Explore the River Oise in the Footsteps of the Impressionists

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Explore the River Oise in the Footsteps of the Impressionists
It was the coming of the railway that made the sleepy agricultural villages and towns along the River Oise so attractive to the Impressionists. They were dedicated to painting in the open air and mostly short of cash because their new style of painting did not sell. The region offered varied landscapes which were just beginning to be affected by industrialization but had not yet become suburban and it was within easy reach of Paris, with lower rents. What was true for the Impressionists is still true for today’s Parisians looking for a rewarding day out in the country. The creation of the new town of Cergy Pontoise in the 1960s led to the building of a second railway line, the RER A, but development and population expansion have been mainly inland. The banks of the river have changed remarkably little in over 100 years. They are still lined with 19th century villas and often the only sound is that of birdsong as huge working barges slide silently past. Even in winter, in the rain, and with restaurants closed because of the current restrictions, you can be sure of spacious views, not many people, most of them local, and a railway station within easy reach. Dr. Gachet, the doctor and friend of many Impressionist painters, moved to Auvers-sur-Oise in 1872. His friend Camille Pissarro settled in Pontoise in the same year. Known affectionately as “the father of Impressionism,” he invited his younger painter friends, Cézanne, Gauguin and Van Gogh among others, to paint with him there. The railway also turned obscure villages such as Eragny into popular destinations for weekend visitors from Paris, who came to fish along the banks of the Oise. The fondue restaurant O Châlet was once a guinguette from where a ferry took fishermen across the river, and something of the guinguette holiday atmosphere still lingers in its cozy interior, packed with local families at the weekend. O Châlet, Eragny. Photo credit © O Châlet The suggested 7½ km walk along the left bank of the Oise starts at Saint-Ouen-l’Aumône station with a detour to the 13th century Abbaye de Maubuisson, then follows the river past Pontoise and the views painted by Pissarro and his friends to the fondue restaurant at Eragny, ending at the SNCF station of Eragny Neuville, with an alternative walk to the RER station of Neuville Université. But you could skip the Abbey and Pontoise and start the walk at Saint-Ouen-l’Aumône Quartier de l’Eglise station instead, ending at either of the two stations at Eragny (4½ km) or just walk to the restaurant for lunch from either station and back (3 km). You could also prolong the walk along the Oise from the restaurant, crossing the bridge to Cergy Port for the RER stations at Cergy Préfecture (5 km) or Cergy St Christophe (7 km). 7½ km walk from St Ouen l’Aumône to Eragny Neuville From the station take the exit marked “Rue du 8 mai 1945” and turn left, under the railway bridge. Take the pedestrian crossing into the Rue Guy Sourcis opposite on your right and follow the railway line until you reach a level crossing. Cross the line and turn left, following the sign for “Abbaye de Maubuisson” into Avenue Richard de la Tour. Follow the path right round to the park entrance, from where you will see a long low building, the former chapter house which now functions as an arts center. Abbaye de Maubuisson. Photo credit © Annabel Simms
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Lead photo credit : The Oise opposite O Châlet, Eragny. Photo credit ©Annabel Simms

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Annabel Simms is an English resident of Paris, with over 20 years' experience of exploring the Paris countryside by train, bus, boat and on foot. She is the author of An Hour From Paris (3rd edition 2019) and Half An Hour From Paris (2018)

Comments

  • Wendy Sweetser
    2021-02-15 02:29:21
    Wendy Sweetser
    Another fascinating insight into a part of the Paris countryside that few Parisians, let alone tourists, can be aware of. Annabel Simms is a wonderfully evocative writer and her photographs make her words come truly alive. I don't know if she has a state of the art camera or simply an iPhone but it proves that, when it comes to fine photography, it's not the equipment but the person behind it that makes the difference.

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    • Annabel Simms
      2021-02-15 09:10:53
      Annabel Simms
      Thank you Wendy! In fact I have both an Iphone and a Panasonic DMC-LF1 camera, the smallest simplest compact camera I could find with a viewfinder. The Iphone is great for spontaneous shots to send instantly to family and friends but I've found the Panasonic much better for not losing pixels in zoom mode. And the viewfinder is invaluable in bright sunlight, so I always use the camera if the photos are for publication.

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  • William Marks
    2021-02-14 01:49:08
    William Marks
    Thank you for this article. It helped relieve some of my cabin fever. I loved that you found the family fondue restaurant.My wife and I have been to many of the Michelin starred restaurants in France and and have greatly enjoyed most of them, but my fondest restaurant memories are from some of the small mom and pop restaurants we have just stumbled into-and sometimes stumbled out of. Many years ago on one of our earliest trips to Paris, my wife and I planned a day trip to Giverny. When we arrived there, it was pouring down rain. I had brought a small guide book which a page or two describing Vernon. It listed a few recommended restaurants so we decided to have lunch and wait out the storm. We walked to the Hotel d'Evreux and were met by a very enthusiastic waiter. When he listened to my less than fluent French, he was quick to respond in English. We had a great meal and were about to leave when he asked us if we had ever had Calvados. When we said no, he said we couldn't leave Normandy without trying it's special brandy. We both loved it, and because it was still raining out, we had another. We never made it to Giverny on that trip but we made one of our favorite travel memories. We now always have a bottle of Calvados in our liquor cabinet. We went back to the little bar in the Hotel d'Evreux a couple of times on later trips and were always treated like returning family members. Two of the greatest things about travel are the unplanned discoveries and the wonderful people you meet along the way.

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    • Annabel Simms
      2021-02-15 08:36:03
      Annabel Simms
      I do so agree about the family-run restaurants and the Calvados!

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