At this time of year Monet's Gardens at Giverny can seem more like a busy night at Madison Square Gardens, while Giverny itself is packed with tour coaches and herds of visitors traipsing in crocodile formation down its once-bucolic lanes.
Don't let that put you off a genuinely worthwhile experience however - even if the Impressionist-era tranquility of the Japanese garden, with its famous water-lilies and bow bridges, is hard to recreate with a whacking great trunk road running alongside.
What's needed is a refuge - and they don't come more sumptuous than the Chateau de Brécourt, which is cunningly located a short car journey away from Giverny, at Pacy sur Eure. A moated, national historic monument, Brécourt is a supremely elegant Louis XIII castle-hotel, dating in its entirety from the 17th century. Just feel the madding crowds melt away as you are enveloped by 20 hectares of parkland. That strange edifice in the park is the one remaining wall of a chapel bombed by the RAF in the Second World War.
Chateau de Brécourt, Douains, 27120 Pacy sur Eure, Eure, France (00 33 2 32 52 40 50; www.chateaudebrecourt.com).
About 70 km west of Paris, Douains is an easy-to-miss hamlet just outside Pacy sur Eure as you approach from Giverny on the D181, a road directly accessible from exit 16 of the A13 motorway between Paris to Normandy. Monet's garden is a 15-minute drive back towards the River Seine along the D181.
The hotel's 25 rooms and five apartments are all individually decorated, with tissue-covered walls, great expanses of honeyed wooden beams and floors polished by centuries of leather soles. Our bathroom had an enormous mirror along one wall, which was slightly alarming. The view wasn't as impressive as expected, looking out over the estate's farmyard. We were mollified, however, when the cock didn't crow as loudly as we feared - the good, thick walls are perfect soundproofing. This is old-fashioned luxury with bags of French style, and barely a contemporary touch. The furniture is largely antique, but not oppressively so.
The sumptuous old-world decor continues in the grand public rooms, which include a Louis XV wood-panelled dining room with spectacular views across the parkland, a triple staircase with sculpted wood balustrade and a reception scattered with comfortable leather sofas. There's a small indoor swimming pool should you feel like burning off some of the calorific food dished up in the beautiful dining room, where on Fridays, they serve an 18th-century meal for €61 (£44). Pigeons feature heavily. Book ahead.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Rooms range from a standard double at €138 (£98.50) to an apartment at €270 (£193). Pets are welcome for an additional €10 (£7) each, and breakfast costs €14 (£10).
I'm not paying that: Hotel Normandy in Vernon, which is about 4km from Giverny, is a smart, modern establishment with 50 rooms. A double costs €70 (£50). Hotel Normandy, 1 Avenue Pierre Mendes France, Place de Paris, Vernon (00 33 2 32 51 97 97).Reuse content