In September 2016, I will take my 20th trip to the City of Light! Will I ever tire of visiting this magnificent city of art, history and culture? I don’t think so!
Visiting Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa at the Louvre, having lunch in the gardens of the Musée Rodin, gazing at the Tour Eiffel from the Trocadéro at sunset. These things I could do everyday and still be charmed.
Yet for the seasoned Paris traveller, it’s nice to have a few secret places, where you can escape the summer crowds, where you can find a small café frequented mostly by locals, where you can take in the history, art and culture on a more personal level.
Although these two villages are often mentioned in guide books, I always find them pleasantly peaceful and much less crowded than you would expect from a location so close to Paris.
I’m delighted to have discovered this little village just an hour by train (on a good day) northwest of Paris. It’s the most perfect little French town situated on the Oise River. Canoes berthed along the banks of the river, it’s a painting of the French countryside and you’re in it!
What really makes this the perfect side trip is its history as the final tragic resting place of Vincent Van Gogh. This town is also the setting of his final paintings, among them The Church at Auvers, The Fields, Bank at Auvers-sur-Oise, and Portrait of Doctor Gachet. Though he lived here only 70 days, he painted 70 paintings! Your walk through this town is a walk through the canvases of Vincent’s final days.
His room in Auberge Ravoux, still there, is the place where Van Gogh lived, and died, during his short stay in Auvers. It now includes a lovely museum. Visitors can walk into the still unchanged room where Van Gogh died on July 29, 1890, comforted by his beloved brother, Theo, who died just six months later in Paris. Both are buried in the little cemetery in Auvers-sur-Oise.
Take the train from Gare du Nord to either Valmondois or Pontoise, approximately 20 Euros round trip. At Valmondois, you must change trains in the opposite direction to Auvers-sur-Oise, just a short distance.
It is this bit of difficulty that makes this a less touristy destination. Many new visitors to Paris will be content to stay in the city visiting the main sights for the first time. As a seasoned traveler, you can have this secret and private side trip mostly to yourself. You will not be disappointed.
Talk about a prince and princess fantasy, here it is. A château with a moat, bronze boar statues and sweeping staircases, swans swimming in a pond surrounded by manicured gardens, and an architecturally magnificent and gigantic stable filled with real horses, Les Grands Ecuries. Chantilly is Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Beauty and the Beast all rolled into one.
It is simply and utterly and quietly beautiful. The Musée Condé within the château has an amazing collection of paintings including Les trois Grâces (The Three Graces) by Raphael.
Though the stables and the château are the main tourist attractions, I find it equally pleasant to stroll through the adjacent town and have lunch at a small outdoor café with the locals.
Take the train from Gare du Nord directly to Chantilly. This will cost approximately 20 Euros round trip, and takes about 45 minutes. Follow the signs into town or to the Château.
Perfect, Private and Secret!
Honestly, these two side trips from Paris are time well spent. You will love the chance to experience the French countryside away from the madding crowds. The cost is low, but the reward is great. Be sure to schedule them in on your next visit!