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Paris is marvelous, I won’t argue on that. But those of you who have done some preliminary research (well done!) know that its surroundings are also full of delightful surprises. How about escaping from the bustle of the city for one day and discovering one the best castles of the region? Your perfect getaway is hiding in the heart of the forest, at only 40 minutes from Paris: Fontainebleau. Did I catch your attention already? Keep reading for all the good tips!
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I see you coming. Is Fontainebleau better than Versailles? Well, that’s a tough question! Fontainebleau is obviously much smaller than the exuberant Versailles, but it is no less charming and it is another wonderful vestige of French royalty (further historical information is coming below!). Fontainebleau is for those of you who don’t want to mingle with the hectic crowd of Versailles… and also those who want to discover, not only a castle, but also a chic little French town and an exceptional forest. Here’s a mouth-watering preview of your visit.
1. How to get there from Paris?
The easiest way is to hop on a train to Montereau or Montargis from Gare de Lyon and get off at the station Fontainebleau-Avon. A one-way ticket costs 8,85€. You will then have to take the bus 8 or 1 and stop at station Château or Hôtel de Ville.
You can check the timetable of all the trains on this website: https://www.transilien.com/en
Want to know a good deal for all your getaways around Paris? The one-day ticket Mobilis enables you to travel in all of the 5 zones of the Île-de-France network (all means of transport included: subway, bus, train, RER). You can thank me later!
Now you guessed it, going with a car is a good alternative to the train. The journey takes about 1h. You’ll probably prefer this means of transport if you want more freedom and most of all, if you plan to go explore the forest or visit other spots of the Seine-et-Marne department – check out the list at the end of the article for some inspiration! In Fontainebleau, I suggest you leave the car at the Interparking Château parking lot, located in front of the Château and near the city center.
2. What to see in Fontainebleau
Immerse yourself in the history of the Château
That wasn’t hard to predict: I highly recommend you begin your little adventure at the famous Château de Fontainebleau. You’ll find two different entrances from the city center: one by the place Napoléon Bonaparte and the other on the Boulevard Magenta, which is actually the main entrance.
You should obviously choose the main entrance for a perfect « Wow » effect! Walk through the magnificent gates and marvel at beauty of the Court of honor. At its end, you will face the famous horseshoe-shaped staircase that built the reputation of the place.
So you’re wondering: which French King used to live in this château? The truth is that Fontainebleau has been the home of, not one, but all of France’s Kings, from the Middle Ages until the 19th century. We might as well call it a family vacation home! Although it is originally a medieval castle, the monument you see today is of Renaissance and Classical style. At the beginning of the 16th century, François 1st, who was a lover of italian architecture, initiated major remodelling works. Inside the château, you’ll discover the « Grands Appartements » (suite of bedrooms and living rooms), the Napoleon 1st museum and the fabulous François 1st gallery.
The château is open everyday, except on Tuesdays, from October to March: 9:30am to 5pm and from April to September: 9:30am to 6pm. The visit takes about 1h30 and the ticket costs 12€ (free entry if you’re under 26!). You can get a skip-the-line ticket on the château’s website.
Take a stroll along the alleys of the park
We’re getting to my favorite part! Not only is the park surrounded by the forest, which makes the walk truly pleasant, but the visitors also get to enjoy different atmospheres depending on where they stand. Get lost in the alleys and notice the change of style between the garden « à la Française » designed by Le Nôtre (the famous gardener of Louis XIV), the English garden and the Garden of Diana. Under the shadow of the poplars, along the pond, time seems to freeze…
If you’re travelling with children, rent a small boat and come say hi to the huge carps and the swans – it will make their day!
Go see the Saint-Louis church
The Saint-Louis church, at the angle of rue Grande and rue de la Paroisse, is a rare beauty. It was built at the beginning of the 17th century, under the command of Mary of Medicis (wife of Henry 4th). At the end of the 19th century, Napoleon 3rd, who used to come regularly to Fontainebleau, even decided to expand the existing building in order to give more character to the town. 150 years later, I’d say the challenge has been met!
Have lunch or sip a coffee on a nice terrace
All these visits will trigger your tummy to rumble for food! Make your way through the lovely streets of the city center: you’ll find what your heart (or, well, stomach) desires in one of the numerous restaurants. In the summer, both locals and tourists fight for the best spot on the lively café terraces. At winter time, the hot chocolate and crêpe duo is a real winner to warm up body and soul!
Here are the best spots:
– The Napoleon Bonaparte Place
– The rue des 3 maillets
– The rue du coq gris
– The rue Montebello
– The rue Grande
Let me guess: you want to know the names of particular places. Be patient, we’ll get to that further in the article!
Enjoy the cheerful atmosphere of the market
The market square buzzes with life everyday Tuesday, Friday and Sunday from 8am to 1pm, all year long. You’ll find there everything you can imagine: regional food products, clothes, local craft, street food… It is frankly not cheap, since Fontainebleau is kind of an upmarket suburb… But in any case, this pretty market is the perfect occasion to immerse yourself in local life!
3. Hiking in the forest
You simply can’t visit Fontainebleau without going for a hike in its forest! Did you know it is France’s most visited forest? It doesn’t matter if you’re more used to walking the dog in the park around the corner than climbing the kilimanjaro (hey, not judging anyone!), there’s a path for everyone’s level and age.
Here are some spots you can’t miss:
– La grotte des brigands (« the brigand’s cave« ), starting from Barbizon (my favorite spot as a kid 😉 Your children will love it!)
– The Franchard Gorges
– Le massif des Trois Pignons (« Three Pine massif« ), starting from Noisy-sur-école
– The Denecourt tower
Not feeling adventurous enough to get lost in nature? I’ve got your back! Some websites such as this one give you the exact itineraries of the hikes, along with other practical information (level, duration…).
Important to notice that the Fontainebleau forest is not only a hiker’s paradise! It attracts climbers from all over the world thanks to its incredible sandstone rocks. You will also probably cross the path of mountain bikes, horses or even sled dogs!
If you’d like to go on a climbing/bouldering course, follow this link.
4. Where to drink / eat in Fontainebleau?
Click on each link for more info + reviews on the place!
– L’Axel, if you want to play it fancy in the best culinary establishment in town (1 Michelin star)
– L’Antica Trattoria, that offers great italian food in a cozy family atmosphere
– La Petite Ardoise, for good French dishes at a fair price
– Glassico, best gelato in town!
– Le Grand Café, for a cool « apéro » on the place Napoléon Bonaparte, the local meeting area
– Le Glasgow, for the scottish pub lovers out there who fancy a pint or two. The rue du Coq Gris, where the pub is located, is the main center of nightlife: clients are young and pretty international, since the prestigious INSEAD school is located nearby.
Now if you feel like one day wasn’t enough, here are some gems you don’t want to miss around Fontainebleau…. Click on each name for more info !
– Vaux le Vicomte, the château that served as a model for the Château de Versailles!
– Moret-sur-Loing, one of the most beautiful villages of Seine-et-Marne region
– Milly-la-forêt, a historical village that hosted the greatests, such as Christian Dior