The French novelist Marcel Proust turned a very respectable 150 years old in July 2021, and we have plenty in store to raise a glass or two to this writer of rare talent and depth. Eure et Loir has become a place of pilgrimage for the author's admirers who search for sites that shaped the man himself. We begin with the settings of his most famous book, the seven-volume masterwork “In Search of Lost Time” which translates in English to 'Remembrance of Things Past. This novel, as all Proust readers know, draws heavily on the author's own life and experiences.
As a fan of literature and art, you have probably read “À la Recherche du Temps Perdu”, haven’t you?
For those who haven’t yet had the opportunity to explore the world of Marcel Proust, a trip to Eure et Loir is the perfect place to start reading his book. You’ll get a unique insight into the life and thinking of one of the greatest French writers of all time, an author credited with leaving a profound mark on France's culture and heritage.
So how much can we learn about the man behind the books? To fully experience Proustian tourism in Eure et Loir, it is important to know the essential places to visit.
The market town of Illiers-Combray, just southwest of Chartres, is a good place to start because Marcel’s legacy there is as strong as ever. The peaceful little village where his Aunt Léonie used to live was initially a holiday destination for the young Marcel, only to become a temple of his souvenirs. His vivid memories include dipping a buttery little cake called a madeleine into his aunt’s herbal tea, what is called today "Proust's madeleines”.
The great writer had an exceptionally fine-tuned sense of place and his work reflects the surroundings which inspired him to create his own décors, real and imagined. Follow in his footsteps to discover the full story as well as interesting anecdotes that reflect his personnality!
Let’s go back to where his story began. We are in 1878, in a charming house belonging to Marcel’s Aunt Elizabeth (whom he calls "Léonie" as in his novels). Today this family house is home to the "Marcel Proust Museum", a popular visitor attraction labeled Maison des Illustres and Musée de France. It is also listed as a Historic Monument and is open to the public. This unusual museum displays a large number of personal objects related to the writer as well as an important collection of furniture, objects, portraits, photographs and letters. Ah, if Auntie Léonie knew all this today!
Another key character of Proust’s life was his uncle Jules! He’s the professional landscape gardener behind the majestic garden Marcel used to stroll in as a child. Nicknamed the Pré Catelan, this oasis of greenery is a bucolic hang-out where one can daydream while wandering amidst lush, verdant vegetation, follow its winding stream and marvel at miniature oriental buildings within the garden. So atmospherically romantic!
Marcel Proust often set his books in real world locations, lightly fictionalized. Between Chartres and Nogent-le-Rotrou, the Château de Villebon is a magnificent medieval fortress which his fans know better as "Guermantes" in his novel. This real chateau features crenellated towers, moats and an authentic drawbridge. Needless to say this special place had been a huge source of inspiration for the artist and remains a delightful place to visit in the present day.
Just like the Château de la Sinetterie in Illiers Combray known as "Swann's castle", from the name of the character in Swann's Way, one of seven books that comprise “In Search of Lost Time”. Young Marcel was lucky enough to be a guest there several times and kept the memories of this castle stored away in his mind to make it Swann’s house later on in his novel. The story goes he even had a crush on the landlord’s daughter, Gilberte. Shhh, that's top secret information...
The beauty of Eure et Loir ignites for us the creative spirit of this famous writer. When walking along the streets of Illiers-Combray, or gazing in wonder upon the rolling green hills, marveling over these castles or simply enmeshed in the sheer beauty in Eure et Loir, which had so overwhelmed Marcel Proust, how could this experience be anything other than wildly inspirational?
No wonder "In Search of Lost Time" became a literary masterpiece!
Ready to follow in Marcel’s footsteps and explore the very places from which this very French novelist, so universally cherished, sought inspiration? Are we riding a wave of nostalgia for a way of life now completely lost to us? Or are we finally embracing Proust as a novelist for our own times?
Before you head out and explore his legacy in Eure et Loir, let us introduce you to Marcel first of all. This is Marcel. Marcel Proust.
Time for happiness!within A budding Grove
La Madeleine de ProustLoir Valley
In French, a “Madeleine de Proust” is an expression used to describe smells, tastes, sounds reminding you of your childhood or bringing back emotional memories from a long time ago. Let’s follow in the footsteps of Marcel Proust, the famous French author inspired by Eure et Loir, and whose spirit is still very much alive around the village of Illiers-Combray.Read more
Sur les pas de Marcel Proust à Illiers-CombrayHaute vallée du Loir
Illiers ou le Combray de Proust, est un petit village où le petit Marcel venait passer ses vacances dans sa jeunesse. Ce village l’a beaucoup inspiré, d’ailleurs c’est un cas unique en France où un nom littéraire a été apposé au nom d’origine pour créer Illiers-Combray ! Toutefois au-delà du côté littéraire, découvrons chez Proust un côté ludique à base d’escape-game, de gourmandise et de châteaux !Read more
Le Pré CatelanILLIERS-COMBRAY
Swann Park on the banks of the Loir, designed by Proust's uncle, is a place charged with romance and atmosphere. Based on the informal style garden, it made a profound mark on the author.Read more
Château de VillebonVILLEBON
Tall towers, deep moats, a drawbridge… 7 centuries of French history at the Château de Villebon, a fairytale castle sure to enchant your kids.Read more
Camping “Le Bois Fleuri”ILLIERS-COMBRAY
Leafy municipal campsite with heated pool and 85 pitches in Marcel Proust country.Read more