Despite spending half of my childhood in Europe with an artist mother who loved sunflowers, I’d never heard of Auvers-sur-Oise, France, until 60 Minutes did a segment on it a few years ago.
With the heavy tick-tick-tick of a stopwatch kicking things off, the show’s Morley Safer wandered through the idyllic French town in connection with Van Gogh: The Life, a book that questions the generally accepted belief that the Dutch Post-Impressionist painter took his own life.
Here’s what you need to know before planning a visit.
Home to just under 7,000 residents, Auvers-sur-Oise is located on the banks of the Oise River about an hour’s drive northwest of Paris. It’s an easy day trip from the City of Lights; you can get there by car by heading north on A115. Or, for about $10, you can get there by train in 1.5 hours.
If you visit Auvers-sur-Oise by car, you’ll likely end up parking in the first spot you find and walking around town, because the roads are very narrow and parking spaces are limited. After all, Auvers-sur-Oise is less of a tourist attraction and more of a village where French families go about their lives.
Because the town is best known for inspiring 19th-century Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artists like Cezanne, Pissarro, and van Gogh, it most appeals to art and history lovers. But it also provides a convenient respite from the hustle and bustle of Paris.
Here’s what to do during a visit.
Start your day in Auvers-sur-Oise with a visit to the Auberge Ravoux. Located in the heart of town, this two-story stucco-and-wood inn is where Vincent van Gogh spent his final months. Now known as the Maison de Van Gogh, this French historic site features van Gogh’s table at the back of the dining room and is where the artist perished on July 29, 1890.
Standing in room number five, where van Gogh spent his final days, is an emotional experience. As a longtime admirer of his work, I felt surrounded by both his genius and the heartbreaking disappointment and struggles that defined his life.
Starting at the Auberge Ravoux, explore the town of Auvers-sur-Oise to see the real-world buildings and landscapes that inspired the artist’s final works. Just across the street from the inn is the Mairie d’Auvers-sur-Oise (the Auvers-sur-Oise City Hall), which was painted by van Gogh in July of 1890. In more than 20 locations around town, large billboards of van Gogh’s works are prominently displayed in front of the scenes he painted.
As you make your way east from the Chateau d’Auvers to the church, stop in at the Absinthe Museum to learn more about the green licorice-flavored drink that was all the rage among 19th-century painters, poets, and novelists like Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Edgar Allan Poe, and, of course, Vincent van Gogh.
The 17th-century Colombieres Manor just north of Auberge Ravoux is now home to the Musee Daubigny. The museum focuses primarily on the work of Charles-Francois Daubigny, who is considered the first Impressionist painter and who influenced other artists like Monet and Cezanne.
Continuing to wander eastward to the church, be sure to stroll through the small Parc Van Gogh and check out the statue of van Gogh. With his easel strapped to his back and a paint box slung over his shoulder, this larger-than-life bronze version of the famous artist has a haunted expression that captures what his time in Auvers-sur-Oise must have been like.
Before leaving this charming French hamlet on the Oise River, stop by the Cimetiere d’Auvers-sur-Oise where brothers Vincent and Theo van Gogh are buried next to each other under a blanket of English ivy.
Whether you are in a big city like Paris or a charming village like Auvers-sur-Oise, it’s hard to find a bad meal in France. While any cafe or restaurant is sure to be delicious, here are a few places to consider when you visit Auvers-sur-Oise.
It’s hard to beat the history and ambience that surrounds you at the Auberge Ravoux. Enjoy a delicious lunch or sip a glass of wine in the Ravoux’s dining room.
You can’t spend time in France and not enjoy the bakeries. The delicious smells wafting from this bakery on the west side of town drew us in for more croissants and cakes than we probably needed.
There are several other well-regarded cafes, pizza parlors, and restaurants along the main thoroughfare (Rue du General de Gaulle) and down the side streets in Auvers-sur-Oise.
In many small European towns, the shopping is clustered in the city center, which in Auvers-sur-Oise is the area of town near the train station, Auberge Ravoux, and the churches. Because this French hamlet is off the beaten path, you won’t find streets laden with souvenir shops. However, there are nice books, postcards, prints, and other van Gogh collectibles available at the Auberge Ravoux and at other boutiques in town.
Since Auvers-sur-Oise is so small, there are limited accommodations in town. If you plan to explore the town for longer than a day, consider a bed and breakfast like La Maison du Lac, which sits on the edge of a lake near the Oise River.
As with Monet’s home and gardens in Giverny, about an hour west of Auvers-sur-Oise, visiting in the spring, summer, or fall is best. While the scenic landscape changes with the seasons, the setting is most beautiful outside of the dead of winter.
Because a day in Auvers-sur-Oise is largely all about Vincent van Gogh, you might want to watch Vincent & Theo, a movie about the relationship between Vincent and his younger brother, before you go. Or read Van Gogh: The Life, the work by Pulitzer Prize-winning authors Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith that informed me of this charming village in the first place.