First things first: if you’re looking for a little day trip out of Paris, then you need look no further than Auvers-sur-Oise. Frankly, I’m surprised that this little town isn’t mentioned more in short day trips from Paris. Barely 30km from the city of lights, it’s easily visit-able within the span of a half day trip.
A brief history of Auvers-sur-Oise
A cute little town; typical of what I’ve come to expect from the French countryside, the commune is filled with the usual boulangeries, restaurants and pastry shops. Although I often focus on day trips to places like fairytale castles, a couple of weeks ago I went somewhere a little different. And highly recommend Auvers-sur-Oise as a day trip from Paris to everyone.
During la belle époque, Auvers-sur-Oise became a breeding ground of creativity; Cézanne, Daubigny and Pissarro all frequented the area. Oh, how I’d have loved to have been a fly on the wall for some of those conversations…
It also happens to be the place where Vincent van Gogh spent his final 70 days. During this period, the artist painted prolifically, producing almost a work each day. Today, the entire town and Van Gogh’s lives are entirely interwoven; you won’t find a street without art dedicated to the man or a plaque signifying that he produced one of his final pieces there.
Vincent van Gogh’s tale is tragic; a man who lived before a time of proper mental health support and recognition, he spent months in and out of psychiatric care and being looked after by ill equipped doctors. Also tragic is the fact that no one ever acknowledged the genius of his work until after he had died. He never reaped the fruits of his labour or saw how widely acclaimed his work was to become.
Things to do in Auvers-sur-Oise
Stroll around the town
Throughout the town and surrounding countryside, you’ll soon discover that there are plaques depicting which painting Van Gogh would have painted where. Lots of information is available about the artist’s life and death, as well as his final months in the town of Auvers-sur-Oise.
Today, the hotel where Van Gogh lived before taking his final breath is still open for business; welcoming international clientele to its restaurant and rooms. Although no one knows for sure what happened to van Gogh during his final days, it’s known that a couple of days before he died, he returned to his room at Auberge Ravoux with a gunshot wound to the chest. It’s suspected that it was most likely self inflicted.
In a rather morbid display od sark tourism, you can pay to see the room where Van Gogh spent his final hours. The room where he died is a rather macabre affair; having been left in practically the same state as it was upon the artist’s death.
Of course, for a town near Paris, there has to be a château! However, for a relatively small town, the Château of Anvers-sur-Oise is reasonably large. There’s also a large (and beautifully manicured) garden surrounding the castle.
Built in the 17th century, the castle itself was built by an Italian with connections to the Medici family. Then built in an Italian style, the castle was then sold and revamped so as to look more French.
The Château then passed through various families and owners before being purchased and entirely restored to its renaissance state in the late 20th century. Today both the castle and gardens are open to the public (with the gardens being free). Today, you have to pay for entrance into the Château, though the gardens themselves are free to stroll around.
Visit the Absinthe Museum
If you don’t know what absinthe is, it’s a distilled spirit that’s high in alcohol content and flavoured with anise and other herbs. Although no one knows the exact origins of the drink, it gained quick popularity in France and Europe after being distributed to French soldiers as a malaria preventative during the mid 19th Century.
So it probably goes without saying that one of the most unusual museums I’ve ever been to has got to be the little Absinthe Museum lying on the outskirts of Auvers-sur-Oise. Imagine that: an entire museum just dedicated to the infamous drink! Van Gogh was a known absinthe drinker.
Absinthe is often falsely accused of causing the drinker to suffer hallucinogenic effects upon consumption. However, this doesn’t mean to say that it wasn’t potent and dangerous stuff. Its high alcohol content and the fact that it was easy to purchase meant that many families were torn apart as a result.
The alcohol is bottled at high alcohol levels but is intended to be watered down with water. Inevitably, this often didn’t happen, leading to even more alcohol related deaths and problems. Such problems occurred, that the French were forced to great anti-absinthe drinking propaganda.
Absinthe gained such notoriety that it ended up being banned for a number of years (this happened in 1914 in France). Today, Absinthe production is vastly controlled, regulated and is relatively safe.
I mean, there are still the dangers associated with drinking alcohol, but that’s about it. There’s even the chance to taste some of the Absinthe in a little café next to the shop. However, this doesn’t mean that absinthe is particularly popular again: quite the contrary. After its banning, Pastis became the national drink of choice to replace Absinthe.
Cemetery of Auvers-sur-Oise
The Cemetery is a few hundred metres up a steep hill and outside the town. It is the final resting place of both Vincent and his brother Theo. Tragically, after Vincent died, his brother Theo became manically depressed and died mere months after the great artist.
Both were in their mid thirties at their time of death. Today, they have found their final resting places side by side, surrounded by the countryside they grew to love, in a walled graveyard situated a little way outside of the town itself.