Essoyes, a wonderful little village in Champagne
The place I bring my students to “write from the heart” in France is a lovely little village named Essoyes (pronounced ESS-wah).
Essoyes is situated in the heart of the Champagne region, about two and a half hours southeast of Paris, and about halfway between Troyes and Dijon (a little closer to Troyes). It is in the departement called l’Aube, which means “dawn,” an appropriately poetic name for this beautiful corner of the earth.
In 1895 Aline Charigot, Pierre Auguste Renoir’s lover and the mother of his first child, convinced her much older and more bohemian companion that it was time to settle down. A second child was on the way (a child who, as it turned out, would grow up to become the world-famous filmmaker, Jean Renoir). The couple were married and they bought a house in Essoyes, where Aline had been born and raised, and began to spend the summer months there. About 10 years later the painter built a studio on the far end of their property. Here, toward the end of his life, he continued to paint, experimented with sculpture, and spent some of his happiest times.
Today Essoyes continues to be the kind of village that provides its citizens with a life that is culturally and intellectually nourishing, rich in the everyday manifestations of the famous French art de vivre. The fact that this village of 650 inhabitants is home to several painters, two blacksmiths, a stone mason, a library, a small historical museum (the Atelier Renoir), a card shop where two local artists sell their drawings and paintings of people and places in the town, a school of dance, and a three-star hotel is, I think, at least somewhat remarkable.
At the same time Essoyes is in many ways an ordinary little French village, unpretentious, unselfconscious, matter of fact, and friendly.
Essoyes is a wonderful place to visit. You can visit the painter’s former studio, which houses artifacts and memorabilia celebrating the life of the Renoirs in Essoyes: a short walk away you might want to pay your respects to the Renoirs in the village graveyard, where the couple and their three children (including Jean, whose body was brought back here from California) are buried.
The Hotel des Canotiers offers warm, friendly service, immaculate accomodations, excellent cuisine, and breathtaking views of the village and the surrounding countryside. There are also a number of places in the village offering bed and breakfast (chambre d’hotes) accommodations. In late July an annual art festival, les Chevalets d’Essoyes, brings visual artists and musicians from both near and far into the streets, courtyards, and public spaces of the town. In September the vendange (the grape harvest) begins, and is a wonderful time to visit. During the winter months, depending on the year, the weather may be reminiscent of the Irish countryside, or the Swiss.
No matter what the weather is like, it is always beautiful in Essoyes, and always a good place to find the peace, quiet, and spiritual nourishment needed to feed one’s soul.
It is the perfect place, in short, to steal away for a few days, and write from the heart.
Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor and teacher of writing and literature based in Silver Spring, Maryland. She teaches literature courses in Paris and Hawaii for the Education Abroad program at Queens College, CUNY, and twice a year she offers Writing from the Heart workshops in a beautiful little village in the Champagne region of France.