The trouble with inland Norman towns in autumn is that they are shuttered up and asleep by 10 at night - even the hotels, as my brother and I discovered on the first night of the trip from which I've just returned. Having gone out after dinner to find somewhere for a nightcap - the choice was limited to two low dives, of which we chose the less low - we returned at 11.40 to find our hotel locked, lightless and dead to the world. As we had no key to get in, and as nothing we did could rouse anyone, we were driven to contemplate desperate measures. The window of our room (on the first floor) was ajar - it would just be a matter of climbing the tall, spike-topped metal grille in front of the window below, hauling oneself bodily over the sill and... Fortunately we thought better of that, and, after 40 minutes, when it was beginning to seem that a night of trudging the pavements in the cold night mist lay ahead of us, my brother's despairing bellow of 'Allo? Hotel?' led to a small high window opening, a female head popping out - a beautiful sight, believe me - and, after a while, this angel in human form (one of the staff) appeared again downstairs and let us in. I have seldom been so relieved in my life. The next morning, le patron, totally deadpan, asked us if we required the front door key. And, looking up from the street in the light of day, my brother realised that that window didn't belong to our room after all.
The next day (in company with my brother and the others) I did something I never thought I'd do - visit Monet's house and garden at Giverny. I continued to think I'd never do it when we descended from the hills, having climbed up from the valley and walked through miles of misty woods, into a village swarming with visitors, taking photographs of everything as they strolled along the (very picturesque) street and forming long queues to get in to the house, their numbers augmented by the arrival of an endless stream of coach parties. We retreated to take an early lunch, after which - by a double miracle - the sun had piereced the morning mists and was shining gloriously, and the queues had temporarily gone. Siezing our chance, we went in... I have to report that, though the place was still fairly overrun, it was ravishing. The garden on a sunny autumn day is just the kind of garden I love most - richly, abundantly planted, full of colour and interest, artifice and nature beautifully blended. The immense profusion of michaelmas daisies naturally had me looking out for butterflies, and, as well as plentiful whites, I spotted several red admirals, a brimstone and a couple of speckled woods. As for the house - yes, rather on the ravishing side too, with an abundance of fascinating and beautiful Japanese prints that I wasn't expecting. Yes, Giverny can feel like Monetworld, international HQ of MonetCorp - and yes I'm not a huge fan of Monet overall - but that house and garden somehow retain something enchanting despite the visiting hordes (who were back in force by the end of our visit). If Monet had planned the whole thing - if he'd envisaged his own global megapopularity and the pulling power of Giverny - he could hardly have got it righter. It works.