We have both been to Paris many times and absolutely love visiting this beautiful city. The is something truly special about the 'City of Lights'. Of course, there is plenty to enjoy in the culture, restaurants and bars of Paris, but for the first (or many times) visitor, there are some must-see places.
The Château de Fontainebleau is located in the small town bearing the same name and lies 40 miles (65 km) south-southeast of Paris by road. It has been the residence of 34 kings and two emperors, Fontainebleau is the only château that was lived in by every French monarch for almost eight centuries.
We’d spent several days exploring the sights of central Paris and we thought we’d head out of the city to a place I had always wanted to see, the Château de Fontainbleau. Located 40 miles south of Paris, it is really easy to reach by train from the Gare de Lyon.
The Château de Fontainebleau, less known – and less visited (which is a good thing – than its more famous cousin, the Château de Versailles, has played a long role in French history. It is ” the only royal and imperial château to have been continuously inhabited for seven centuries.”
Fontainebleau was begun in the 12th century, under Louis VII. The large keep is all that remains of this building. Over the centuries, various monarchs left their mark on Fontainbleau, from François I to Henri IV to several of the Louis.
Napoléon I did major renovations of Fontainebleau. While he may have enjoyed the Château for a decade, Fontainbleau was also the site of his abdication, on April 5, 1814.
Later in the 19th century Louis-Philippe undertook more renovations at Fontainebleau. Napoléon III and Empress Eugénie then came to enjoy Fontainebleau until 1869.
With 1500 rooms, it is one of the biggest châteaux in France, and the most furnished in Europe. It was a rainy day when we visited, so before heading off to see the inside of this palace we decided to check out the massive courtyard.
The most noticeable feature of the courtyard is the impressive horseshoe staircase. From the reign of Louis XIV onwards, the staircase was used as a grandiose backdrop to greet princesses arriving for marriage to a son of France (the Duchess of Burgundy in 1697, Marie Leszczynska in 1725, Helene of Mecklenburg-Schwerin in 1837). It was from here that Napoleon Ist gave his famous farewell to his guard on 20th April 1814.
Once inside the château, the first place to visit is the ticket office, even if you have bought your ticket online before coming. Here you’ll be able to pick up your video guide, which is an essential tool to truly explore Fontainbleau.
The Legacy of Napolean 1st
One of the first places to visit on the tour is the museum dedicated to Emperor Napoleon 1st. Napoleon was the great restorer of the château of Fontainebleau, which he completely refurnished immediately after the French Revolution. Having breathed new life into the palace, this was where he abdicated in 1814. In his memoirs, he had no hesitation in describing it as “the true abode of Kings, Palace of the ages”.
Exploring the Château de Fontainbleau
After visiting the Napoleon museum we followed the route that takes you through some of the 1500 rooms at Fontainbleau. One of the nice things about this château is the rooms are full of original furnishings, unlike Versailles, which is one of the reasons we prefer Fontainbleau over Versailles.
Along the way, you’ll be able to see rooms such as the beautifully ornate Royal Chapel.
One of the more interesting parts of the Château de Fontainbleau is the Renaissance rooms. The François I gallery is the most emblematic Renaissance room of the Château de Fontainebleau. For the first time in France, a gallery of this size was created, mixing in an extraordinary abundance, of carved wood panelling, putti, fruits and stucco cartridges with rolled leather patterns, forming a profuse frame with frescoed compartments.
The sumptuous ballroom was built in the 16th century during the reign of Henry II, it provided the palace with a lasting and resplendent village hall, dedicated to the festivities of the Valois court. The rich coffered ceiling is covered with lunar emblems and the king’s motto.
First called “Queen’s gallery” because located in the sovereign’s apartment, the “Diana gallery” is the longest room in the castle (80 meters long and 6 meters wide).
The route through the Château takes you through many of the royal apartments, many decorated with huge tapestries.
The final rooms on the tour of Fontainbleau are the apartments of Napoleon.
Following the example of former sovereigns, Napoleon I set up his ceremonial apartment on the first floor of the castle after the French Revolution. Refusing to occupy the former king’s bedroom, Napoleon I had Louis XVI’s interior apartment redecorated in 1804, a succession of more intimate and comfortable rooms opening onto Diane’s garden. This seven-room apartment remains marked by the great hours of the Empire and in particular those of its collapse.
One set of rooms we did not get to visit were the Pope’s apartments as these were closed to visitors during our trip.
After the Grand Apartments of the sovereigns, this eleven-room guest apartment is the most sumptuous living space in the palace. It results, since 1804, from the meeting in a single row of two apartments built in adjoining bodies of buildings. If it retains the name of the apartment of the Pope since the two stays that Pius VII made there in 1804 as a guest and in 1812-1814 as a prisoner of Napoleon I
The Château de Fontainbleu sits on 130 hectares. The gardens at Fontainbleau have four main sections: the Grand Parterre, the English Garden, the Garden of Diana, the Carp Lake and the Park. Sadly, it was a very wet and miserable day when we came to the Fontainbleau, so the gardens were not at their best.
Planning your visit to the Château de Fontainebleau
Getting to the Palace
If you want to get to Fontainebleau from Paris by public transport, take a Transilien train from Gare de Lyon heading towards Migennes, Montargis or Montereau. You want to get off at Fontainebleau-Avon (normally the first, second or third stop), and the journey should take around 40 minutes.
It is about 3km from the train station, which you can either walk, or there is a bus. When you arrive at Fontainebleau-Avon, you can take a bus on Ligne A (which may also say Les Lilas) to the Château stop. This will drop you at the entrance grille by the Jardin de Diane. From there you can walk through the garden and around to the right to reach the Cour d’Honneur and Château entrance.
From Paris, take the A6 (Porte d’Orléans or Porte d’Italie) and take the Fontainebleau exit.
Head towards Fontainebleau, and then follow the signs for the ‘château’.
|Address:||Place Charles de Gaulle 77300 Fontainebleau|
|Telephone:||T: +33 1 60 71 50 70|
The chateau is open every day except Tuesday, January 1st, May 1st and December 25th.
From October to March: 9.30 am to 5 pm (last access at 4.15 pm).
General admission ticket — Full price 13,00 €
Best time to visit Paris
You’ll experience crowds from May to September, but encounter the most people in July (followed closely by June and August). We’d recommend visiting between October and April if your main objective is to avoid crowds. For the warmest temperatures, October and April are the best times to visit Paris sans crowds.
Other places to visit while in Paris
1. BANKS OF THE RIVER SEINE
The banks of the River Seine through the heart of Paris are listed as UNESCO world heritage site due to the incredible architecture of buildings such as Notre Dame, the Louvre and the Grand Palais and the examples of outstanding town planning, in particular, the large squares and avenues built by Haussmann at the time of Napoleon III have influenced town planning throughout the world.
2. MUSEE D’ORSAY
Housed in a train station built for the 1900 World’s Fair, the Musée d’Orsay is known throughout the world for its rich collection of Impressionist paintings including masterpieces as iconic as the Bal au Moulin de la galette from Renoir or The room at Arles de Van Gogh. Its collections include works of architecture, decorative arts and photography in addition to traditional artistic fields (painting, sculpture, graphic arts). They thus draw a broad panorama of French and European art from 1848 to 1914.
The Sacré-Coeur, consecrated in 1919, is one of the most iconic monuments in Paris. At the top of the Butte Montmarte, it has one of the most beautiful panoramic views of the capital, from 130 metres above the ground. In a Roman-Byzantine style, the Sacré Coeur is recognizable by its white colour. Inside the building, the ceiling is decorated with the largest mosaic in France measuring about 480 m². The crypt is also worth a visit. And to go even higher up, visitors can access the dome where the 360° view of Paris is magnificent.
4. THE LOUVRE MUSEUM
The Louvre, or the Louvre Museum, is the world’s most-visited museum, and a historic landmark in Paris, France. It is the home of some of the best-known works of art, including the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo. At any given point in time, approximately 38,000 objects from prehistory to the 21st century are being exhibited over an area of 72,735 square metres.
5. PÈRE LACHAISE CEMETARY
The Père Lachaise cemetery takes its name from King Louis XIV’s confessor, Father François d’Aix de La Chaise. It is the most prestigious and most visited necropolis in Paris. Here you will find the graves of such famous people as Frédéric Chopin, Colette, Jean de La Fontaine, Molière, Yves Montand, Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, Camille Pissarro and Oscar Wilde are just a few.
The Palace of Versailles was the principal residence of the French kings from the time of Louis XIV to Louis XVI. Embellished by several generations of architects, sculptors, decorators and landscape architects, it provided Europe with a model of the ideal royal residence for over a century.