Parisians love their city. They also love being able to leave it when the mood strikes them. It is incredibly chic to be able to run off to the countryside on the weekends, an attitude that you can easily emulate by hopping on the nearest train. Even if you don’t go for the weekend, you should still experience the French countryside. Teeming with charming villages, gorgeous castles and local flavor, you will soon find that the French countryside holds as many allures as the city itself.
One of the easiest and most convenient options is to visit Fontainebleau Castle. Located approximately thirty-five miles from the city proper, the castle is about a forty-minute train-ride from the main train station. Get on the train at the Gare de Lyon station and stay on until Fontainebleau-Avon station. From there, you will have to taxi or wait for the shuttle to get to the Castle proper.
One of the largest palaces in France, the Château de Fontainebleau once served as the favorite hunting lodges of the French Royalty. Acting as Napoleons primary residence, the grounds to the palace are almost as extraordinary as the building itself. Fontainebleau offers a unique perspective into French history and culture, as the castle is the only royal residence that was continually in use for seven hundred years.
After touring the castle, take some time to walk through the extensive forests. With an almost enchanted feel, the Fontainebleau Forests are home to several species of endangered animals. The Royal Hunts took place through the Forest and as you walk through them, it is easy to picture the hunting parties riding through on horseback. Immediately surrounding the castle is a series of courtyards and gardens, maintained in the traditional style. From there, the extended castle grounds known as the Park extend for another half mile or so
The village near Fontainebleau has achieved a good deal of fame in its own right, especially in the art world. Barbizon, home to the painters forming the artistic movement of the same name – the Barbizon School. After walking the grounds at Fontainebleau, it’s easy to see where the painters such as Jean-Francois Millet and Theodore Rosseau found the inspiration for their famous landscapes.
Need to know
Fontainebleau Castle Hours: October to March: 9.30am – 5pm. April to September: 9.30am – 6pm. Last admissions occur forty five minutes before close.
Admission: Pricing varies depending on group size and age
Tours: Individuals can take guided and unguided tours. There are certain places in the Castle that you can only visit with a tour guide. Tours are given daily in French and are offered on a first come, first serve basis. If you are interested, you can also take themed tours of the Castle and grounds that focus on a specific aspect – such as the art of the palace. These tours require advance booking.
Audio guides are available for both the Castle and the castle grounds
Travel Tip: It is recommended by the staff at Fontainebleau Castle that you plan on spending a full day to tour the palace and the grounds. For cheap hotels in Paris, visit Expedia.co.uk.
Image via Flickr/Eusebius@Commons