On the banks of the River Oise, about 35km northwest of Paris, AUVERS makes an attractive rural excursion. It's the place where Van Gogh spent the last two months of his life, in a frenzy of painting activity, producing more canvases than the days of his stay. The church at Auvers, the portrait of Dr Gachet, black crows flapping across a wheat field many of Van Gogh's best-known works belong to this period. He died in his brother's arms, after an incompetent attempt to shoot himself, in the tiny attic room he rented in the Auberge Ravoux. The auberge still stands, repaired and renovated, on the main street. A visit to Van Gogh's room (mid-Dec to mid-March daily 10am6pm; €5) is movingly modest, and there's a short video about his time in Auvers.
The Musée de l'Absinthe (JuneSept WedSun 11am6pm; Oct, Nov & MarchMay Sat & Sun 11am6pm; €4.50) is devoted to the cloudy aniseed-flavoured liqueur, banned in France since 1915, that was said to enhance creativity and was Van Gogh's favourite drink. Inside the museum, there's a mock-up of a typical bar of the era, along with the various implements glasses, holed spoons associated with the ritual of drinking it. You can't try the stuff on the spot, but the shop is allowed to sell various brands in sealed bottles, and they even have a few miniatures. It's as potent as they say.
At the entrance to the village is the handsome but undistinguished Château d'Auvers, which offers a technological tour of the world the Impressionists inhabited (TuesSun: AprilSept 10.30am7.30pm; OctMarch 10.30am6pm; www.chateau-auvers.fr; €10). As you wander through the various rooms mocked-up as cafés, period trains and so on, with cinema-style projections and special effects, an audiohelmet relays evocative music and a commentary. If you really want to conjure the Impressionists' world, however, simply take a walk through the old part of the village, past the church and the red lane into the famous wheat field and up the hill to the cemetery where, against the far left wall in a humble ivy-covered grave, the Van Gogh brothers lie side by side.
Auvers boasts further artistic connections most notably with Van Gogh's predecessor Daubigny, a contemporary of Corot and Daumier. A small museum (WedSun: MarchOct 26pm, NovFeb 25pm; €3.50), dedicated to him and his art, can be visited above the tourist office. His studio-house (AprilOct TuesSun 26.30pm; €4.50), built to his own requirements, can also be visited at 61 rue Daubigny. From here, Daubigny would go off for weeks at a time, in his boat, to paint, hence the boat sitting in the garden which is, in fact, a replica of a smaller boat once owned by Monet.
To reach Auvers by road, take the autoroute A15 towards Cergy-Pontoise, the exit for Saint-Ouen-L'Aumône, then turn off on the D928 to Auvers-sur-Oise. Trains depart from Gare du Nord or Gare St-Lazare, changing at Pontoise. For something to eat, try the Hostellerie du Nord and the Auberge Ravoux, both of which can provide an excellent lunch for around €20.