Less than twenty miles from the centre of Paris sits Auvers-sur-Oise, a picturesque town that has attracted artists for many years. Perhaps most famous for the death of Vincent Van Gogh, it also played host to Paul Cézanne, Charles-François Daubigny and Camille Pissaro. The tourist office supplies a map detailing two walking routes that take in places of note and those that appear in the artwork of its famous inhabitants. Taking advantage of the one direct train there and back which runs from the Gare du Nord at weekends you’ll get a whole day there but struggle to visit everything.
|Inside the Church
Armed with our map we first stopped at the Église Notre-Dame de l’Assomption d’Auvers-sur-Oise, immortalized in Van Gogh’s The Church of Auvers. A church has stood on the site since the twelfth century and what remains is an example of early Gothic design. After a brief tour of the interior it was on to the fields beyond, familiar also from Van Gogh’s works. His grave sits in the crematorium here, his brother Theo now rests beside him, having been moved in 1914.
A walk across the fields and along quiet streets lead to the Maison-Atelier de Daubigny, a tempting stop that on this occasion we had to pass up. Continuing through historic streets you come to the Chateau d’Auvers, dating from the seventeenth century, a peaceful spot to enjoy the gardens and views over the town. The main building is not open to the public but there is a restaurant on site and a paid exhibition of Impressionist work. Being on a budget we had to pass up on this too (there are so many places to visit it’s best to decide before you arrive where you’re going to prioritise).
|Exterior of Auberge Ravoux
For us the main draw was Van Gogh and so we made our way to L’Auberge Ravoux where he lodged for the last seventy days of his life. The staircase leading to the top floor is now poorly lit and in slight disrepair, the walls no longer the shade he would have known. His room is small and plain but all he needed as he spent the majority of his time outside painting from life. We were lucky as the only two English speakers on the tour we were able to spend more time in the room as the presentation was kindly repeated, free from the crowds. I’m told at weekend there are often long queues but we seem to have chanced upon a quieter day. The adjacent room has been dressed to give an idea of how it would have looked, Van Gogh’s having been left unchanged but for the removal of furniture.
After giving ourselves time to reflect after seeing where one of the world’s favourite artists lived during his most prolific period we turned our steps to the Absinthe museum. A small, unassuming building hosts an array of objects using in the preparation of the drink, information of what goes into it, and many examples of the way it permeated popular culture. The contrast is stark between posters hailing the spirit as the height of culture, laughing figures having the time of their life, and the later images of emaciated bodies, families plunged into poverty after suffering abuse at the hands of those inebriated by the potent substance.
|The garden at Doctor Gachet's house
Unfortunately, there was not time to complete the longer walk detailed on the map of the town but there was just enough to visit the house of Doctor Gachet, to which entry is free. A tall house overlooking a lovely garden and many rooftops besides, it is a beautiful spot. Gachet welcomed many artists into his home where he offered treatment as well as friendship. A keen painter himself, he amassed a significant art collection which was later donated to French museums by his offspring. Visiting his home gives a great sense of the appeal to artists, but also the chance to learn about the fascinating man himself.
Before catching our train back to Paris there was just time to walk down to the river Oise and enjoy the glow of golden hour. Auvers-sur-Oise is a peaceful and beautiful town that takes no great leap of imagination to understand why it is so popular with artists. Today there are many working studios to enjoy as well as soaking in the history of the place. Even the postboxes and station subway are enhanced with illustration. A perfect day trip that could easily be extended into several days.