In the north east of France, there's a land that boasts traditional towns as charming as Honfleur, and as aristocratic as Deauville; a land dotted with unforgettable monuments such Mont-St-Michel, and with a generous selection of unspoiled beaches, local markets and delightful rural trails. It isn't hard to lose your heart to Normandy, but if you need an extra reason, we might just have found one for you: the area is celebrating a festival that promises to become one of the great cultural events of the European summer.
The experts assure us that without the colours and the unspoiled landscapes of Normandy, Impressionism - a movement that proved essential to so much subsequent artistic development - may never have seen the light of day. Now, in honour of the artists and their art, the region is hosting a series of events – over 200 in all – in the very settings that inspired the masters, in the world that shaped the face of art today.
This summer, the first Impressionism Festival is being celebrated on an unprecedented scale, with first class art exhibitions, concerts, dance, theatre, film series and roundtable talks, special lighting effects for the monuments, tours of key landmarks, fetes and picnics such as the one that Manet captured in Le dejeuner sur l'herbe.
The highlight of the Festival will undoubtably be the exhibition A city for Impressionism: Monet, Pissarro and Gauguin in Rouen that runs from June 4th to September 26th in the Fine Arts Museum of Rouen. It brings together an exceptional selection of masterpieces drawn from public and private collections around the world, including many never seen before in Europe.
There are other unmissable exhibitions, including the works of Renoir, Pissarro and Boudin, on display all summer long at Dieppe's castle museum; the In the footsteps of Corot through Normandy at the Fine Arts Museum in Saint-Lo; Millet, at the start of Impressionism at the Thomas-Henry Museum in Cherbourg-Octeville; Unpublished Degas at the Andre Malraux Museum, Le Havre, and even one exhibition under the title Against Impressionism, at Villequier's Victor Hugo Museum.
Another key location of the Festival, with an exhibition of works featuring the River Seine (only until July) is the Impressionist Museum at Giverny, a town inextricably associated with Monet, who moved there in 1883. Monet painted many of his most famous works there, including Waterlilies and the Japanese Bridge, since which, Giverny has been a mecca for artists including Cezanne, Renoir, Sisley, Pissarro and Matisse.
Undoubtedly, painting is the most well-known aspect of Impressionism, although the artistic movement encompassed other creative forms and influenced many contemporary forms of expression. It's not surprising then, that the Normandy summer will include concerts featuring such names as Ravel, Faure and Debussy, photography exhibitions, modern art and video art and even such unexpected gems as Impressionist Ceramics, an exhibition hosted by the Ceramics Museum of Rouen until October.
Of course such a grand scale cultural festival wouldn't be complete without firework displays, thematic cruises on the Seine, cabaret on the river bank, and an assortment of open air activities to appeal to everyone. There are even a dozen trails, each with Impressionism as a central theme, to follow and discover this wonderful region of France.
Tips and suggestions
Normandy is around an hour and a half by car from Paris. There are plenty of cheap flight deals to the French capital, or you could take Eurostar from London St Pancras.
French Tourist Board
Normandy Tourist Board