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Just two and a half hours away from Paris there is a lovely little village in southern Champagne where Pierre Auguste Renoir spent many happy summers with his family.
The village, Essoyes (Ess-wah), situated between Troyes and Dijon, is very near the Burgundian border. It was the birthplace and childhood home of Renoir’s wife, Aline Charigot. “Essoyes, where my mother was born, has remained more or less unspoiled. There is no other place like it in the whole wide world. There I spent the best years of my childhood,” Jean Renoir wrote in his memoir Renoir, My Father in 1962.
Happily his words remain true to this day.
Today the Renoir home, beautifully restored and furnished much as it would have been when the Renoirs were spending their summers there, is open to the public; and during the summer special events for people of all ages are organized by the commune. There are art exhibitions, old-fashioned games for kids to play with, and for adults the chance to sample and enjoy local champagnes.
A small but excellent interpretive center in the village square next to the mairie tells the story of the Renoir family in this village. (It is best to start one’s visit here.) After viewing the displays and watching a short film (which is available in both French and English), a stroll through the village leads to the family home and garden, and the artist’s studio. A few steps more and visitors can pay their respects to the family in the cemetery where the painter, his wife, and all three of their sons are buried.
An audio guided tour is available in several languages including English, and is included in the price of admission. All of the explanatory panels in the home are in both French and English, and most of the staff speaks at least some English. And of course you will not need to speak French in order to participate in Champagne en fleurs, which involves enjoying a glass of champagne (or two) in the lovely garden of the family home just outside the painter’s studio. (Champagne en fleurs is available Fridays from 3:00-6:00 pm, Saturdays and Sundays from 11-12:30 and 3:30-6. Cost: 5 euros per person, per flute (of champagne).
For those who speak French, every Thursday from July 14-August 18, tour guide Sarah presents L’Instant Renoir: Un moment hors de temps. Dressed in period costume, she tells the story of Les Laveuses in the very spot along the Ource River where the famous painting was made, followed by a guided tour of the family home and the artist’s studio. And L’Heure de verité, an Urban Game, invites amateur sleuths 12 and up to solve a mystery by following clues, in the process discovering the village and learning about its history. (For these two activities reservations are required.) In addition, on May 19 only there will be evening guided tours of the family home and the studio from 6- 10 pm, with a dégustation de champagne (12€). Tours will start on the hour, from 6 to 9 pm. (Throughout the year, tours in English can be specially arranged for a minimum of 12 people. Reservations must be made 15 days in advance.)
Essoyes is a delightful destination for a weekend, or even a day trip from Paris, though I strongly recommend that you plan to stay at least overnight. (I have never known anyone to come here who wants to leave again the same day.) And in addition to the pleasure of just being in Essoyes, there is also much more to explore in the surrounding area.
Hours of the Renoir Center, Studio, and Home in Essoyes
May/June and September/October: Open every day (except Tuesdays) from 10-12:30 and 1:30-6:00.
July/August: Open every day, including holidays, from 10-12:30 and 1:30-6:00.
For more information: 03 25 29 10 94 or [email protected].
Where to stay in Essoyes
Restaurants in Essoyes
Where to learn about, sample, and buy champagne. (Note: These are a just a few of the possibilities…Essoyes is surrounded by villages offering many maisons de champagne!)
Other places of interest not far from Essoyes:
Lead photo credit : ©S. Bordier