Sunday, May 5, 2019

5 Artsy Day Trips an Hour from PARIS

By Jacquelin Carnegie
Monet, Train to Jeufosse

If you’re an art lover, this itinerary is for you. It was the development of train travel in the late 1800s in France that enabled artists to easily reach the Parisian outskirts to paint landscapes, giving rise to the en plein air ("in the open air") painting style. These treks into the countryside led artists to consider moving to the picturesque suburbs. Today, follow in their footsteps by hopping on a train. All of these lovely places are within an hour of Paris either by RER (light rail), SNCF (train) or TGV (fast train).

Fondation Claude Monet
84 Rue Claude Monet, Giverny; (Open: March-Nov) 

Monet, The Artist's Garden at Giverny
Monet noticed the village of Giverny while passing by on a train; in 1883, he moved his family here. His presence attracted other artists, from the famous to the unknown. (On Nov. 28, 1894, both Rodin and Cézanne visited!) It’s easy to visit Monet’s house and gardens without taking an overpriced bus tour. Get here on your own—by train, of course. Take an early one to arrive just as the gates open at the Claude Monet Foundation. The garden is beautiful, but smaller than imagined. And, the famed Japanese water garden is now on the other side of a busy main road. However, the house has been lovingly restored and the town is worth a visit. Have a meal or a look-see at the famed artists’ hangout, the restaurant Hôtel Baudy (open March-Nov), and don’t miss the Musée des Impressionnismes, just down the road.

Getting There: From Paris' Gare St. Lazare station, take a SNCF train to Vernon-Giverny. At Vernon, the train is met by a shuttle bus to the Claude Monet Foundation. Taxis and bikes are also available.

Van Gogh,

Auvers-sur-Oise is a really charming town where Vincent van Gogh sadly spent the last months of his life. He moved here in May 1890 and did some eighty paintings, including the only one sold during his lifetime, Portrait of Dr. Gachet. Markers throughout the town indicate Van Gogh-related points of interest and the sites he painted such as the church Notre-Dame-de-l'Assomption and the City Hall. At the Château d'Auvers (the kitschiest museum you’ll ever visit), experience French life at the time of the Impressionists. Pay homage to Van Gogh at the room he occupied in the Auberge Ravoux. At the cemetery, weep over his grave and the sad irony of the penniless painter, now considered the most popular artist in the world.
Getting There: From Paris' Gare du Nord station, take the RER or SNCF train in the direction of Pontoise or Valmondois, with a transfer to Auvers-sur-Oise. (On Saturdays & Sundays, April to November, there’s a direct train, H line.)

Musée Rodin - Meudon
Villa des Brillants
19 Avenue Auguste Rodin, Meudon
Rodin, The Thinker

The sculptor Auguste Rodin moved to Meudon Val Fleury in 1893. While he continued to go to his Parisian studio, he did a lot of creative work here. The museum is actually the villa where he lived and the studio where he worked, set in a beautiful park. Today, only a few rooms in the villa are open to the public, but the atelier is filled with spectacular casts of important pieces such as The Burghers of Calais and The Gates of Hell. Out front, The Thinker fittingly presides over Rodin’s tomb. This lovely spot, perched on a hill overlooking the Parc de St. Cloud and the Seine, is the perfect setting for a picnic on a nice day.
Getting There: From Paris, take RER (C) in the direction of Versailles Rive Gauche to Meudon Val Fleury. Then, from the station, take bus #169 (Paul Bert stop). It’s a walk uphill from there.

Musée Camille Claudel
10 rue Gustave Flaubert, Nogent-sur-Seine

Claudel, Femme Accroupie
This recently opened museum is the first in France to be dedicated to a woman artist. Recognition a long time in coming for an artist who spent most of her career trying to assert her own creativity and independence from Rodin. Certainly in the 19th-century, Camille Claudel was regarded more for being Rodin's student, studio assistant, collaborator, muse, model, and mistress--rather than a sculptor in her own right. But, it was in Nogent-sur-Seine as a young girl that her talent was first recognized and encouraged by the well-known sculptor Alfred Boucher. Boucher then asked Rodin to take her on as a student and the rest is history. As to the museum, works by other 19th-century sculptors who taught or influenced Claudel are displayed in the large first floor galleries in the modern section of the building. Oddly enough, Claudel's own works are relegated to the 2nd floor in the old section that was once the Claudels' family home.
Flaubert Fans: Flaubert's father's family was from Nogent-sur-Seine. His novel L'Éducation Sentimentale (Sentimental Education) is set here. At the tourist office (5 rue Saint Epoing)
, pick up a brochure with a map of highlights, "Sur Les Pas de Flaubert." 
Getting There: From Paris' Gare de l’Est station, take a SNCF train to Nogent-sur-Seine (about an hour). The museum is a 10-minute walk from the station.

Château du Clos Lucé
2 Rue du Clos Lucé, Amboise, Val de Loire
Da Vinci model at Clos Lucé
Long before any artist hopped on a train, the master of them all--Leonardo da Vinci--loaded his painting supplies and a few canvases onto a mule for the journey from Italy to France. Da Vinci came to the château at Amboise in the Loire Valley on the invitation of King François 1, a major fan. The king told Da Vinci he was "free to think, dream, and work." (It's the reason the Mona Lisa is in the Louvre.) You can visit the rooms where Da Vinci worked the last years of his life and view maquettes of his ingenious machines. The château is surrounded by a magnificent park with life-size models of many of Da Vinci's futuristic inventions that only became realities some 400 years later.
Getting There: From Paris' Gare Montparnasse station, take the TGV train to St Pierre des Corps. (An hour, plus a 20-minute taxi ride or local train connection to Amboise.) Or, take a 2-hour train, direct to Amboise from Paris' Gare Austerlitz.

Paris has six train stations, each serving specific regions. (There’s a rhyme and reason to it, but it often seems completely arbitrary!) However, you can do itinerary and timetable searches for all these trips before leaving the comfort of your home on Transilien or Rail Europe. Most of these lovely places, and 5 other artsy spots, are best visited in the spring and summer (some are only open from March to November), so book your flights to Paris now! 
[Editor's Note: A version of this article first appeared on]

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