It is true that there are lots of interesting things to do in Paris. But Paris also makes for a great base to explore its surroundings, with efficient public transportation and some really nice places to see. Today we are visiting Auvers, following Van Gogh‘s steps. Located 35 km North of Paris, Auvers (Auvers-sur-Oise) is a cute village in the French countryside with some interesting things to see and do. It is also very easy to reach by public transportation which makes Auvers one of the best day trips from Paris.
This beautiful and peaceful village attired by the end of the XIXth century many artists, especially the Impressionists. People like Cézanne, Pissarro, Sisley, or Monet lived or frequented Auvers-sur-Oise and painted the village on some of their masterworks. That’s why Auvers-sur-Oise is called “the Impressionists’ village”.
VAN GOGH AND THE CHURCH AT AUVERS
But most of all Auvers village will be always related to Vincent Van Gogh. Van Gogh discovered the village by the end of his life and although he lived in Auvers less than two months he painted 70 works, most of them related to the village and its landscapes.
Maybe his most famous painting in Auvers village is “The Church at Auvers”. This canvas was painted in June 1890 and now it hangs at Musée d’Orsay. The model was the cute Gothic church (XII-XIII century) located at Place de l’Eglise. This is how Van Gogh described the church and his work in a letter sent to his sister on 5th June 1890:
I have a larger picture of the village church — an effect in which the building appears to be violet-hued against a sky of simple deep blue color, pure cobalt; the stained-glass windows appear as ultramarine blotches, the roof is violet and partly orange. In the foreground some green plants in bloom, and sand with the pink flow of sunshine in it. And once again it is nearly the same thing as the studies I did in Nuenen of the old tower and the cemetery, only it is probably that now the color is more expressive, more sumptuous.
On 27 July 1890, aged 37, Van Gogh shot himself in the chest with a revolver. There were no witnesses and Van Gogh managed to go back to his hostel room where he died 30 hours after the incident.
The painters’ community learnt about Van Gogh’s death with sadness. Theo Van Gogh, Vincent’s brother, wanted to organize the funeral in the church at Auvers, so dear to Vincent. However, the priest refused categorically: Van Gogh was protestant plus he committed suicide! In the end Theo had to modify the funeral invitations manually. Vincent Van Gogh rests forever, together with his brother, in the town cemetery not far from the church.
VAN GOGH AND DR GACHET
Dr Paul Gachet, a French physician, treated Vincent Van Gogh during his last weeks in Auvers. Gachet was also an amateur painter and had treated several other artists in the past. Van Gogh’s first impression was that Gachet was “iller than I am, it seemed to me, or let’s say just as much”. However Van Gogh enjoyed Gachet’s company and soon they became friends. It was common to see Van Gogh at Dr Gachet’s house and he painted some portraits for Gachet himself and his family. Van Gogh also painted Dr Gachet’s house and its beautiful garden, full of colorful flowers and medicinal plants. Dr Gachet’s house is today a nice museum (free entrance) which houses small art exhibitions. The garden is still the most beautiful part of the house and it is great to seat on a bench, have a rest and admire its landscape.
OTHER VAN GOGH PAINTINGS IN AUVERS
Despite his fragile health, Van Gogh left a rich collection of canvas in Auvers village. Today we can still see Auvers through Van Gogh’s eyes thanks to his paintings. First he was captivated by the fields in May, when the wheat was young and green (Wheatfields with crows). Also, he painted Auvers’ Town Hall, which he could see from his window.
OTHER INTERESTING SIGHTS IN AUVERS
THE PAINTER’S PATHWAY
The Painters’ Pathway is a DIY walk (actually it’s two DIY walks, red and green) linking a number of views which figured in the paintings of these Impressionist artists. The local Tourism Office installed on each exact spot a plaque with the painting reproduction so you can compare the real view to its artistic representation. As you can see on the pictures, some spots have not changed that much in the last century. To go back to the town centre you can walk along Oise river, it’s a nice and shady walk.
Auverge Ravoux is the small inn where Vincent stayed at while in Auvers-Sur-Oise in 1890. It was in his room in this inn where Van Gogh died from a gunshot. After Van Gogh ‘s death the owners emptied the room and never rented it again. Today Auverge Ravoux works as a restaurant but the owners still preserve Van Gogh’s empty room, which can be visited for 6€. If you check their website, they don’t talk about tourists but pilgrims who come from all the world to that room to feel the painter’s spirit.
This quirky museum was born thanks to its founder’s curiosity, when she found a “strange spoon” in a flea market. Since that moment she started collecting everything related to this mythical drink, also known as “fée verte” (green fairy). The collection allows visitors to understand the absinthe’s importance in the social and cultural life in the XIX th century (some of the Impressionist artists drank a lot of it). The down side of this fascinating museum is the owner herself. Inside the museum pictures are strictly forbidden and I remember the owner following us everywhere to be sure we did not take any!
Difficult to believe, but Auvers-sur-Oise has also troglodyte houses! Built on a hillside, the village of Auvers account numerous cave dwellings. Their development is related to the exploitation of stone quarries in the area until the late nineteenth century. Entire families of workers on construction sites used these large openings in the stones to live. Dr Gachet’s house had one of these house caves in his garden. He used it as studio where he also received other painters.
WHERE TO SLEEP IN AUVERS-SUR-OISE
With so many things to see and do you may think that one day is not enough to enjoy Auvers’s quiet and relaxing atmosphere and maybe you are right. Auvers does not have a big choice of accommodation but there are a couple of cute hotels or pensions for a reasonable price, especially if you book in advance:
Never thought about sleeping on a boat? This péniche located on the banks of Oise river in Auvers is very appreciated by couples. It has all the facilities that you need plus a deck-terrace to enjoy your breakfast or a glass of champagne
Lovely old cottage atmosphere located at Auvers’ historic centre, with a very friendly host. Chez Angelina is the perfect base for navigating the village and it is especially loved by couples.
Lovely country side hotel with a beautiful ancient decoration and lots of books everywhere. The hotel is not right in the center but they compensate it with a beautiful garden and bicycles to use for free.
HOW TO REACH AUVERS-SUR-OISE FROM PARIS
Auvers-sur-Oise is very easy to reach by train. From April to end October, on weekends or holidays, there is a direct train leaving from Paris Gare du Nord to Auvers Train Station which takes only 35 minutes. Out of these dates or on weekdays, take train Transilien H from Gare du Nord to Pontoise and then take another Transilien H from Pontoise to Auvers (45 minutes journey in total). Train ticket costs 5.95€ (one way). If you have the Navigo card 5 zones you don’t need to pay anything else. You can check the trains’ schedules and all the transportation options here
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