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Normandy Travel Tips for Following the Impressionism Trail


One cannot separate the history of Impressionism and the Normandy region in France. It was here in Normandy, where it all began. In this article I am providing you with travel tips for visiting the beautiful places in Normandy where the Impressionists lived and loved to paint.

The beautiful north-western part of France, Normandy, has always been a magnet to the French artists. Firstly, Normandy was easy to reach and close to the art hub of Paris. Secondly, the the artists fell under the spell of the white chalk cliffs on the Alabaster Coast, the beautiful beaches, the quaint medieval villages & the small fishing towns.

Monet Landscape of Varengeville-sur-Mer in the Normandy region
Claude Monet Landscape of Varengeville-sur-Mer in Normandy

The impressionism painters created an artistic heritage in Normandy which is virtually unparalleled elsewhere in France. Here, the Impressionists set up their easels outdoors (known as plein-air painting). They captured the natural light and depicted the landscapes, towns and scenes of daily life.

Follow the Footsteps of the Impressionists in Normandy – Travel Tips!

To follow the footsteps of the 19th century Impressionists, there are many picturesque places to visit in the Normandy region. Below is a partial list of the towns & coastal villages that you should add to your Normandy itinerary.

Claude Monet Painting of the Alabaster Coast in the Normandy Region of France
Claude Monet painting of the Coast in the Normandy Region of France
[Public domain]

Honfleur – The birthplace of Impressionism

The medieval port town of Honfleur is of particular relevance to the Impressionism art movement. It is here where the artist Eugene Boudin was born.

Eugene Boudin was in fact the predecessor of Impressionism art and was the teacher of young Claude Monet.  Monet studied under the guidance of Boudin for a few years in Honfleur. From Boudin, he learned to love nature and the outdoors. Eugene Boudin taught young Monet to appreciate nature’s changing lights & colors by setting up an easel and painting outdoors. This was revolutionary in the 19th century, as artists in those times painted inside studios.

If I am a painter, I owe it to Eugène Boudin”  –

Claude Monet Quotes

Normandy travel tips - Medieval Honfleur, the birthplace of Impressionism
Normandy travel tips – Medieval Honfleur, the birthplace of Impressionism
Honfleur landscape painted by Claude Monet
Honfleur town – Claude Monet Painting

Later on, one of the pioneers of pointillism art, Georges Seurat, also spent a summer in Honfleur and painted some beautiful seascapes here.

Press here for some tips of things to do and see in picture-perfect Honfleur .

Etretat Beach & It’s Majestic Cliffs

Another landmark on the Normandy Impressionism trail is Etretat. The spectacular white cliffs and secluded beach of Etretat are stunning. It is no wonder that this particular spot was one of Claude Monet’s favorites. Right here, in this tiny beach, Monet created many beautiful seascape paintings.

Other artists, such as Eugene Boudin, Gustave Courbet and Henri Matisse also painted scenes of this very same beach.

Etretat beach and cliffs - Normandy travel tips
Etretat Cliffs
Etretat - Claude Monet landscape
Etretat – Claude Monet Painting [Public Domain]
Etretat cliffs and beach painted by Monet
Claude Monet Seascape Etretat cliffs in the Normandy region of France

Le Havre – The Port City

Le Havre city also has an impressive Impressionism past. Firstly, young Claude Monet spent his childhood years living in Le Havre and he loved this city and the Normandy region.

Secondly the famous post-impressionist, Raoul Dufy, was born in Le Havre in 1877. In celebration of their famous ‘son’ and his accomplishments as an artist, the Museum of Modern Art in Le Havre, (also known as MUMA), showcases an impressive Raoul Dufy collection. This extensive collection spans all periods of Dufy’s long and prolific artistic career.

Although Raoul Dufy spent many years living in Southern France, he often returned and continued to paint the scenes of his beloved home town and the Normandy region.

Raoul Dufy Painting of Le Havre Port
Raoul Dufy Painting of Le Havre Port

The MUMA museum in Le Havre also boasts of having one of the largest collections of the French impressionism art in the world. This museum is an impressionist-lover’s dream come true!! It is as wonderful as Musee D’Orsay (but without the crowds)!

Press here for a suggested organized tour to the Modern Art Museum in Le Havre from Paris.

Claude Monet’s House & Gardens in Giverny

A holiday to France’s Normandy region would be incomplete without a visit to Claude Monet’s stunning house and gardens in Giverny.

The Monet gardens are breathtakingly gorgeous. You feel like you are walking inside a Monet painting. In addition, you can visit the Museum of Impressionism right next to Monet’s house. This museum has an impressive collection of paintings made by the American artists in the 19th century, who came to Giverny to study impressionism art.

Giverny is also a great day trip if you are in Paris. You can get there easily by train or go on an organized tour. If you are interested in an organized tour to Giverny, press here for some great options.

Normandy Travel Tips - Monet's house and gardens in Giverny
Monet’s garden and famous pond in Giverny – the Japanese footbridge
The Japanese Bridge, Giverny – Claude Monet Painting [Public domain]

The Chic Beach Resort Towns – Trouville and Deauville

The glamorous Trouville and Deauville beach towns have always been the favored summer resorts of the Parisian upper-class. In fact, these two towns are nicknamed the “Parisian Riviera”.

Trouville and Deauville are separated by a narrow strip of the Touques River and both share the same vast and soft sandy beaches.

As well as attracting the holiday-makers, these two towns also seduced the impressionism painters such as Claude Monet, Berthe MorisotEugène Boudin, Gustave Caillebotte and others. These artists set up their easels outdoors & and painted the holidaying Parisian aristocrats, the quaint towns and the beautiful coastal landscapes.

Trouville by the Impressionism painter Gustave Caillebotte
Trouville by Gustave Caillebotte [Public Domain]
Trouville Beach- Euguene Boudin painting
Trouville Beach painted by Eugene Boudin [Public Domain]

These two towns and their beaches are still very beautiful, chic and popular with both the French & international tourists. Press on the link for details of what to do and see in Trouville and Deauville.

Normandy travel tips: Deauville & Trouville
Trouville in the Normandy Region / Photo by Dennis Jarvis (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Beautiful Dieppe Port Town

Dieppe is known as the birthplace of seaside swimming in France. As soon as the train route from Paris to Dieppe was completed in 1848, Dieppe beach and the surrounding area became the fashionable place to visit by the French upper-class.

The impressionism painters quickly followed. Many of these artists fell in love with the white chalk cliffs and the small fishing towns on the Alabaster Coast.

Dieppe beach, it’s port & the old town are subjects of many impressionism paintings. Artists, including Gauguin, Pissarro, Boudin, Gonzales, Renoir, Monet & Albert Lebourg immortalized this beautiful town onto their canvases. Press here to read about Dieppe & what there is to see & do.

Dieppe Port painted by Paul Gauguin [Public Domain]
Dieppe Port painted by Paul Gauguin [Public Domain]

Normandy Travel Tips - Dieppe
Dieppe Port photo by Pierre-Julien Grizel
(CC BY-NC 2.0)

Rouen in the Footsteps of the Impressionists

If you are a lover of impressionism, then Rouen is a MUST when visiting the Normandy region. This town inspired many impressionists including Claude Monet, Paul Gauguin, Camille Pissarro and Alfred Sisley.

There is plenty to see and do in Rouen. The city offers a magnificent Gothic cathedral, a beautiful restored medieval town, old historical churches, excellent museums, plenty of shops, restaurants, cafes and an exciting nightlife. And of course, you have the lovely Seine river crossing through the city, offering a peaceful and beautiful place to sit and relax or to take a cruise!

Click here for details about beautiful Rouen.

Normandy Travel Tips - Rouen Notre Dame Cathedral
Rouen Notre Dame Cathedral

The Impressionists’ Trail & Varengeville-sur-Mer

Situated on the majestic Alabaster coast of Normandy is a small hamlet called Varengeville-sur-Mer. So small, it could easily be missed!… But the giants in the impressionism art movement did not overlook this beautiful town. The gorgeous scenery of Varengeville-sur-Mer has been painted on canvases by Renoir, Monet, Pissarro and others.  It is a must place to visit when traveling in Normandy.

Eglise St Valéry church - Varengeville, Normandie France
Eglise St Valéry church – Varengeville
Photo by Pierre Lesage (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Paul Signac’s Love Affair with Barfleur

Barfleur Harbour - Paul Signac Painting
Barfleur Harbour – Paul Signac Painting

Historically, Barfleur was one of the most important ports during the Middle Ages and the first port in the Normandy region.

Later on, artists, painters and writers came to this beautiful town, charmed by its old-time character. Paul Signac, the famous pointillist & post-impressionism painter was one of them.  Signac loved Barfleur so much that he purchased a home & lived in Barfleur for a few years in the 1930s. The writer Victor Hugo was another artist who spent time here.

Today Barfleur continues to attract many visitors with it’s rustic, medieval & rural charm. It is no wonder that this town in Normandy has been officially awarded as one of the “most beautiful villages of France’’ or in French – Les Plus Beaux Villages de France.

For more information about Barfleur, press here.

Normandy Travel Tips - Barfleur
Barfleur Normandy / photo by James Stringer (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The Iconic Mont Saint Michel

One of the most visited sites in France is Mont Saint Michel. It is estimated that  2.5 million people visit this place every year.

The neo-impressionism painter, Paul Signac was in awe of this amazing Abbey. He immortalized it onto his canvas in 1897 using the Pointillism art technique. The painting is beautiful as it captures the abbey in the morning light as the sun is rising.

Amazingly, the Abbey has hardly changed since Signac captured it over a century ago!!  Press here for more information about this beautiful landmark in Normandy

Seurat Painting of Mont Saint Michel in Normandy
Paul Signac painting of Mont Saint Michel [Public Domain]

Where to Stay in Normandy

When we spent five magnificent days in Normandy, we based ourselves in stunning Bayeaux and the medieval town, Honfleur. Both towns are full of French historical charm. By staying in both places, we were able to travel through different parts of Normandy with ease. There are plenty of historical and cultural sites scattered all across the region.

Check out BOOKING.COM to assist you in finding fabulous Normandy hotels.

My recommendation is to stay in picture-perfect Honfleur and Bayeax.

For the links below, I receive a small commission when you purchase. Please note that you do not pay more when you buy through my site.

Booking.com

Looking for organized tours in Normandy in the footsteps of the Impressionists? Have a peek at the wonderful options below:

Festival Normandie Impressionniste – Save the Date!

Since 2010, the Normandy region hosts an incredible 5 month festival called “Festival Normandie Impressionniste“. The Normandy Impressionism Festival celebrates the close connection of the 19th century impressionism art movement to the Normandy region. 

It comprises of many different kinds of events including:

  • special exhibitions of the famous impressionism painters in various art museums scatter across the region
  • exhibitions of contemporary artists inspired by the impressionists
  • concerts
  • lectures
  • sound & light shows and so much more!

This festival happens every three years and the next impressionism festival scheduled is between the dates April 3 to September 6, 2020. This festival is a major event, attracting over a million visitors. It is one of the largest festivals of its kind in all of France. Press here for more information about this festival.

For more information about places to visit in the Normandy region, check out the articles below: