MONET'S Gardens in Giverny, not far from Paris, must surely be on the bucket list of every traveller in the world. That was my first thought as I looked at the long queues outside the gardens.
Thousands of people flock to Giverny every day in summer to see where Claude Monet lived for 40 years, developed and grew his gardens and painted them so famously.
Although you must share the glorious gardens with the hordes and squash into the house shoulder with hundreds of others - the experience is still strangely serene.
Who could not feel peace in these extensive gardens that Monet cultivated, loved and painted? Despite the crowds all you seem to hear is the sound of birdsong, the buzz of bees.
The beauty of a Monet painting comes to life as you stand by the ponds and gaze at the lilies. It is surreal to stroll through the Japanese garden, sit a moment in the bamboo section, gaze at the roses or brush slowly past graceful weeping willows - all meticulously maintained and now a living museum of scenes so many of us have admired on canvas and in myriad prints.
Our visit was on a shore excursion from the luxury hotel barge Panache, a most pleasant way to see the gardens rather than driving from Paris and all its chaos.
Our captain on board Panache had gone to the gardens the day before while we were at anchorage, purchased the tickets, so we would not have to wait in line. Service way above the call of duty, and one we appreciated as we slipped past the long queues.
It is not just art lovers and ardent fans who flock to the gardens: gardeners, landscapers, botanists all find the gardens fascinating. It is a way to get an understanding of Claude Monet's work, to feel connected.
The son of a grocer and obviously way ahead of his time, Monet rebelled against his family and insisted he was an artist, taking his easel outdoors to paint exactly what he saw before his eyes - at a time when painting outside was not the norm and when artists were trained to paint their subjects in the controlled lighting of studios.
Monet loved to paint everyday things: lily ponds, landscapes, ladies strolling the gardens with parasols, families picnicking. A visit to these beautiful gardens brings the works to life and gives a connection to the impressionist artist.
Once you have strolled through the gardens you will look on a Monet painting through new and insightful eyes.
You can arrange all manner of visits to the gardens, half day tours, full days, out of Paris, or just book on line. We believe the most comfortable and convenient way to see them is as we did, from a shore excursion on board luxury barge Panache. More information on the itinerary that incorporates the gardens at website: gobarging.com