If you want to explore Paris beyond the 20th arrondisement, this artists' haunts itinerary is for you. All of these sights are within an hour of Paris either by Metro (subway), RER (light rail), SNCF (train), or TGV (fast train). In fact, it was the development of train travel in France in the late 1800s that enabled artists to easily reach the Parisian outskirts to paint landscapes, giving rise to the "in the open air" painting style.
These treks into the countryside led artists to consider moving to the picturesque suburbs. Today, you can follow in their footsteps by hopping on a train.
Mornings with Monet
In 1883, Monet and his family settled in Giverny; he'd noticed the village passing by on a train. His presence here attracted other artists, from the famous to the obscure. (On Nov. 28, 1894, both Rodin and Cézanne visited.)
Today, see Monet's house and gardens without taking an overpriced, guided bus tour; it's easy to get to on your own -- by train, of course. Take an early one to arrive just as the gates open at the Claude Monet Foundation (www.fondation-monet.com/uk/). The garden is lovely but a bit 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 Hôtel Baudy (www.giverny.fr/HOTEL-RESTAURANT-BAUDY.html), and don't miss the Musée d'Art Americain (www.maag.org), just down the road.
Directions: From Paris-Gare St. Lazare, take a SNCF train to Vernon (www.vernon-visite.org/rgb3/colony_giverny.htm). At Vernon, the train is met by a bus to the Claude Monet Foundation. (Check the schedule; it only meets certain trains.) Taxis are also available.
Van Gogh's Last Stand
The lovely town of Auvers-sur-Oise attracted many painters but the most prolific was Vincent van Gogh, who moved here in May 1890, a few months before his death. In Auvers (www.auvers-sur-oise.com), he did some eighty paintings, including Portrait of Dr. Gachet, the only one sold during his lifetime.
Markers throughout the town indicate Van Gogh-related points of interest and sights he painted such as the Notre Dame church and the City Hall. At the Château d'Auvers (www.chateau-auvers.fr), 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 (www.maisondevangogh.fr/uk/navigation.htm) and, at the cemetery, weep over his grave and the sad irony of the penniless painter, now considered the most popular artist in the world.
Directions: From Paris-Gare du Nord, take a train (RER or SNCF) in the direction of Pontoise or Valmondois, with a transfer to Auvers-sur-Oise. On Saturdays and Sundays from April to November, there's a direct train.
Rodin's Country Hideaway
In 1893, the sculptor Auguste Rodin moved to Meudon Val Fleury. Although he continued to go to his Parisian studio, he did a lot of his creative work in Meudon.
Today, only two rooms in the Meudon house (www.musee-rodin.fr/welcome.htm) are open to the public but, on a nice day, the lovely setting is the perfect spot for a picnic. It's on a hill, overlooking the Parc de St. Cloud and the Seine.
There's also a beautiful atelier filled with spectacular casts of important pieces such as The Burghers of Calais and The Gates of Hell. And, in front of the Musée Rodin, Meudon, The Thinker, fittingly, presides over Rodin's tomb.
Directions: From Paris, take RER (C) in the direction of Versailles Rive Gauche to Meudon Val Fleury. Then, from the station, bus #169 (Paul Bert stop). It's a walk uphill from there.
Da Vinci Slept Here
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, what is now, the Château de Clos-Lucé (www.vinci-closluce.com) at Amboise in the Loire Valley on the invitation of King François I, 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.
Directions: From Paris-Gare Montparnasse, take the TGV to St Pierre des Corps. (It's an hour, plus a 20-minute taxi ride to Amboise.) Or, take a 2-hour train, direct to Amboise from Paris-Gare Austerlitz.
Famous French Fabric
Jouy-en-Josas is not the home of any particular artist, but a place where engravers created designs for Toile de Jouy, a printed cotton cloth. The Musée de la Toile de Jouy (www.jouy-en-josas.fr/infospratiques-musee.php) is a fascinating museum devoted to the history of this iconic French fabric, first manufactured here in 1760 by textile entrepreneur, Christophe-Philippe Oberkampf. Toile de Jouy, famous for idyllic, monochromatic scenes -- printed in either red, blue or black on a cream-colored background -- was popular with French royalty and used for both clothing and home decorating. Learn all about it on an excellent guided tour.
Directions: From Paris-Gare Austerliz, take RER (C) in the direction of Versailles Chantiers to Petit Jouy-Les Loges. The museum is a short walk from the train station.
Paris has six train stations, each serving specific regions. (I'm sure there's a rhyme and reason to it, but it seems completely arbitrary.) However, you can do itinerary and timetable searches for all these trips before leaving the comfort of your home:
- Transilien (www.transilien.com)
- Transport-idf (www.transport-idf.com)
- Rail Europe (www.raileurope.com)
Talk with fellow Frommer's travelers on our France Forum today.