France is known for its high style and cultural avant-garde….one of the most overlooked masterpieces in Paris is hands down Napoleon Bonaparte’s Fontainebleau. It seems like Fontainebleau must always live in the shadow of its big sister the Palais de Versailles. Located just an hour south of old Paris is one of the most captivating royal residences in all of Europe.
The official site of Fountianebleau.
Like its former occupant Napoleon, who was always one for over the top self-promotion and flash: as you arrive at the property you are welcomed by a broad courtyard with a dramatic stairway leading to the entrance. Once inside you can stroll around the palace in awe at the nearly 1500 rooms!
A Quick History Lesson
Fontainebleau has been appropriately called, “the Home of Kings.” It has played host for more than 700 years to the French monarchy and later to the French Emperor. The area first welcomed the eye of Louis VII in 1137 and continued welcoming blue bloods and potentates till the end of the second empire in 1870. Walking the halls of Fontainebleau you can’t help but feel that you are in the midst of history.
The mansion has always had a close connection with religion. In 1169 the Archbishop of Canterbury, in exile in France at the time dedicated the chapel of the castle. In 1812 Napoleon held Pope Pius VII prisoner in the cozy confines of the castle’s apartments for nearly two years.
Fontainebleau’s development has been classified into two distinct eras: the first (from the 1530’s) and second school (From the 1590’s) of Fontainebleau. These eras not only decorated and designed the palace, they are decorated the halls of the French elite. The first was created by Francis I partnering with famed architect Gilles le Breton. Italians Sebastiano Serlio and Leonardo da Vinci also were involved in the design and layout of the villa, gardens and water features. Leonardo also has another interesting connection with the palace. One of his lost master pieces (Leda and the Swan) was las seen in the palace in 1625. It has since been lost.
The second school of Fontainebleau was lead by Flemish artist Ambroise Dubois, Toussaint Dubreiul and Martin Freminet. At the turn of the 17th century, the word of interior design, originated from the heart of Fontainebleau.
Key rooms to visit
The highlight for the entire tour was for us the Library and map room. Unfortunately you are prevented from ascending the four stairs to the elevated library. You can only lean over the red velvet ropes and look into one of the most interesting rooms in the world.
Napoleon, besides being a detailed oriented military general, was a city planner, inventor, cartographer, lawyer. He worked 24/7 on his many various endeavors. To assist in his workaholic nature, he attached his own personal bedroom to his office.
Our next favorite room if you can call it that is the cathedral inside the mansion. It actually has two areas, the viewing balcony which the master of the home would view, as well as the nave proper. The art, woodwork and the sculptures within the cathedral are stunning.
Gardens and Lake
The gardens and forests of Fontainebleau rival Versailles. We actually prefer the wonderful “backyard” of the palace. A small lake with a wonderful gazebo type structure an island is an idyllic setting.
The short journey from Paris to Fontainebleau is defiantly part of the adventure. The train takes you through the south gate of Paris, past the sleepy town of Saint Genevieve de Bois and gives you some fleeting moments to capture some views of the wandering Seine River. Sounds wonderful huh? Just wait!
You will need to purchase the billet Ile-de-France ticket as this is well outside the metro range of Paris.
Take the Transilien (http://www.transilien.com/web/site) Train from Gare de Lyon Station in Paris.
Board one of the many trains that make a stop at the Fontainebleau-Avon stop, these can include: Laroche-Migennes, Montargis, Montereau, and Sens. You can confirm that you are on the right train, by checking the monitors along the train’s boarding lane. It should list Fontainebleau-Avon. (The journey from Paris to your stop should take 35 mins.)
Once you disembark at the station, descend at the rear of the station, walk a short ways to the well marked bus stop. There are three different bus routes for the area. You will want to take Bus 12 A.
Cant get enough of Fontainebleau? Check out our post: Fountainebleau: The Better Versailles
Paris and its surrounds is truly one of the Fighting Couple’s very favorite destinations. Paris proper offers a lifetime of exploration and learning. Fontainebleau is one of those perfect day trips from Paris. Have you been to Fontainebleau? We want to hear from you!