Beyond turreted chateaus, sweeping D-Day beaches and Monet’s much-loved lily pond, Normandy is home to one of the most intriguing gardens in Europe. The creation of the landscape architect Alexander Grivko, Les Jardins d’Étretat is a unique collection of botanicals and art installations from contemporary artists, all skilfully integrated into a hillside cascading down to the sea.
Originally founded in 1903 by the French actress Madame Thébault, the gardens are an enchanting Alice-in-Wonderland-style escape just two hours from Paris by train, and has been open to the public since 2016. Filled with a poetic arrangement of planting that grows and blossoms year round, Les Jardins d’Étretat is a must-see for those on the trail of Monet, who lived in Étretat and spent his childhood in Le Havre just a 30-minute drive away.
Integreated within the gardens is an array of head-turning sculptures that surprise and capture the eye, and just when you think you’ve seen it all, a magnificent coastal panorama unfolds with the towering chalk-white cliffs of Porte d’Aval on full display, the very cliff Monet often painted in his later years.
According to Mark Dumas of the garden design and landscaping company IL NATURE, which carried out the construction, Alexander believes that the landscape surrounding a person is an extension of one’s inner self. The garden was inspired by neo-futuristic ideas and the seacoast of Normandy, its cragged outlines and the movement of waves crashing against the shores. This explains the unique sense of timelessness, serenity and transience that the garden evokes in visitors.