With a handful of people, quiet streets and undistorted charm Essoyes typifies the entire French Aube department. Embedded between the wide open vineyards of the Ource valley, the town tells the story of the man who made this place for ever famous: Auguste Renoir. Nearly a hundred years after his death the town still breathes at the rhythm of the living environment in which the famous impressionist lived. With his birthday in sight, the municipality managed to get hold of Renoir’s former house. A stroke of luck they say, about which they are very excited. I could already take a look -and I'm very happy about it- behind the scenes of the future Maison Renoir, that will open its doors in 2017.

Renoir is never far away in Essoyes.

Exceptionally productive. When I walk to L’Espace des Renoir there is practically nobody to be found in the streets of Essoyes, and there are hardly any cars parked. Only an old R4 chugs past me and I am amazed how smoothly it pulls its way up the hill. L'Espace des Renoir, the information centre about the Renoirs in Essoyes, is accommodated in the former écuries of the Chateau Heriot. The old stables are nicely connected through a modern roof; it is the most prominent landmark of the village. The director Karine Remy is waiting for me; she immediately gives me a seat in a room where a beautiful short film introduces me into the life of Renoir. ‘Auguste met the young Aline Charigot from Essoyes in Paris in 1880’ says Karine passionately, 'First she was his model, later his wife, and it was she who brought him here.'

L’Espace des Renoir.

From 1897 until the death of the painter the couple spent every summer in Essoyes. Over here they had three children, welcomed their friends, organized picnics, and went fishing and swimming in the Ource. The area brought Renoir to rest and it inspired him enormously. He was particularly productive in the village as many of his paintings saw the light over here. Renoir once said: "I love the paintings that give me the desire to walk through them…’ and for those who want to walk freely through his paintings can do so in Essoyes. Today, L'Espace des Renoir is also the ideal starting point for local hiking trails following in the footsteps of the legendary impressionist.

Renoir’s house in rue Auguste Renoir.

Strangling inheritance taxes. Karine takes me for a walk through the village. A narrow bridge across the rippling water of the Ource brings us to an intimate church square. On the square stands the traditional monument for those who fell in the Great War; I read the names of a dozen villagers who didn 't make it until the year 1919. Around the square French flags are flapping, a century later, the fallen are not forgotten. Essoyes is a town that never forgets its heroes, and certainly not the most famous of all: Renoir. ‘There are only 750 people living here' tells Karine, ‘most of them work in the vineyards around’. We walk along charming cottages that were built a bit awkwardly all over the place; above power lines are swinging along with the spring breeze.

A famous piano.

In the Rue Renoir, we are at the house of the painter that was purchased by the council in 2013 from Renoir's great-granddaughter Sophie. ‘The immense inheritance taxes forced the relatives of Renoir to systematically sell the works and personal things of Renoir' sighs Karine, 'this is why so many of his paintings came into private hands, fortunately we were still able to buy this home at a reasonable price." Foreigners would definitely have paid more. The house still looks exactly like how it was left behind a few months ago. The furniture, of which a large part belonged to Renoir, is still there but the cupboards are empty. In a dusty corner stands an old wheelchair. ‘It was Renoir’s second wheelchair’ explains Karine, ‘The first one we hung up in his studio in the garden, which in the mean time is already open to the public.’ In the living room an antique bicycle leans casually against the stove, I strum to the opposite wall where stands in agony an old upright piano, I play a brief tune on it.  Karine laughs: ‘It is the same piano that you can see on Les jeunes filles au piano, a famous painting of Renoir that is now in display at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris.

Everything is still like it was left behind.

Nocturnal walks. By 2017 the house should be a museum, even though Karine realizes that there is still a lot of work to be done. ‘We are currently negotiating about several original works from Renoir to be exhibited here, they will most likely come from private collections’ she reveals. ‘At the same time we are trying to obtain the necessary funds.’ Along the terrace we come to the large garden that has been a bit abandoned but the calmness is indescribable. ‘Renoir felt at ease over here’ says Karine.

You can already visit his studio.

Behind the garden we find the studio of the painter where he withdraw himself from the world to work. The room is beautifully reconstructed and has already been open to the public for a while. Also the surrounding garden’s layout is reconstructed with flowers and herbs that is a sight to behold.  Through an iron gate we walk to the cemetery where the Renoirs are buried. Auguste surprisingly outlived the twenty years younger Aline. Karine points out that the Renoir's tombstone is strikingly thinner than the others at the cemetery. ‘It was the will of the painter’ she laughs, ‘the capstone was not supposed to be too heavy because if he wanted to go for a walk to the village at night he didn’t want it to be too much of a hassle.’ In this cheerful note I leave Karine who gives me a final advice: visit Plateau de Blu. There I enjoy a magnificent view of the region with its vast vineyards, a canvas of Renoir more than worthwhile.

Renoir’s grave with a thin gravestone.



Info about France:

Aube en Champagne Tourism:

Essoyes is situated in the Aube department, 30 miles (50km) South of Troyes, 4 hours by car from Brussels.

L'Espace des Renoir: the perfect starting point to discover Renoir’s walking tracks in Essoyes, a nice shop:

Accommodation tip: I slept in the Hotel des Canotiers in Essoyes, it is located on the side of a hill and from the terrace of my room I enjoyed one of the beautiful views across the village. The hotel has an excellent restaurant:

Dining tip: La Carbonara is the meeting point of ‘artistes gourmands’ and has magnificent views across the charming village square of Essoyes, ideal for who wants to eat delicious and cheap for once in France. Appetiser, main course, cheese, dessert and coffee for 12,90 euro (10 pound):

In the surroundings:

By car it is only a 10-minute drive to the Plateau de Blu, with at 357m (1171 foot) its highest point in the area. You get a magnificent view across the Ource and the Seine valley with their endless vineyards. From the panoramic view three fun walking routes start.

Charles de Gaulle Memorial: museum and remembrance site about Charles De Gaulle in Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises:

Plateau du Blu: splendid views of the surroundings as an extra.

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