The Combray of Proust

Combray is the fictional town created by Proust in In Search of Lost Time where the first scenes of the novel take place. This little town is to some degree an invention of Proust’s but also contains traces of his childhood stays in Illiers, where his father was born. In 1971, to mark the centennial of Proust’s birth, the little town of Illiers, in a brilliant marketing move, officially changed its name to Illiers-Combray. This may be a unique example of a real town taking its name from a work of fiction. The main locales of the little town I include are the Maison Tante Léonie, Le Pré Catelan, Le Loir River, and the Church of St. Jacques. 

Le Pré Catelan

Jules Amiot created the Pré Catelan Garden in Illiers-Combray, also known as the Jardin Marcel Proust. He named his garden after a section of the Bois de Boulogne in Paris. Although this Pré Catelan was nowhere near the size of the size of the one in the capital, for the little town of Illiers its proportions were massive. Proust makes his uncle's garden that of Swann in his novel and is seen often in Du côté de chez Swann.

La Maison de Tante Léonie

The property that is now known as the Maison Tante Léonie, after the character from the novel who inhabits the house belonged to Proust's uncle and aunt, Jules and Élisabeth Amiot. The Maison de Tante Léonie and its garden in Illiers-Combray is also known as the Musée Marcel Proust. Proust stayed here in his youth when his family visited the little town. The house and its gardens are models for the similar house and gardens at Combray in Proust's novel.

The Church of Saint-Jacques

The church of Saint-Jacques in Illiers-Combray is one of the models for the Church of Saint Hilaire in Proust's novel. The church dates from the fifteenth century and, as its name indicates, was a stopping point on the major pilgrim route to Santiago di Compostella in Spain. The scallop shells (coquilles Saint-Jacques) worn by the pilgrims are found in the church as one of the decorative motifs. The shells have the same shape as the little cakes known as madeleines that feature in one of the most famous episodes in the novel.

The Loir River

Le Loir River, not to be confused with the much larger Loire River, is the little river that runs through the town of Illiers-Combray. This river is similar to the one that Proust describes in Swann's Way as The Vivonne.

St. Erman

The water that feeds the wash house on the grounds of this small Romanesque church is said to be the source of the Loir River that flows through Illiers-Combray. This is the inspiration for the source of the Vivonne River that runs through Combray in the novel. As a youth, Proust visited this spot on long walks with his family along what was to become the Guermantes way in his novel.

Train Station

It was here that young Proust arrived with his family to spend vacation days at the home of Dr. Adrien Proust's sister, Elisabeth Amiot.


Tonsonville is the name of a country estate just outside Illiers-Combray. Proust borrowed its name for Charles Swann's country home in the novel.

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