In the center of a huge forest in the Île-de-France region, the Palace of Fontainebleau (Château de Fontainebleau, in French) has been the hunting residence of the kings of France since the 12th century. Expanded and remodeled during the reign of Francis I, this palace was inspired by Italian models, a cross between Renaissance art and French traditions.
During the French Revolution, the general structure of the Palace of Fontainebleau was spared almost in its entirety, but the monument underwent a profound interior remodeling when Napoleon I decided to make it his imperial residence.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1981, the Palace of Fontainebleau is just 40 minutes from the French capital, which makes it a perfect destination for a day trip from Paris.
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- Brief History of the Palace of Fontainebleau
- How to Get to the Palace of Fontainebleau
- What to See at the Palace of Fontainebleau
- More Posts about France
- More Posts about Castles and Palaces
- More Posts about Gardens and Parks
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Brief History of the Palace of Fontainebleau
The history of the Palace of Fontainebleau goes back to the Middle Ages, although the only trace of the first castle is its keep (donjon, in French). Therefore, the palace itself only started to be rebuilt a few centuries later, already in the reign of Francis I. In this period, around 1528, the new rooms, galleries, and patios gained a strong inspiration from Italian Renaissance architecture.
In this sense, the massive expansion of the Palace of Fontainebleau continued into the 17th century. Under the reign of Henry IV, new spaces were built, namely: the Porte du Baptistère, the Cour des Offices, and a spacious wing that includes the Galerie de Diane de Poitiers and the Galerie des Cerfs.
In the 18th century, King Louis XV ordered not only the design of the Gros Pavilion but also that the old Galerie d’Ulysse should be transformed into a larger building. With the French Revolution (1789-1799), the Aile de Ferrare was destroyed and gave way to the current railing at the main entrance.
Since then and as I mentioned in the introduction, the general structure of the Palace of Fontainebleau has remained the same until today. On the other hand, all furniture was removed, when Napoleon I became emperor and converted the palace into his residence.
Did you know that the Palace of Fontainebleau was part of France’s second set of inscriptions on the UNESCO World Heritage List? This 5th session of the World Heritage Committee took place in Sydney (Australia), between October 26th and 30th, 1981.
Four other French sites were announced in the session: the Cistercian Abbey of Fontenay; the Roman and Romanesque Monuments in Arles; the Amiens Cathedral; and the Roman Theater and its Surroundings and the “Triumphal Arch” of Orange.
Nowadays, France is the fourth country in the world and the third country in Europe with the most UNESCO sites, right after Italy and Germany, and tied with Spain. It has forty-nine heritage assets (both cultural and natural) inscribed on the world list of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization!
In the meantime, I’ve already had the opportunity to visit nine of them:
- Castle of Sully-sur-Loire (2000)
- Historic Center of Avignon: Papal Palace, Episcopal Ensemble and Avignon Bridge (1995)
- Le Havre, the City Rebuilt by Auguste Perret (2005)
- Mont Saint-Michel and its Bay (1979)
- Nice, Winter Resort Town of the Riviera (2021)
- Palace and Park of Fontainebleau (1981)
- Palace and Park of Versailles (1985)
- Paris, Banks of the Seine (1991)
- Provins, Town of Medieval Fairs (2001)
How to Get to the Palace of Fontainebleau
Although I chose to travel by car, the city of Fontainebleau is only 40 minutes away by train from Paris. Therefore, from the Gare de Lyon, all you have to do is take the Transilier R train towards Montereau or Montargis.
Once onboard, you must get off at the Fontainebleau / Avon station (zone 5). Tickets cost €8.85 (adults) and €4.40 (children) and can be purchased at any station. To do this, ask at the ticket office or look at the vending machines for the Billet Île-de-France.
In addition to the three main interior areas that make up the palace – the Musée Napoleon Ier, the Appartment du Pape, and the Grands Appartments – the Fontainebleau domain has many other interesting places worth visiting.
To start, the Jardin de Diane and the Jardin Anglais, are two of the favorite green spaces of French monarchs and emperors. And shortly after, the Grand Parterre and the Parc de Fontainebleau itself, constitute the largest extension of the property. And, if you want to continue your day in the historic city center, you can also visit other buildings and monuments!
Opening Hours & Ticket Prices
The Palace of Fontainebleau is open every day, except on Tuesdays and holidays on January 1st, May 1st, and December 25th. The opening hours are from 9:30 am to 5 pm (October to March) and from 9:30 am to 6 pm (April to September). The last entry takes place exactly 45 minutes before closing.
The Courtyards and Gardens (freely accessible) are open every day of the year, but with different seasonal schedules: 9 am to 5 pm (November to February), 9 am to 6 pm (March, April, and October ) and 9 am to 7 pm (May to September).
WARNING: The Diana’s Garden and the English Garden close, respectively, thirty minutes and one hour before the mentioned times.
The entrance ticket can be purchased for €12 (full rate) or €10 (reduced rate), through the online ticket office of the Palace of Fontainebleau. It includes access to the Napoleon I Museum, the Pope’s Apartment, and the Grand Apartments.
However, admission is free for all minors under 18 and young people under 26, residing in the European Economic Area. In that case, you must simply present an identification document. Or, you can do it like me and visit the palace for free, on the first Sunday of every month (except July and August)!
What to See at the Palace of Fontainebleau
Musée Napoleon Ier
The Napoleon I Museum (in French, Musée Napoleon Ier) was built in the Aile Louis XV of the Palace of Fontainebleau in 1986, in the location of the old royal apartments. Dedicated to the First Empire (1804-1814), it displays several hundred pieces of furniture, crockery, weapons, portraits, and other art objects, belonging to Napoleon Bonaparte and his family.
In addition, the museum’s multiple rooms evoke everyday moments and important occasions in the Emperor’s life, such as his coronation, various political campaigns, and the birth and childhood of his son and heir, Napoleon II.
Appartement du Pape
The Pope’s Apartment (in French, Appartement du Pape) had different rooms, corridors, and other divisions and was reserved for the most renowned guests during the Empire of Napoleon Bonaparte. Its current name is due to Pope Pius VII, who stayed at the Palace of Fontainebleau twice – the first time in 1804 and the second time in 1812.
The Grand Apartments of the Palace of Fontainebleau (in French, Grands Appartements du Château de Fontainebleau) comprise rooms, galleries, and small apartments. The latter include the Appartments Royaux – which welcomed the monarchs and their courts – and the Appartment de Napoleon Ier and his family.
Among the most interesting spaces to visit, I recommend mainly the two Renaissance rooms: the Galerie François Ier and the Salles des Fêtes. In addition to these, you can also stroll through the Galerie des Fastes and the Galerie des Assiettes, which portray various events in Fontainebleau.
Finally, be sure to visit the Chapelle de la Trinité, designed by King Francis I. Surprisingly, this chapel only saw its completion a few reigns later, with King Louis XIII.
Jardin de Diane
Diana’s Garden (in French, Jardin de Diane) – the smallest on the property – is named after a statue that adorns its central fountain: Diana and the Doe. At first, it served as a private garden for the kings and, in the 17th century, it began to be decorated with flower beds, small shrubs, and statues.
Soon after the beginning of the Napoleonic Empire, it was transformed into an English garden, with large lawns, free forms, and species that develop naturally.
At the time of Francis I, the English Garden (in French, Jardin Anglais) had another name: Jardin des Pins (that is, Garden of the Pines). Consisting of several gardens, it was first redesigned during the reign of Louis XIV and was remodeled again by the French landscape architect Maximilien Hurtaut, already in the empire of Napoleon I.
Nowadays, it contains a collection of exotic plants, a river, and an artificial rock, as well as winding paths that form a stunningly picturesque landscape.
Did you know that the Grand Parterre of Fontainebleau (in French, Grand Parterre de Fontainebleau) is the largest flower bed not only in France but also in Europe?
Although it no longer has its original ornate shrubs, the geometric design designed by André Le Nôtre has survived to this day. After all, the landscape architect of King Louis XIV became the ultimate exponent of French Baroque landscaping, having also designed the gardens of the Palace of Versailles and the Tuileries Garden.
Parc de Fontainebleau
The Park of Fontainebleau (in French, Parc de Fontainebleau) extends beyond the Grand Parterre and is freely accessible, staying open 24 hours a day throughout the year. As a matter of fact, as I was able to confirm that Sunday morning, dozens of people enjoyed the enclosure to walk the dogs or practice outdoor sports.
Created during the reign of Henry IV, the extensive 1200-meter canal extends the park’s perspective, in the same way, that it marks its natural landscape.
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