BOUGIVAL, France — This artists' town about 12 miles west of Paris and only a stone's throw north of Versailles is rich in the history of France and its Impressionist painters.
Perhaps its most famous citizens were Georges Bizet and Alexandre Dumas. Bizet distinguished the village by dying here, Dumas by romancing the Lady of the Camellias.
Impressionists who gathered and immortalized the little town and its countryside on canvas included Renoir, Berthe Morizot, Sisley, Manet, Monet, Pissaro and others.
No Tourist Attraction
But to classify the quiet village as a tourist attraction could be stretching a point, despite its famous citizens of the past and a history that goes back to the 12th Century. Parisians and others come here to stroll its quiet, narrow streets, eat some high-priced cuisine, attend its open-air markets, buy fresh fruit, the quantity and quality of which is common knowledge, and drive the narrow lanes in the surrounding hills.
Even the "Bougival Wind," which can be cold and unpleasant year-around, has achieved some notice.
The countryside also can produce a deja vu effect if the visitor has wandered through Paris' Impressionist galleries.
Bougival has grown from its first census count in 1726 of 563 to about 9,000 residents. Apparently it was built to mine the lime, chalk and other building stone abundant in the surrounding hills. Water from the Seine centuries ago was transported up the Bougival Hills and used to supply the Marly and Versailles palace areas. The village is surrounded by the northernmost parts of the royal forests.
A Fashionable Site
In the middle 1860s Bougival became the fashionable gathering place for better-known Parisians, celebrities such as Michelet, Lambinet and Francis.
The town suffered its darkest history in 1870 when it was sacked by the Prussians and all of its inhabitants, about 2,000, were dispersed into the countryside.
The village was rebuilt slowly, and in 1880 again became a center for writers and artists. The small shops that line its Ancient Center District, the town's oldest existing parts, and its narrow streets are much as they were at the turn of the century and before. Its gracious homes are mainly up in the hills, surrounded by enormous green yards, carefully tended flower gardens and endless fruit orchards, mostly of pears and apples. Its rural appearance and abundant open spaces earned it a place in France's "Green Resorts" list.
Shortly after World War I the famous and near-famous began to drift away and Bougival became the small village it is today (it is considered a western suburb of Paris).
The original church that graces the Ancient Center District was probably built in the first half of the 12th Century, according to local historians. In the beginning, it included only a chancel and a steeple, flanked by two chapels forming a transept. In the 13th Century the nave and its side aisles were built. The graceful steeple was restored in the early part of this century.
Bougival offers several famous restaurants, including Le Coq Hardy (the Tough Rooster) and the Auberge du Camelia, which began service in 1820 on the Rue Yvan Tourgueneff. It became famous, aside from fine cuisine, as the place where Dumas met and entertained his lover, Marie Duplessis, also known as Marguerite Gautier, La Dame aux Camelias.
The two restaurants draw diners from Paris and are known for their pate, duck and inordinately high prices. The town boasts one modern hotel on the Paris highway.
That main thoroughfare along the Seine is named for Russian novelist Yvan Tourgueneff, who lived the latter part of his life at No. 16 on that street until his death in 1883.
Bizet met his demise at 5 Rue Yvan Tourgueneff, also on the Paris highway just across from the Seine and Bougival's island in the famous river.
According to an official biography of Bizet, who lived at the time in Paris, in March, 1875, he developed "a severe attack of quinsy," a kind of sore throat or inflamed tonsils, from which he apparently did not rally.
His various maladies were accompanied by acute depression, perhaps caused by the outright hostile reception of his new opera, "Carmen." Early in May he expressed a wish to go to the country, complaining that the Paris air was poisoning him, and retired to the house in Bougival.
Feeling better in the country, he bathed in the Seine just a few feet from his front door, suffered an acute attack of rheumatism accompanied by a high fever, and on June 1 he had a heart attack. He died in the Bougival residence on June 3.