades from the Middle Ages. Claude Monet immortalised this view in a painting.
Vernon is dominated by the imposing silhouette of the Chateau Gaillard. The castle dominates the town, which was once made of two different quarters, little Andelys and big Andelys.
The town overlooks the Seine Valley. The fortress was built in 1196 and took only 12 months to build. At that time, Normandy belonged to England. King Richard the Lionheart, in his capacity as the Duke of Normandy, authorised its construction. He built it to survey the Seine valley and protect Rouen from the assaults of the French King, Philippe Auguste. The impressive building offers a panorama of the meandering river and chalk cliffs.
The best time to be here and discover all the other attractions is between mid-March and mid-November. See you in the most famous street in Paris!