Between Paris and Rouen is a lovely town on the Seine. Streets with half-timbered houses, country castles and many sights you might recognize from elsewhere.
That’s because they were painted by one of the greatest artists in history. Claude Monet lived just across the river and, along with his friend Pierre Bonnard, was an unavoidable presence in Vernon. He immortalized many of the town’s landmarks, and the museum, one of Vernon’s “hotel features,” houses two of his works.
In Vernon, you can make Impressionism the unifying theme of all your activities: visiting galleries, river tours and attending workshops, all of which trace Monet’s footsteps.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Vernon:
1. Vernon Street
Vernon is just a small town with no blockbuster monuments, but what it does have is an old network of streets with timber-framed houses from the 1100s to the 1600s.
The oldest is near the Collegiate Church, and it’s worth taking your time so you don’t miss anything.
The newer residential area of Vernon is still historic and grander, with long, arrow-straight boulevards like Victor Hugo and Ardèche flanked by linden trees.
If you want to see the Seine, Quai Garnuchot is a quiet path with a meadow by the water.
2. Le Vieux-Moulin and the Château des Tourelles
The Old Mill is a 14th century wooden house located between the two piles of the ruined medieval bridge that once connected Vernon and Vernonet.
The rustic old house with the Seine in the background is well worth a photo, and the photo is often adorned on postcards for sale in Normandy.
The castle on the shore is also very beautiful.
Dating back to the 1200’s, the castle of Turelle has hardly been touched for 800 years: it is a castle of four towers 20 meters high, all huddled together and topped by a conical roof .
3. Collégiale Notre-Dame de Vernon
Work on this church began in the 1000s but took hundreds of years to complete.
So often, Romanesque and Gothic designs from different periods are mixed.
The oldest part is the choir and transept from the late 1000’s, while the aisles around the chancel are from the 1100’s, making it one of the oldest parts of Normandy.
The marvellous rose window is in the flamboyant Gothic style of the 14th century, and below the gallery is the church’s organ, made in the 1600s.
Monet painted the monument six times between 1883-84.
4. Maison du Temps Jadis
One of the prettiest buildings in town, the Maison du Temps Jadis with corbels is the tourist office of the Eure department.
Right next to the church, it should be your first destination after arriving in Vernon, as you can get a map pointing out all the important buildings around town.
The house is also worth photographing and admiring as it dates back to the 14th century and is four stories tall.
The wood frame and lead windows are pleasingly asymmetrical: a bit askew, but better.
You can also pick up your tickets here and skip the line at Monet’s house.
5. Biez Castle
This majestic neoclassical estate is rather unusual in that it is an actual castle living in a castle. Because this is a private residence, the only way to see the inside is with a guide, and while there are information packs for English-speaking visitors, the tour guides are available in French.
You’ll hear that it was popular with noble owners and French kings such as Henry IV and Louis XV. The interior is quite luxurious, with gilded harps and harpsichords in the “Grand Salon”, as well as paintings, sculptures, tapestries and antique furniture.
You are free to walk around the garden, following the linden tree promenade and aging fountain, one pouring down the slope.
6. Tour des Archives
The last remaining vestige of Vernon Castle is the circular former castle, in excellent condition considering it was built in 1123 by Henry Beauclerc, the youngest son of William the Conqueror.
At 22 meters high, the tower is almost identical to the tower of Joan of Arc, which was built around the same time 60 kilometers north of Rouen.
You can’t go in sadly, but it’s a remarkable piece of history, connected to Vernon’s defensive wall.
7. Alphonse-George-Plain Museum
The museum is housed in a gorgeous townhouse owned by the Le Moine de Bellisle family, who occupied the property from the 1400s to the 1700s.
It’s one of the charming town attractions that has it all: historical artifacts from around Vernon, taxidermy, a model of Vernon’s old castle and a drawing cabinet with vintage graphic art and illustrations.
But the museum is best known for its Impressionist art.
Monet had two paintings, and members of the avant-garde “Les Nabis” group included Edouard Viard, Pierre Bonnard and Felix Vallotton.
8. Claude Monet’s House and Gardens
Ten minutes later, across the Seine, is the house where Claude Monet lived for more than forty years until his death in 1926. Sit by the lily pond in his garden and know you’re looking at a scene that inspires a style of painting never seen before.
You’ll visit his house that hasn’t changed for over 90 years, and stroll through his gardens, which are colourful until fall.
The Japanese bridge in the water garden is still here, and you will shudder to see the willows, wisterias and peonies that Monet painted.
9. La Roche-Guillon
A quick 15 minutes upstream from Vernon is a small village built around an elegant castle under a formidable defensive tower hewn from a chalk cliff above the Seine.
You can visit the castle, mostly built in the 1700s, as well as the medieval tower above it, and a remarkable staircase that winds through the chalk and connects the two.
Once you reach the top of the cliff, you can overlook the village and the Seine, which winds its way through the Parc Naturel Régional du Vexin Français.
During medieval times, the castle controlled the river, and until the 20th century, many villagers lived in houses carved from the cliffs.
10. Villaso Manor
Recognized as one of the “French Gardens”, the Villarceaux estate covers 70 hectares and is connected to a 1500s estate and a 1700s chateau.
Villaseau’s most famous former resident was Françoise d’Aubigné, the second wife of Louis XIV.
Visit the properties by appointment, filled with paintings and period furniture from the 1700s.
But the water garden, which is open to the public from spring to fall, is fantastic.
Here, intricately patterned box hedges border a water feature system with fountains, formal ponds, canals and expansive lakes.
There is also a medieval-style medicinal garden
Evreux was nicknamed “la Cité Jolie” (beautiful city) by the 17th century literary icon Madame de Sevigne. A little scarred from the war, but not bad for a few hours of sightseeing.
The city is folded into the valley of the Eton River, and the best walks in the city can be found along the river, as all major landmarks are nearby.
Right on the river, the bell tower dates back to the 1400s and is the only remaining bell tower from this period in Normandy.
The Anglican city combines a magnificent 15th-century Gothic cathedral with the Bishop’s Palace, which houses a museum on the history of Evreux.
The tracery on the cathedral windows is stunning, and you must see the walnut pulpit, carved by a monk in 1675.
45 minutes, Rouen is a must.
The first of many monuments is the elaborate façade of the Cathedral and the Butter Tower.
In 1894, you again follow in the footsteps of Monet, who painted the doors of the cathedral several times. After tasting the stained glass windows of the Renaissance and the tombs of Rollo and Richard the Lionheart, the first rulers of Normandy, you can take a dip in the cathedral in the surrounding streets.
Rue du Petit Mouton is a wonderful alley with 14th-century half-timbered houses that almost look like they’re weighing on you.
Your tour is not complete until you see the Musée des Beaux-Arts with its Monet, Caravaggio Renoir and Van Dykes.
13. Lyon Laforet
Drive 40 minutes north, through the green countryside, into the Lyon forest, and you’ll come to an incredibly lovely village.
Like La Roche-Guillon, it is one of France’s “most beautiful villages”, centred on timber-framed houses around a covered market from the 1600s.
The village is small, but it speaks to the amazing protection you need to see around every corner before you leave.
Antique shops, crepe shops and cafés invite you to stay longer.
14. Aigle Forest
Le Bois des Aigles is a bird sanctuary spanning five hectares of woodland for the little ones and anyone with an affinity for birds of prey.
As you wander the trails, you’ll come across nocturnal and diurnal species like kites, falcons, Chilean blue eagles, snowy owls, and barn owls.
The tour takes just over an hour, and you should try to schedule a raptor show at 11:30 or a falcon show at 15:30.
15. Dreux Royal Chapel
Not more than an hour’s drive south of Vernon is the family burial place of the royal family of Orleans.
Historically, members of this family have ascended to the throne without a legitimate heir to the French royal family.
There are 75 family members buried in the church, such as Count Henri of Paris, who was a claimant to the French throne (if it existed) from 1940 until his death in 1999. This 17th century church was expanded in 1816 by Louis-Philippe I and contains corpse tombs rich in sculpture, as well as exquisite stained glass windows in the dome.
If you are visiting during the low season, check the opening hours as the chapel is usually closed on winter weekends.
Where to stay: The best hotels in Vernon, France
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