Moulin des Chevennieres, a Giverny Inn

As I drove through the large wooden medieval gate onto the graveled circular drive in Giverny, just north of Paris, I suddenly had the urge to stop right there, grab an easel and capture the endless painting possibilities before my eyes. Directly in front of me stood a statue of a nude Greek goddess surrounded by a circular garden of brightly colored flowers. To my right was a run-down stone shed, probably once a stable of some sort, somehow added to the charm. In front of me stood a majestic weeping willow that shaded much of the expansive garden. Pine, maple and oak trees created a variation on a theme of green, just waiting to be immortalized on canvas.

Of course the most compelling image was the mill itself. First built in the 16th century by the local monks who diverted the waterway, the mill had been added onto, visible by the differing architectures of the various periods. Originally completely built of stone, a second addition was added in the Tudor style of stained oak railroad ties. Directly in front of the garden, a 12-foot arch paned window supported the welcoming archway of the front door. We had just happened upon this gem of an inn and as luck would have it, they had opened earlier that season, so a room was available.

As we were led to our room, I couldn’t believe it, but we were heading towards the very same room with the huge window over the archway. A narrow stone staircase led us up alongside the sound of gurgling water from the water wheel next to our room. A wrought iron canopy bed with sheers casually draped over the top and sides served as our bed. A baker’s stand stood to the right of the door with a vase of fresh flowers and other country-style knicknacks. A smaller bed was partially separated by an alcove and a wrought iron room separator. Our room was equipped with a modern shower, a convenience not so common in France. A backdrop of the rolling farmlands of Giverny provided an even more spectacular view from the back window.

Touring the grounds gave even more ideas for paintings: an ancient wooden wheelbarrow sat idly in front of a symmetrical garden of red and white geraniums; a World War II Army truck full of broken limbs hid under the shade of the weeping willow; small waterfalls cascading from the waterwheel lined with terra cotta pots of flowers. To my surprise, wild emus (of the ostrich family) roamed freely, adding an exotic appeal to the place. Gerard Guillemard, the owner, informed me that originally he had opened a natural park where animals could roam. He went on to explain how as a Giverny native, he had always wanted to preserve the mill, the oldest property in Giverny. But it had been abandoned over the years and needed many repairs, so he bought it in 2002 and immediately started to renovate it.

He then offered us a tour of interior of the inn, with his firsthand account of the renovations. The other rooms were brightly painted, with period antiques to give an authentic feel. One of the rooms opened to a private terrace—yet another hideway for a painter to pull out his easel. On the main floor, a large stone blackened fireplace stood at the end of the living room—I could just imagine King Arthur sipping from his golden chalice before a roaring fire.

Guillemard continued with the history of the inn during the tour. The mill continued in operation until the the Singeot family purchased it, a wealthy Giverny family owning many properties in town, the same family originally owning Monet’s house. Giverny was not only a hangout for French Impressionists, but for Americans as well. One American painter, Stanton Young, bought the mill from the Singeots in 1850, converting it into an artist’s house, including the addition of a studio with a large arched French window, the same room where we were now staying. The mill then changed hands several times and was eventually abandoned until 2002, when he bought it.

The room also came with free access to mountain bikes, so we took the opportunity to tour the sleepy but very touristy town of Giverny. The country charm still remained, for example, the single-laned main street consisted of a small café with two bistro tables out front and a small Gothic stone church and enclosed graveyard. Ivy-covered stone walls separated us from the locals, except for an iron gate or two to peer through. Other modern-day Monets set up shop along the route to Monet’s house, showcasing their art in the windows, but somehow none of the artists seemed to be in their studios—maybe painting en plein air?

We found a cute café appropriately titled the Café des Artistes, with an outdoor terrace and sunflower yellow parasoled tables overlooking the farmland valley below. I happened upon an artist’s studio upon entering the café, turning out to be a studio for the American Impressionists, literally left as they had used it, with a partially completed painting on an open easel. The walls were dark cornflower yellow, with the greenhouse roof open to the sky. Various statues, tubes of paint and small still life objects lay strewn about, with ancient black and white of the artists in the studio. Several bistro tables were haphazardly placed for spontaneous celebrations. After a simple but delicious meal at the Café des Artistes, as Peter Mayle, the travel writer who immortalized Provence so aptly quipped “our stomachs led us home” and we cruised downhill back to the inn.

The next morning I awoke to the wafting odor of French coffee, and I made my way downstairs to join the others. We were treated to breakfast at a King’s oak table shouting distance to from one end to the other, complete with high-backed sturdy oak chairs. The breakfast spread was quite impressive, complete with cereal for us Americans, yogurt, granola, fresh fruit, croissants with various condiments, and of course, coffee or tea. According to Guillemard, the inn can also be used as a Table d’Hote, or will serve dinner for guests on request staying overnight at the inn.

We were walking distance from the famous Giverny House & museum, so we said au revoir and made our way on foot. The best thing about the Moulin des Chennevières? There are so many  things, it’s hard to say—the historical significance, our beautiful room, the postcard perfect gardens, the delicious breakfast, not to mention walking distance to the Giverny House & Museum and free access to mountain bikes! I was already making plans for our next visit, this time equipped with blank canvases, paints, blank journals and perhaps a picnic basket for whatever inspiration came my way.

Website: Giverny Moulin
Address: 34, chemin du Roy, 27620 Giverny
Phone number: From US 011 336 81 13 77 72