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Inside the Maison Picassiette (May 2019).

Chartres is a medium-sized town located about an hour’s train ride from Paris. It’s known for its exceptional cathedral, along with a lively town center full of shops and restaurants for locals and visitors to enjoy. I would be doing a short day trip to Chartres while in Paris for a couple of nights, following my intensive trip in Georgia.

Getting there was simple, as it merely required taking the train from Montparnasse (although I had an issue passing through the turnstile, because my metro ticket was rejected. Faulty system, at its finest!). I hopped on the morning train and soon enough reached Chartres.

Being rather small in size, Chartres doesn’t have so many attractions to keep one occupy for a full day, perhaps no more than four hours. That said, I was focused on two major sites of visit: the renown cathedral and Maison Picassiette. The latter was a bit outside of the center, so I decided to see that first before working my way back to the heart of town later in the day.

It was about a half-hour walk to Maison Picassiette. I soon reached the small, easy-to-miss entrance and paid the admission fee to enter. It’s half the price for students (3€), which I used with my old university card (which doesn’t have an expiration date, luckily enough) to visit.

Information pamphlet in hand, I spent my time wandering through the small grounds of the site. It’s not very big, as it consists of a single, long house that contains perhaps 10 or so tiny rooms (two of which can’t be entered, anyway) and a garden. An hour’s visit was more than enough to see everything, even twice so.

The Maison Picassiette was constructed by Raymond Isidore, a railway worker-turned-cemetery sweeper in the first half of the 20th century. Although he had no formal training in the arts, that didn’t stop him from creating this colorful masterpiece over the decades. The house is an example of naïve art, something I’m fascinated by after seeing other similar structures while traveling– to be able to create something so brilliant without any professional training is incredible, and it really goes to show that anyone can contribute to the beauty that is art…and be recognized for it!

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Walls of Maison Picassiette.

*fun fact* The house gets its name from “pique-assiette,” which was Isidore’s nickname given by the townspeople. Translated to mean “freeloader,” it was given due to Isidore taking ceramic debris from workshops to create his house, and he was actually ridiculed for his project. Little was it known that the Maison Picassiette would be admired today!

I couldn’t help but be blown away by the attention to detail in each room: just about every nook and cranny is covered with remnants of broken glass, plates, and other ceramics that Isidore had acquired over the years. Each room reflected different inspirations from the creator himself, from the grand fresco of le Mont St. Michel to the vivid walls depicting religious imagery in the chapel. My personal favorites were of the sunny cockerel on the outside walls of the house, as well as the depiction of the Chartres cathedral near the entrance.

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Cockerel art.
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The gardens.

Once I drank in the beautiful, mosaic masterpiece, I soon left Maison Picassiette. I really enjoyed my visit there. Again, it’s small, but it’s packed with so many images and details to keep you occupy for some time. Truly a gorgeous gem, and one must see it while in the area!

I headed back to the center, crossing the Eure river with distant views of the cathedral perched on an incline in town. I reached the historic center, passing through the winding streets full of charming, half-timbered houses (one of them even being the tourist office!). It was then a matter of entering the cathedral, a 13th-century structure that has been very well-preserved since then. The cathedral has even survived much of the World Wars and natural disasters, to be considered the “epitome of French Gothic art” by UNESCO to this day. I took my time admiring the detailed carvings on its facade and blue-purple stained glass indoors.

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Half-timbered house (actually the tourist office).
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Chartres Cathedral.
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Stained-glass windows.
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Facade of the cathedral.

After grabbing a sandwich from the boulangerie, I decided to get dessert at a tea room, where I enjoyed some pretty tasty macarons (which I hadn’t had in over two years) with hot chocolate. The rose-flavored one was my favorite, and soon enough, it was time for me to catch the afternoon train back to Paris.

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Rose, coconut, and mango-passion macarons.

I had a short few hours in Chartres, but it was a pleasant visit. The Maison Picassiette was the highlight of my time, a place where visitors must check out while in town. You don’t need a full day in Chartres, but all the same, it has a couple of good sites to offer, along with a slower pace compared to the hustle and bustle of Paris.

That concludes my travels from May! Looking back, it’s incredible just how much I did: from Poland to the post-Soviet countries of Lithuania, Latvia, and Georgia (and then back to France), I’ve come to realize that Eastern Europe has my heart: full of history and nature, hearty food, and cheap prices, it’s a part of the continent that doesn’t get as much attention, but it ought to deserve it. There’s plenty more adventures to recap from my travels this summer, so more to come soon!

 

— Rebecca

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