Many francophiles share a classic dream or fond memory driving into the French countryside, using rural roads where there is nothing but picturesque villages with the occasional old man in worker’s blues shuffling by, smoking a hand rolled cigarette. In the fantasy you stumble upon a restaurant that no one has ever heard, full of locals enjoying haute cuisine for the price of a pizza.
Wednesday, we had access to a car, so I headed out with E to the explore today’s reality of that dream, destination; Yerres, a small riverside town south of Paris. We headed through the bustling Chinatown district of the 13th to avoid the highway. Piles of exotic herbs spilled over the stands of an impromptu market, perfuming the air as crowds of jay walkers became a serious menace.
Crossing the Periphérique, the ring road, our eyes met apartment blocks in every stage of a building’s life cycle; from construction zones to demolition sites. We were no longer in Paris. Locals crowded the large bus stops wearing African wax cloth, inner city street clothes, head scarves. The new face of France is young, dynamic and wearing lots of color.
Soon, we were near MacVal, a contemporary art museum with one of my favorite works of art, an interactive video by an artist named Gupta. There was a rail yard with an intriguingly picturesque set of abandoned rail cars. We stayed along these suburban roads, following the Yerres river to a stark parking lot and spilled out of the car, to find ourselves facing a large, white wall.
Propriété Caillebotte was carefully stenciled on the wall in a sedate grey. We had come to see the Impressionist artist’s works which are temporarily on display in the home that had once belonged to his family. I had not done much research before heading out on this adventure, so I was delighted to discover that there was much more to the show than just 40+ paintings. The home is part of a large park with lots to offer, including the gourmet restaurant that is part of the francophile dream.
The art collection was in the family’s old farm house. A lot of the pieces were on loan from private collections, or museums in the US. In France, Caillebotte had been considered something of a dilettante and had never been able to create much of a following.
My very favorite piece, Les Raboteurs, was not part of the show, nor was his most iconic painting, Jour de Pluie. This meant we really spent time appreciating and enjoying a variety of his work. It was a bried, yet lovely moment with art.
The show ends this Sunday, but even more spectacular are the grounds themselves, so it is still worth the trip, and I was assured that there will be more show in the future. There is an expansive lawn framed by pristine flower beds and picnics are allowed! There are rental boats for rowing along the Yerres and an impressive collection of massive trees, many of them planted in honor of locals on their birth days. There is the gourmet restaurant, Le Chalet du Parc, with an elegant outdoor terrace at the farm house, or the more modest cafeteria in the old Orangerie. The most popular attraction is the large kitchen garden that is maintained by local volunteers. Everything in the garden looked picture perfect, including the work shed full of wheelbarrows. On weekends visitors can peek into the historic glacière where they kept ice before electricity made freezers and option. The place was alive with happy energy. The family’s home can be visited, and a chapel is currently being restored. Entrance on to the grounds is free, so it is full of locals enjoying the outdoors.
The park is available by RER, and there is even a program to stay with the locals for those wanting to turn their visit in to a real adventure. Click here for all the details.
Monday was Bastille Day and we spent the day running errands before Mr French jetted off on yet another business trip. By evening I was alone and in no mood to face the crowds around the Champs de Mars, so I slipped on my walking shows and headed to the Flore to watch the world go by of a glass of champagne with peach liqueur. I learned something that evening. The 14 juillet turns entire quartiers into atmospheric ghost towns. I had the entire neighborhood to myself. It was eerie and magical and utterly divine.