CHATOU, France - In the mid-19th century Parisians who wanted a day in the country began flocking to this suburban town. Here, on a small island in the Seine connected to shore by a bridge, they could picnic, fish, or go rowing - a hugely popular activity.
Among the regular visitors were many Impressionist artists, including Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, and Edouard Manet. So many in fact that what was called Chatou Island in their day is now known as Impressionists Island.
The island's focal point was a restaurant operated by the Fournaise family, who also had a boat rental business. One of the iconic images of the era is Renoir's sunny 1881 masterpiece "The Luncheon of the Boating Party," depicting a group of casually dressed friends of the artist, relaxing at a table on the riverside balcony of Maison Fournaise.
Eventually, boating went out of fashion, the artists moved on, and the restaurant closed. After years of neglect the building was restored and now houses a popular restaurant - with the same balcony terrace Renoir painted - and also a small but interesting museum. Renoir's original is in The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., but there are copies on a signboard by the riverside footpath and in the museum, which also has dozens of original paintings by gifted but lesser known Impressionists.
From Charles de Gaulle-Étoile Station in Paris it is a 15-minute train ride to Rueil-Malmaison Station. The bridge to Chatou crosses the island. Restaurant de la Maison Fournaise, restau rant-fournaise.fr, 011-33-1-3071-4191, open for lunch and dinner. Fournaise Museum, musee-fournaise.com/four naise/us/index.asp, 011-33-1-3480-6322, open Wednesday-Sunday, adults about $6, children under age 12 free.
WILLIAM A. DAVIS