I’ve been visiting friends in Paris for more than 20 years. Well, I always say they’re in Paris, but they actually live in a little town called Ballancourt about an hour south of the city on the RER D commuter line.

After crossing the Seine, the train clangs through suburb after suburb—and then, suddenly, the crowds in the cars disperse and, outside the window, the endless blocks of concrete apartments give way to verdant fields, copses of trees, picturesque country houses, and royal-blue sky.

There’s plenty to see and do in Paris proper, bien sûr. But should you have the time—and initiative—to take your adventure a step further, you will discover amazing things within a beret’s throw of the French capital.

Here are some of the best day trip destinations—admittedly, with an artistic bent—that I’ve discovered through the years. But we’re in France, n’est-ce pas?

> Auvers-sur-Oise

Church in Auvers-sur-Oise, France (Photograph by gadl, flickr)
A church in Auvers-sur-Oise, France (Photograph by gadl, flickr)

It’s like walking into an Impressionist painting in this adorable little village just outside Paris.

Quiet country lanes, rose-draped cottages, fields of wheat—almost nothing has changed since Paul Cézanne, Berthe Morisot, Camille Pissarro, and—perhaps the most famous of all—Vincent van Gogh lived and painted here.

I met someone special in Auvers once. I was rushing to escape a rain shower and almost ran into him, an elderly monsieur in a long brown coat slowly making his way down the road. I had every intention of skirting on by, but his face creased into a friendly smile. “Have you seen the maison of Dr. Gachet?” he asked.

No, I had not.

The man signaled for me to follow him and, as we walked, he told me about Paul-Ferdinand Gachet, an eccentric doctor and amateur artist who had been an early patron of the Impressionists. Abruptly, he stopped and (Read more...)

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