Haute Normandie – Château de Brécourt
September 15, 2005
On September 8 & 9, 2005, we stayed at the Château de Brécourt, in the countryside near Vernon. Vernon is small city on the Seine between Rouen and Mantes-la-Jolie which was heavily bombed in 1944 to prevent the Germans from using the bridge to move reinforcements to Normandy. The chateau is old with spacious grounds. It seems to have been renovated in the fifties and left that way. The only more recent evident touch was the computer at the reception. Our room was large, quiet, charming in a rustic way, with a nice view of the parc, but a bit rundown. The dining room has the same ambience. We ordered à la carte the first night and it was disappointing as the chef was unsuccessfully trying too hard to be modern when traditional dishes would have been more appropriate. The wine list was excellent and reasonable. The second night we had the Menu Grand Siècle (served only on Friday) which claims to be 18th century dishes. The only one which actually seemed old was the poached egg in jus de volaille, but we did enjoy the meal. The clientèle was of mixed nationalities, ages etc, but well-behaved and dressed. It is not expensive for a chateau hotel.
The main point of staying here is to visit Giverny on the other side of the Seine from Vernon. Monet’s garden was bursting with the late summer color of dozens of varieties of annuals, dahlias being the stars. The water lilies were blooming calmly. (I would like to go back in the iris, peony and wisteria season.) One should get there just before the 9:30 opening when you can park just above the entrance for individuals. Don’t be fooled by the small crowd. As the door opens, the tour group entrance on the other side of the garden is opening for the hordes. We suggest walking through the garden, then through the underpass and going directly to the bench on the far side of the water lily pond. The sun will be behind you and will have opened the water lilies by the Japanese bridge. Sit there calmly until people with cameras start standing in front of you, as it is the best view. Then walk around the pond several times. You will gain a whole new appreciation of Monet’s water lily paintings. You can then visit the upper garden and the house, which is less interesting than one would have hoped, although the stove in the kitchen is great. We then went to the Terra Musée d’Art Américain Giverny, which was disappointing, possibly due to the current show, visited Monet’s grave, which was not that interesting, and had a nice lunch outside at the ex-Hôtel de Baudy. We then drove around in the countryside, including Vétheuil.
The next day we went to Honfleur, were disappointed by the Musée Boudin and had a nice lunch at Le Vieux Honfleur on the port. We then went to the Musée Malraux in Le Havre. Their recently received Senn-Foulds collection of impressionist and post-impressionist art was on display and it is terrific. (The museum will close for several months soon for alterations for its permanent display.) The center of Le Havre, all rebuilt in concrete after the war, recently added to the UNESCO list, is quite impressive; as opposed to most Stalinist concrete architecture, it has human dimensions and there are petits commerces on most of the ground floors.