Have you ever dreamed of stepping into a painting? When you arrive at the Restaurant Fournaise, on the charming island of Chatou in the Seine River, just 25 minutes from Paris, you do exactly that. In this case, the painting is one of the most celebrated paintings in the world, Renoir’s “Luncheon of the Boating Party”, a masterpiece of the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. In this canvas, a group of young men (actually Renoir’s artist friends) sporting straw hats are relaxing at a table on the terrace of a “guinguette” (an open air restaurant and dance hall) in the company of beautiful young women, most of whom were their own models. Dappled with sunshine, the painting exudes conviviality with a hint of sexy sous-entendu. It is summertime at its best.
Renoir loved Chatou and was a regular at the Maison Fournaise, where Madame Fournaise presided over the cooking, and her husband organized boat races. Renoir painted over 30 canvasses that depicted boating and open-air dance scenes along the Seine. Calling Chatou one of the loveliest places in the surroundings of Paris, he frequented the Maison Fournaise between 1869 and 1884. Today, it is as if time has stood still.
The Restaurant Fournaise is not only in the same exact house, but the terrace with cast iron decorative trim is just as it was in Renoir’s painting. The banks of the Seine are as charming as ever, with weeping willows and flower strewn banks gently overlooking the currents of the river. Although there may be apartment buildings on the other side, it hardly seems to matter. You have entered a different world.
Nothing could be more delightful than a summer meal at the Restaurant Fournaise. Open for both lunch and dinner, one dines well and “correctly”, as the French say. With a varied choice of entrees and main courses, there is something to please everyone, and it is very tasty indeed. With warm sunshine, a countryside ambiance, and a view over the Seine, all seems right with the world. Just as in Renoir’s painting, “le Bonheur” awaits you on the terrace of the Fournaise.
3 Rue du Bac, Ile des Impressionnistes, 78400 Chatou, France
Phone: +33 1 30 71 41 91