On our Paris river cruise, we stopped in the tiny French hamlet of Auvers-sur-Oise, a picturesque town famous for its relationship with the great French Impressionist painters: Daubigny, Cézanne, Pissarro.
But of all the artists inspired by Auvers, none were as captivated as Vincent Van Gogh.
It's here that Van Gogh was his most productive, producing 80 paintings in just 70 days, and is also where he is laid to rest. Today, the Norman town is almost synonymous with the tortured artist.
Here's our mini travel guide to visiting Auvers sur Oise, France – perfect for art lovers.
I actually hadn't heard much about Auvers-sur-Oise before we visited.
Auvers-sur-Oise became popular in the mid 1800s, when France built its first railroads and the village gained a direct connection to Paris. It quickly became a popular country escape, thanks to its quaint stone farmhouses, picturesque vineyards and rolling poppy fields.
Impressionist painters in particular fell in love with Auvers.
In the 19th century, numerous French painters came to live and work in the village. Paul Cézanne, Charles-François Daubigny, Camille Pissarro, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Norbert Goeneutte all spent time soaking in Auvers-sur-Oise's charm. But the most celebrated painter in town was Vincent van Gogh.
Vincent van Gogh
Auvers is “seriously beautiful”, Vincent Van Gogh wrote to his brother.
The misunderstood genius had been in Provence, recovering in a mental asylum but moved to the town due to its proximity to Paris, where his brother lived. He also began seeing Dr Paul Gachet for treatment, and the two became close friends.
Van Gogh rented a room in Auberge Ravoux, a small inn in the center of town catering to budget travelers. Paying just 3.50 francs per day for a tiny cupboard of a room, he left early each morning to paint the countryside and came back at dusk.
Van Gogh quickly fell in love with the landscape. In a fervor of inspiration, the artist painted 80 works of art (many of which are some of his most famous) in just 70 days. Subjects included the local church, rolling fields and people he saw on a daily basis, like his doctor and the innkeeper's daughter.
Mysteriously and abruptly, Vincent Van Gogh shot himself in the chest in July 1890, just 3 months into his time in Auvers. His brother Theo rushed to his side but was unable to do anything for the fatal wound.
Vincent Van Gogh died two days later and is buried in the local cemetery.
Best Things to Do in Auvers sur Oise
Auvers-sur-Oise offers bucolic charm, with thatched cottages and pastel buildings on the Oise River. As a former artist colony, the most popular thing to do in Auvers is to follow in the footsteps of Vincent Van Gogh, seeing the scenes and trails that inspired his best works.
The tourist office map even offers a self guided route through his most popular works, like the town church, rented room and final resting place.
If you're short on time, here's how to see the top sights in just a day.
1. Explore the House Where Van Gogh Lived
Vincent Van Gogh was a man frequently on the move. In his 37 years, he had 38 addresses across Europe but perhaps the most famous is Room 3, in Auberge Ravoux.
It's here, in this tiny attic, that van Gogh ended his life. Due to the stigma around suicide, the room was never rented out again and luckily has been preserved just as it was.
Today, it's a small museum dedicated to the final year of van Gogh and the room is a historical monument.
On our tour, our group split in 2 as the upper floors are quite narrow. The room itself is preserved as it was in his rental days – bare, unfurnished and peppered with tiny holes on the walls from where he hung his paintings. There's also a small movie room where you can watch a film to learn more about Vincent Van Gogh's life.
2. Have Dinner at Auberge Ravoux
In the late 1800s, l'Auberge Ravoux was a popular artists cafe.
The small inn retains its original decor and furniture and today, you can stop in for a classic French meal to enjoy what daily life must have been like in Van Gogh's time.
In fact, some of the tea towels still have art that pay homage to when Van Gogh ran out of canvas!
Try the slow roasted leg of lamb and finish off with the house's dessert specialty, chocolate mousse.
3. Admire the Famous Church of Auvers
One of Vincent van Gogh's most famous works painted in Auvers is the local church, Notre Dame de l'Assomption.
While the painting is hung at the Musee d'Orsay, you can find the real life subject matter in Auvers-sur-Oise, along with a nice signpost that replicates the work of art.
Painted in his final year, the Church of Auvers is considered to be one of Van Gogh's most iconic works as it contrasts the stiff and imposing real life structure with his dreamy, almost melancholic intrepretation.
4. See van Gogh's Final Resting Place
The town cemetery of Auvers-sur-Oise is also the final resting place of Vincent Van Gogh. You can pay your respects to the artist at the cemetery, but it was the circumstances surrounding his death that were most tragic.
On one of his routine day trips to the countryside, Van Gogh unexpectedly shot himself in the chest. He made his way back to his rented room in Auvers and ultimately died surrounded only by his brother Theo and doctor.
The two brothers were close and Theo took care of the funeral arrangements. He planned to have Vincent's funeral in the Church of Auvers (the very same one Vincent had painted) but the priest refused – not only had Vincent committed suicide but he was a Protestant.
Instead, the ceremony took place at Auberge Ravous and Theo had to correct the death announcements (which had been already printed) by hand.
The priest got even nastier.
He also refused the loan of a hearse to transport Van Gogh's coffin to the cemetery. In the end, they loaned the vehicle from the nearby parish at Mery-sur-Oise.
Theo died just 6 months later and was originally buried in the Netherlands. He left behind a wife and one year old son.
Knowing how close the brothers were, his wife Johanna eventaully had Theo's remains moved to the cemetery in Auvers-sur-Oise so that the two brothers could be reunited in death. Their graves sit side by side, covered with ivy, next to the wheat fields Vincent had once painted so vividly.
5. Discover the Impressionist Art Trail
While Paris is famous for its museums, Auvers offers a more unique, open air tour.
Follow the Impressionist Art Trail across town to discover 22 spots where famous artists once set up to paint. Master artists like Vincent Van Gogh, Daubigny, Cézanne, Pissarro, Rousseau, Corot and more all plonked their easels in Auvers-sur-Oise and are included on the walking trail.
Each signposted panel lets you compare the masterpiece to the original setting. The one stop you can't miss?
The town Church of Auvers, built in the 11th century to commemorate the death of King Louis VI's eldest son.
You can stop into the tourist office to pick up a map, or download the Van Gogh Natures app on your phone for a personal multimedia tour.
6. Try a Shot at the Museum of Absinthe
‘There's no art without absinthe,' the saying goes.
While Vincent Van Gogh, newly discharged from an asylum, was carefully sober during his time in Auvers, artists during the Belle Epoque age were heavy absinthe drinkers.
The Absinthe Museum delves into the Green Fairy in detail. As you walk in to the first floor, you'll find vintage advertising posters from the early 1900s while the second floor depicts the devastating effects of extensive absinthe consumption (it was said to make people go mad).
You can have a taste of the forbidden liquor in the museum cafe, or sample the drink the traditional way – the courtyard's antique fountain was once an absinthe fountain (although today is filled with just water).
Want a fun souvenir? Buy some absinthe mustard in the museum shop!
7. Take an Art class at Atelier d’Art Créatif
Auvers, if you could't tell by now, is an art town.
And what better way to soak in the legacy of the Impressionists than by trying out an art class? Atelier d'Art Creatif offers fun 3 hour workshops where you can learn the basics of painting and immerse yourself in some artistic fun. Book classes online in advance and just show up – all the materials are provided.
At the end of the class, you can of course take home your masterpiece. If you prefer a more professional souvenir, there's a local contemporary art gallery in town where many of the Atelier artists display their work.
8. Visit the Daubigny Museum
Before Van Gogh, there was Charles-François Daubigny, a pre-Impressionist artist who lived in Auvers from 1861 until his death in 1870.
Daubigny first came to the small town due to its proximity to the River Oise. He docked his studio barge along the riverfront in the 1850s and was one of the first pioneers of outdoor painting in France.
In particular, he was one of the first artists to begin painting ‘wet on wet'. Previously, the formal practice was for artists to use oil paint, which required painting a layer, waiting for the thick paint to dry and then painting another layer. With wet on wet and the advent of watercolor, paintings could be started and completed in just one session!
At Daubigny's Home Studio, over 1,000 works of art are on display. The rooms are decorated in period furniture while the walls are covered in paintings from the artist as well as his friends and family. You'll find classic Impressionist paintings but also caricatures, photographs and satirical drawings.
If you're all Van-Gogh'ed out, the Daubigny Museum is a unique and equally important place to check out!
9. Visit Maison Docteur Gachet
Originally, Vincent Van Gogh moved to Auvers to be closer to his brother Theo (who lived in nearby Paris) but also to seek treatment from Dr. Gachet.
Van Gogh had just been discharged from a mental asylum and Dr Gachet was a local doctor experienced in treating nervous illnesses. Soon, the two became close friends and Van Gogh painted numerous portraits of the Doctor and his garden.
Maison Docteur Gachet explores the details of their friendship and medical treatment practices of the time (Dr Gachet experimented with electro shock therapy!)
10. Explore Auvers' Contemporary Art Scene
While Auvers-sur-Oise is heavily tied to the Impressionist era, there are a number of modern artists who display their work in town.
Head to the Galerie d'Art Contemporain on 5 rue Montcel, to find a contemporary work of art. The gallery is conveniently located near the train station back to Paris.
11. Relax in the Gardens of Château d’Auvers
About a 10 minute walk from Auvers-sur-Oise station, you'll find a stately chateau dating back to Louis XIII's era. Inside, the gorgeous mansion has a great multimedia tour where you can learn more about the Impressionist art era.
Although today Impressionist art is famous and quite expensive, at the time it was revolutionary. Art had formerly been confined to a studio, with important financial, religious and political figures the standard subjects.
When a budding crop of new artists took their easels outdoors, to paint simple countryside life and elements of nature, it was initially dismissed out of hand. The Impressionist Vision brings the full context of the art movement to life, with dynamic projections, floating video screens and an in-depth audio tour.
Definitely check it out if you want an up close and personal take on some of the most famous Impressionist paintings in the world!
Another reason to visit Chateau d'Auvers? The gardens! In summer time, the beautifully landscaped French gardens are in full bloom.
How to Get from Paris to Auvers sur Oise
Auvers sur Oise is served by two stations on the Paris to North rail line: Chaponval and Auvers-sur-Oise.
From Paris, the quickest way to arrive is to take the direct train from Gare du Nord – it's offered on weekends and bank holidays from early April to late October, with multiple departures throughout the day.
Or, you can also take the train from Paris Saint Lazare and other RER stations, but these are non-direct options.Check train schedules and book tickets here
Where to Stay in Auvers
Most people visit Auvers on a day trip, but the best way to enjoy the quaint town is to stay for a night or two. The best hotel in town?
Gite les Tournesols, a 500-year old farm that's been gorgeously renovated into spacious, self catering apartments. With barnyard doors, 18th century grandfather clocks and rustic wooden beams, the country manor makes for an authentic stay.
Each apartment is designed around Van Gogh's work. In particular, we love the Night Sky room, where the ceiling is decorated in a constellation of star lights, mimicking his most famous painting!
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