When Joel and I realised that we will be able to visit Paris again this year, we immediately knew that we wanted to spend a night in the French countryside. After Google Maps crushed all my dreams of going to Giverny, where Monet painted his waterlilies, or Saint-Rémy, where Van Gogh checked himself into an insane asylum, by showing me trips of 4+ hours by car, we had to come up with some other great plan.
Joel fell in love with the Versailles gardens in January and said we should go back.
One of us used her good common sense and said we should try something different.
So…THIS IS A POST ABOUT WHAT YOU SHOULD DO IF YOU WANT A QUICK GETAWAY IN THE PARISIAN COUNTRYSIDE BUT HAVE ALREADY BEEN TO VERSAILLES!
After a short session of scrolling through a forum or two, the consensus was in:
It seemed like the good people of the Internet wanted us to go to Château de Fontainebleau.
If Google said it it must be right – To Château de Fontainebleau we go!
The Fontainebleau Chateau is about an hour’s journey South of France and is one of the largest and oldest royal châteaux (the plural of château…you’re welcome.) in France. To put it in perspective – the palace existed centuries before America was even ‘discovered’.
It was home to all the most powerful people – from Louis VII to Napoleon III. It is also the site of the room in which Napoleon I officially abdicated the throne before his exile; the room apparently untouched since it happened – all of the chairs and tables still as they left it on the day that they signed the documents and shipped Napoleon off to Elba.
If none of the historical significance impresses you, it is just a magnificently sumptuous and monumental architectural wonder that is absolutely worth your time. Graced with room after room with polished parquet flooring, Herculean fireplaces, private chapels, walls in rich, dark wood and heavy golds, and ceilings nearly groaning under the weight of sparkling crystal chandeliers, it is a palace that impresses with ease.
At this stage, if you haven’t yet suffered from sensory overload, there is the heavy, smooth velvet of the private chambers, the antique furniture, the milky marble tops of chess board tables, a monumental globe from the office of Napoleon, and some of the best examples of Tromp l’oeil you can see in France (a style of painting that realistically gives the illusion of three-dimensionality) .
Otherwise spend your afternoon wiling away the time by long strolls in the acres of perfectly manicured gardens in the French and English styles – multiple fountains, exotic trees, windy pathways, a reflection pool and a large carp pond are just some of the elements included in the landscaping.
After we exhausted our time in the chateau and its grounds, we spent some time roaming around the cute-ass town of Fontainebleau. If chateaus aren’t your jam, but you want to spend a night or two in the countryside, then the town of Fontainebleau is just a great place to go to. It’s quaint and cute, home to aforementioned royal chateau and world-class business school INSEAD, and surrounded by the lushness of the Fontainebleau forest – the perfect place to go to get away from it all, without actually getting away from it ALL (like cell signal and wifi and people and all of that).
HOW TO GET TO FONTAINEBLEAU
To get to Fontainebleau you have to take the Transilien (T) train line from the Gare de Lyon station in Paris. The Paris Visite Pass for zones 1 to 5 works for this trip and is the easiest way to buy a ticket, and the best if you are spending time getting around in Paris before or after the weekend getaway.
When you get to the Gare de Lyon station, look for trains with the following termination stations:
Any of these trains will take you to Fontainebleau. Check which platform the train departs from and head there. Double check the screen at the platform, which shows all the stops the train will make – if Fontainebleau is not on there, you are probably at the wrong platform.
When you get there, you can head to the buses at the back of the Avon Fontainebleau station (where the train stops) and take the Number 1 bus to Chateau de Fontainebleau – but take not that this bus stops at the Number 2 bus stop, even though it’s a Number 1 bus. Go figure.
Otherwise, if you are not heading directly to the chateau, it’s really easy to figure out which bus to get on and where to hop off from looking at the maps at the bus stops.
WHERE TO STAY
All I can say is that we stayed at an Airbnb that was really nice, with a really gracious host and a REALLY CUTE KITTEN.
And you should probably stay in an Airbnb too.
CHATEAU DE FONTAINEBLEAU
The chateau is open Wednesday to Monday (Closed Tuesdays) from 9.30am to 5pm (October to March) and 9.30am to 6pm (April to September). Last entry is 45 minutes before closing and it takes about 1.5 – 2 hours to go through the chateau.
Tickets are 11 Euros or 9 Euros each – Reduced fare tickets for all the usual things: student, pensioners, children, etc. But also if you are under 26 and you can prove it (a photo of your passport, e.g.)
The audio guide comes highly recommended!
More info on their website here