Fontainebleau is a lovely historical town south of Paris, France (55.5 km - 34.5 miles). It is renowned for its large and scenic Forest of Fontainebleau, a favorite weekend getaway for Parisians, as well as for the historical Château de Fontainebleau of the kings of France, which attracts crowds of tourists.
Getting there is very easy from Paris.
You can go by train from Paris by Gare de Lyon. There are at least two trains an hour. At Gare de Lyon, the train ticket should be purchased to the destination "Fontainebleau Avon" from the green colored "Billet Ile-de-France" machines and not from the yellow colored SNCF machines. The trains to Fontainebleau leave from the upper level of the multilevel train station.
As of August 2011, the adult return fare is €16.80 and the ride lasts about 35 min, stopping only in the towns of Melun and Bois-le-Roi before arriving in the green town of Fontainebleau (you will feel the fresh forest air as soon as you come out). Later, upon your return back to Gare de Lyon, note that you may continue using the same train ticket to get to any Metro destination within Paris.
From the Gare de Fontainebleau Avon you can use a Line 1 bus, operated by Veolia Transport to get to the Chateau (about 15 minutes) although buses seem to stop around eight in the evening. Be careful! There's two directions to the Line 1 bus even though you're at an end of line. Confirm the direction with the driver if you're unsure. The bus ticket costs €1.80, BUT if you have the zone 5 ticket purchased at Gare de Lyon, this allows you to ride the bus to AND from the castle without any additional cost... just show your ticket to the driver and he will direct you to use the ticket machine on the bus. Enter it and then it will spit it back out to be saved by you. To find the last stop, you can look for either the Place Napoléon Bonaparte or the Castle as each stop is in the center. Alternatively you can walk, about 45 minutes, if you walk through the town. Or, as you leave the train station property, you will see a sign indicating the direction of the Chateau. This route is more direct and will take you through a residential area and then into the wooded grounds of the chateau. Stay on the main path once you enter the wooded area. This route takes about 25 minutes walking.
When you get off the train, you will be near the bus station on the opposite side of the tracks from town. There are good maps there which can be used to orient yourself if you decide to walk to the Chateau or into town.
The total distance from centre to centre is about 65 km or an hour. From Paris, follow signs towards the south, then signs for Lyon and the A6. After about 35 minutes you will see signs for Fontainebleau. Once entering the city there is a tall apartment block which is a remnant of some architectural style a lot in the city would like to see disappear. However, it still forms part of the town’s history – as much as the castle even if in much less splendour.
Orientation in town is very easy as there is only one main artery called the “Rue Grande” which goes from the Castle to the other end of town, passing by the central “Napoléon Bonaparte” place. Many shops, bars and restaurants abound on either sidewalk for every possible taste. Walking is by far the best option as the most you’ll walk without stopping (very difficult thing to do considering all the pretty windows to look at) would be 20 minutes.
Château de Fontainebleau
Château de Fontainebleau is one of the most beautiful castles in France. Its interior decorations are especially interesting as a fine example of the French Renaissance style. At the same time, its historical significance is hard to overestimate, since it was the preferred residence of French kings and emperors for 7 centuries.
The first mention of the castle dates back to 1137 but by the time when François I decided to make it his principal residence (1527), the medieval castle was mostly in ruins. This monarch undertook an ambitious reconstruction program, playing himself the role of the chief architect and inviting two prominent Italian artists, Rosso and Primatice to decorate the interior. Their collaboration resulted in such treasures as the François I gallery (pictured right) with wooden panels, stuccos and frescoes depicting various episodes from the life of the king; the Church of the Trinity and the Ball room are also from this epoch.
After François I, many French monarchs chose Fontainebleau as their residence; the construction started by François I was mostly completed under Henri II and Henri IV. Louis XIII, the son of Henri IV was born in Fontainebleau; the tourists can see the room where Marie de Medici delivered the baby and imagine how crowded it was at the time: to avoid any risk of substitution, the birth of the king must take place in presence of many witnesses.
Somewhat neglected during the French Revolution, the Fontainebleau castle is back to its glory under the reign of Napoleon I, who lived there for a long time and bade his farewell to his troops in the court of the castle in 1814. The visitor can see the Emperor's Throne room (unique in France) and his private appartments. Pope Pie VII visited Fontainebleau twice, first as a guest and then as a prisoner of Napoleon; the papal quarters have recently been opened to visitors.
After your visit to the main building, do not forget to take a stroll in the park and the gardens around the castle; you will see Diane's fountain and (if you are lucky) meet one of the peacocks who live there.
Although by no means less interesting than the Versailles castle, the Fontainebleau castle is a bit more difficult to reach and less known to tourists; as a result, there are at least ten times fewer visitors in Fontainebleau than in Versailles. Except maybe on national holidays, there is never a queue to get in, and you can explore the immense castle almost on your own, which, together with the fresh air and the absence of street vendors contributes to make your visit a very peaceful and enjoyable experience.
The castle is open every day except Tuesday, January 1st, May 1st and December 25th, from 9h30 to 17h in winter and from 9h30 to 18h in summer. As of April 2011, the entrance fee for adults is 10 euros; children below 18 and residents of the European Union below 26 enter free.
The town is so close to Paris and yet so protected by its forest that Harvard professors in the sixties started the now world renowned INSEAD MBA school. This unique environment attracted other top universities and grandes écoles such as ESIGETEL Engineering School.
The Chateau de Fontainebleau also hosts a summer music institution. It is a combination of a music conservatory and an architecture studio in a historic chateau setting. Courses are taught in English by predominately French musicians, composers, artists, and professors. Nadia Boulanger, a young composition and harmony professor led the school until 1979. The school has influenced such composers as: Aaron Copland, Virgil Thomson, Louise Talma, Samuel Dushkin, Elliott Carter, Beveridge Webster, Kenton Coe and many others.
LES ECOLES D’ART AMERICAINES DE FONTAINEBLEAU http://www.fontainebleauschools.org/
There are many cultural, sporting, entertainment or shopping activities one could do. For more information on this, the best available and updated website is http://www.fontainebleau-tourisme.com
The town is also famous for a horse race track and its Sunday morning food market.
As if the town didn’t offer enough as it is, there are many other attractions in the surrounding region. Towns like Barbizon (home of the artists), Milly-la-Foret, Samois-sur-Seine, and many others…
The Forest is also full of sandstone boulders perfect for climbing/bouldering. http://www.bleau.info has lots about the climbing
There are plenty of shops from high-end pastery shops to the latest French fashion cloth wear and jewellery.
The town boasts many different restaurants from Mexican to Japanese, Pizza to Fish-only. Of course there are Brasseries (the most authentic being, quite unknowingly called the “Franklin Roosevelt”) and very good French restaurants (the best one being in the Hotel Napoleon).
There are plenty of places to drink, from modern ambient bars to traditional French bars, English pubs and Mexican bars.
There are plenty of places to sleep in Fontainebleau but the three best places are the Aigle Noir Hotel, the Napoléon Hotel and the Hotel of London.