GIVERNY, France — I want my house to look like this. I want Claude Monet's luscious yellow dining room. I want his green Japanese bridges. I want his water lilies in bloom.
Others have said it, but it's true: Visiting Giverny is like walking into a Monet painting.
Monet was a master artist of the French Impressionism era, and this village 45 miles northwest of Paris was his home from 1883 until his death in 1926. Giverny is not where Monet did all of his work, but it is where he did his most iconic work — the water lily paintings. These gardens and this house still reflect the artist's taste, sensibilities, wishes and passions.
Personally, I'd recommend visiting in late summer or fall. Why? Some may prefer the dreamy pastel scenes of spring, but fall is when the undiluted brilliant colors are best.
Visiting Giverny is an easy day trip from Paris, by train, car or half-day tour bus.
The property is run by the Claude Monet Foundation, which did extensive restorations on the home left to it by Monet's son in 1966.
The house has been restored to appear as it did when Monet lived there. You can see his airy, enormous original studio. In the dining room, every single thing is painted varying shades of yellow, except for the terra-cotta colored floor.
A separate building that was Monet's second studio is now the gift shop, featuring everything from Monet erasers to coffee-table books.
But the heart of Monet's home, as any painting fan knows, is its gardens.
The main garden, called Clos Normand, is 2 1/2 acres of flowers in front of the house. This time of year, it swoons with color. Sunflowers and dahlias soar to about 15 feet high, with blooms as big as dinner plates. A series of decorative arches cover a crazed profusion of red and orange nasturtiums that creep from their beds and tiptoe across the path.
Behind Clos Normand is the water garden. Its curving pond, weeping willows and water lilies look familiar — of course they do, because you've seen them in Monet's art.
Beyond the water garden, a big stand of poplar trees has just been cut down to shed more light onto the garden itself. The goal is to restore that part of the property to what it looked like in Monet's day.
There are no guided tours, but it takes less than two hours to see Monet's house and gardens on your own. In 2010, the museum will introduce an audio tour for those who'd like more detail as they wander.
One other thing I'd recommend? Before visiting Giverny, stop by the Monet galleries at three Paris museums. The Musee d'Orsay, Musee Marmottan and Musee de l'Orangerie all have major Monet holdings, so you can reacquaint yourself with his work and appreciate Giverny's influence better before you visit.
As far as artwork actually on display at Giverny, the Monets are copies, with the originals in museums around the globe. However, Monet's 18th-Century Japanese prints are on display in most of the rooms of his house. I counted 45 woodblocks on the dining room walls alone.
In a world where artists and musicians often come to sad personal endings despite creating beauty for others, it's nice to see a house that brought joy to the artist while he lived.
It still radiates happiness today. I smiled when I saw it.
IF YOU GO:
WHEN IT'S OPEN: Monet's home and gardens are open daily from 9:30 to 6 April 1 to Nov. 1. Entry is 6 euros (about $8.50) for individual visitors who buy tickets when they arrive.
GETTING THERE: If you don't have a car, take the train from Paris' St. Lazare station to Vernon. The 45-minute ride is 12 euros (about $17.50). From the train station, take the No. 240 bus another 10 minutes to Giverny, or take a taxi.
TOURS: Most tourists from Paris take a package tour that covers transport by bus or mini bus and entry to Monet's home and gardens. The best deal is through France Tourisme. Its 54-euro (about $78) half-day tour includes the minibus fee (or bus if a large group) and entrance to the Monet home and gardens. Book in advance or in person at the office, 33 Quai des Grands Augustins near the St. Michel Metro stop (www.francetourisme.fr).
PARIS MUSEUMS TO VISIT FIRST: You'll be brilliant at Giverny if first you see the Monet holdings at Musee d'Orsay (www.musee-orsay.fr), Musee Marmottan (www.marmottan.com), Musee de l'Orangerie (www.musee-orangerie.fr).
FOR MORE INFORMATION: www.fondation-monet.fr