Homage to Van Gogh: A Day Trip to Auvers-sur-Oise
On May 20, 1890, Vincent Van Gogh first set foot in Auvers-sur-Oise. He had just been in Paris for three days, visiting with his brother Theo, Theo’s wife Johanna and baby Vincent, his namesake nephew. He had left the asylum in St. Remy in the south of France and was looking for a peaceful, quiet place to paint.
The next day, he described the village to Theo in a letter. “…it’s gravely beautiful, it’s the heart of the countryside, distinctive and picturesque.”
And indeed, Auvers-sur-Oise is the quintessential French village, about an hour by train from Paris, which has managed to preserve its charm over the years. For us, it was a must see.
If you’re a fan of Van Gogh, and you’re in Paris, a day trip to Auvers-sur-Oise should be at the top of your list.
Van Gogh Was Busy in Auvers-sur-Oise
This is where Van Gogh spent the last 70 days of his life, supposedly under the care of Dr. Gachet. He died on July 29, 1890 and was buried in the small local cemetery the next day.
In a whirl of activity, Van Gogh completed 80 paintings and 64 sketches. Many are considered masterpieces, including Crows Over Wheatfield, the Portrait of Dr. Gachet and Church at Auvers. For a time, the Dr. Gachet portrait was the world’s most expensive painting, selling at auction for $82.5 million.
See Auvers-sur-Oise Through Van Gogh’s Eyes
Although none of Van Gogh’s original paintings are on display in Auvers-sur-Oise, this is where you’ll feel closer in spirit to him than anywhere else. The little houses, the town hall and the church… they’re all much as they were when Van Gogh painted them.
You’ll walk in his footsteps and stand in the same fields where he painted, seeing mostly the same views. You may even see descendants of the crows.
Walk through town and visit Dr. Gachet’s house, which is now a museum. You’ll see the rooms where Dr. Gachet treated Van Gogh with homeopathic remedies and where they painted together in the gardens.
You can even eat in Auberge Ravoux, where Van Gogh had room and board, and order from menus that have been recreated from his time. Upstairs in the Auberge, stand in the room where Van Gogh lived and died.
Finally walk up the little hill, through the fields where he painted to the cemetery to visit the modest graves of both Vincent and Theo. For us, it was a highly emotional and reflective experience.
Tour Auvers-sur-Oise on Foot
From the train station, it’s a short walk to the main street, Rue du Général de Gaulle. You’ll see signs for the tourism office where they offer a number of guided tours. Or, in a village this small, you can see the sights on your own, which we did.
A few minutes along, and you’ll quickly come upon two key buildings related to Van Gogh. On your left, the modest white town hall, and directly across the street, the Auberge Ravoux.
Van Gogh’s Home in Auvers-sur-Oise
The Auberge Ravoux is beautifully restored, and one of the key attractions of the town. His room was #5, in the attic on the third floor. You’ll want to spend some time here. We had lunch in the restaurant and highly recommend it. More on that in a minute.
On the second floor, you’ll find a gift shop and you can watch a short animated film about Van Gogh and the locations he painted in Auvers-sur-Oise. It’s well worth seeing.
Then, up the stairs to Van Gogh’s room. It was a profound experience to stand in that cramped room at the back of the attic, under the eaves with only a skylight, and think of Vincent and his paints and canvases piling up. Canvases which at the time no one wanted …
Picture him coming home with a new canvas – Crows Over Wheatfield? – and leaning it against the wall to contemplate it. The room was already crammed with his paintings, often taken off the stretchers and rolled up. He’d go downstairs to eat, and then back up, thinking about what he would paint the next day.
On those hot summer nights, he’d lie on his single bed, breathing in the fumes of oil paints, and then dash off a letter to Theo in Paris to tell him what he’d finished that day.
Two days after shooting himself, he died in this room in Theo’s arms, likely from an infection, from the bullet still lodged in his chest. After his death, Theo found an unsent letter to him in a jacket pocket. Vincent wrote, “Well, my own work, I am risking my life for it and my reason has half foundered because of it – that’s all right…”
The owner of the Auberge Ravoux installed that plexi frame in hopes that someone would loan him a Van Gogh of the Auvers era to display here. So far, that hasn’t happened.
Eat What Van Gogh Ate
The Auberge Ravoux offers three-course lunch specials modelled on menus at the time Van Gogh lived there. They are well priced, and in our case, a little unusual.
The day we were there, the first course was a healthy portion of bone marrow, followed by the second course of a bundle of chopped pork, vegetables and spices served in a cast iron pot.
Dessert was Île Flottante, which is meringue floating on crème anglaise. Delightful, subtle and very tasty. And just to make it a complete Van Gogh experience, we had an absinthe after dinner. We loved it!
If you eat decide to eat here, stop and think. You’re sharing this room with Van Gogh, perhaps sitting exactly where he sat.
I wondered whether he ate alone, or sat at a bigger table with others. Did anyone want to see his paintings? Did he ever show them off? There has never been any mention of any of his paintings on display in the restaurant. (He had previously exhibited in Parisian restaurants.) They would have been stunning in this elegant wood-panelled room.
Vincent and Theo Side By Side
The cemetery is about a 15-minute walk, with the sites of some of his paintings along the way. Take the road up the hill right next to the Auberge. You are now following the steps of the funeral procession. Because it was a suicide, there was no church service. Ironic, because you’ll go right past the Notre-Dame d’Auvers, the old church Van Gogh had painted. It’s worth going inside.
In the distance, you’ll see the walls and arched entrance to the cemetery. A simple sign points the way to the graves.
Once you get there, you’re confronted with the reality of what you’ve seen in so many pictures. Here, is where Vincent was buried just a day after he died. Although Theo died just 6 months later, he didn’t join his brother for over 30 years. He was originally buried in Holland until his widow Johanna had his body interred and moved.
The graves are covered in ivy, apparently from plants brought in by Dr. Gachet’s son Paul.
The day we were there was sunny with a nice breeze. We thought of all that Van Gogh had accomplished in only five years of serious painting. And then ending it all here at just 37 years of age. I wondered what he might have done had he lived into his 80’s like Monet or Pissarro.
Ah well. When you look around the cemetery, not much has changed since 1890. The fields have the same character. The red-roofed houses are still there. The 800-year-old church keeps watch over the village. And the crows… you might see them flying nearby.
Travel from Paris to Auvers-sur-Oise by train, RER, Taxi or Uber. This will help you plan.
In Auvers-sur-Oise, be sure to see:
- The tourism office
- Auberge Ravoux
- City Hall across from Auberge Ravoux
- The wheat fields on the way to the cemetery
- The grave site
- Gachet’s house (museum)
- Daubigny’s house (museum)
- The Oise River
To learn more about Van Gogh, there is nothing like reading his letters. And you can do it, free of charge on a spectacular site from the Van Gogh Museum.
See Many of These Paintings in Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum
Although the Musée d’Orsay museum in Paris has a good collection of important Van Gogh works, the largest collection is in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. We’ve been there a few times and it’s one of our favorite art museums in the world.
See Van Gogh Museum tips to get the most from your visit there. Highly recommended!
Accommodation in Auvers-sur-Oise, Paris and Amsterdam
For hotel accommodation, we like Booking.com where we find a great selection, current prices and pages that make booking easy. We are also big fans of Airbnb.
The links below are affiliate links. If you click on them and book, we receive a small commission at absolutely no cost to you. This helps with the cost of operating this site.
There is a good selection of accommodation in and around Auvers-sur-Oise should you decide to spend more time in the region. And why not? You’ll come across many of the sites where painters set up their easels. Get the most up-to-date hotel prices for Auvers-sur-Oise here.
Paris, of course has thousands of hotels. Make it easy on yourself and find a Paris hotel that’s just right for you here.
Is Amsterdam on your itinerary? If you’re a Van Gogh fan, it should be. Here’s a selection of Amsterdam hotels with the most up-to-date rates.
Thinking of Airbnb? If it’s your first time renting Airbnb, click here to get the equivalent of $50 CDN off your first booking.
Our Top Three Choices for Van Gogh Books
Over the years, we’ve built up a library of Van Gogh books. Here are three of our favorites: one is the most recent big biography. The next is a great reference for Van Gogh’s paintings. The last is all about the ear! How can you resist?
by Steven Naifeh, Gregory White Smith
This recent bio added more detail to Van Gogh’s life based on previously unavailable materials. It’s the first serious biography in more than 70 years. It got exceptional reviews, but what really made the headlines was the authors’ startling conclusion that Van Gogh did not take his own life! They present “evidence” that he was in fact shot by someone else. Art world goes crazy! A good read, whether or not you like the ending.
by Rainer Metzger, Ingo F. Walther
From the well-known and respected art book publisher Taschen, this handy volume combines authoritative text by two Van Gogh experts along with reproductions of all of Van Gogh’s 871 paintings. It’s the perfect addition to any library and a handy volume to dip into whenever you want to look up a painting or learn more about an era of Van Gogh’s life. Great book, great price, the one to have if you only want one.
by Bernadette Murphy
OK, you can’t talk about Van Gogh without mentioning the “sliced off ear given to a prostitute” incident, but a whole book about it? Surprisingly, yes, and it’s worth reading if you’re a Vincent fan. Murphy is a tenacious detective and presents a much fuller picture of Van Gogh’s life in Arles than was previously known. It’s a world of madams and prostitutes, café patrons, police inspectors and a few bohemian painters who would change the art world forever.
Subscribe to the Earth Trippers list
Get travel tips and stories right to your inbox
Sign up to our mailing list today!
Thank you for subscribing.
Something went wrong.