Fontainebleau: More than just a Castle
January 1, 1970
Some of you are probably wandering where in the map to place Fontainebleau, at least that was the case for me when I fist heard the name. To give you some background, Fontainebleau is a very small town located in the middle of a forest that goes by the same name just an hour-drive south from Paris, France.
Now that you can pinpoint it in a map you might be picturing this pretty little French town, people walking around with baguettes under their arms, drinking wine, enjoying the beautiful scenery that just a forest can offer, and of course a castle (because well it is France and there’s always a castle). Well you’re right! But there is much more to that.
Not only the French live there
I ended up living in Fontainebleau because of my husband, who got admitted at Insead Business School in a one-year MBA, and thus got involved into a community of international students and families.
Strolling in town you’ll probably hear different languages and see people from various countries, and you’ll be amazed to learn that they are not tourists but students living there. INSEAD has given Fontainebleau a young allure and spirit which is normally missing in other small towns.
But don’t get confused; Fontainebleau is still a very French town with all its perks and drawbacks, and it is always best if you know a little bit of french.
The Two Main Attractions
As you can probably guess by the title one is the castle or locally known as “le Château de Fontainebleau” and the other is the forest that surrounds the town, “la Forêt de Fontainebleau”.
Le Château de Fontainebleau:
The Castle of Fontainebleau served as the autumn palace for many French kings, who came here during hunting season to take advantage of the forest.
Visiting the castle is a must when in town, it will only take you a couple of hours and you’ll get the feel of what royal life was like. If you like me are a history geek, then I strongly recommend you to take a guided tour or an audio guide, so that you learn some of the secrets and footprints each king left during their reign.
Once you are done with the inside take you time to enjoy the gardens, they offer amazing views and postcard perfect pictures. Learn more in their official web page: http://www.musee-chateau-fontainebleau.fr/
TIP: The first Monday of each month the entrance is free, so plan ahead!
La Forêt de Fontainebleau:
This 25000 hectares of forest is a perfect spot for the nature lovers, and thanks to tourism, local support has made it possible to enjoy many activities in the area like:
- Biking paths
- Hiking trails
- Rock climbing
- Horseback rides
- Picnic spots
It is said that this forest is the mecca for rock climbers, personally I never tried it (which I now regret) but if you are an adventure seeking person don’t miss the opportunity, and if you prefer something on the safer side then try biking through the forest. In town you can find shops specialized in climbing and camping where you can find equipment, as well as bike rental spots so you get the most of your time in the forest and in town.
TIP: The best time to visit the forest is in autumn, the scenery is its best with all the leafs turning different shades of red and yellow, and you will avoid the busy crowds of summer vacations.
More of Fontainebleau
As I mentioned before the town of Fontainebleau has more to offer, and even thou the place is small you can find yourself wanting to spend more time there.
Food: The mornings are filled with the scent of fresh baked bread that will have you running to the nearest bakery (there is one in every corner) and buying far more than what you should, but it is all worth it, because what is better than a “pain au chocolat” still warm from the oven?
By noon you’ll be allured into one of the many street terrace cafes located in the town’s main street: Rue Grand, for a taste of local French wine.
And if it is fine dinning your thing, you will find several restaurant offering high standard cuisine such as “Le Caveau des Lyz” and “l’Axel”, this last one even has a Michelin star.
But I don’t’ need to sell it to you, French cuisine has gotten itself a reputation on its own.
Markets: Beside the common brand market stores you find across France (mainly Carrefour, Monoprix and Leader Price), Fontainebleau has its own local market; farmers and entrepreneurs join to sell the best of their products. You can find everything form vegetables to books, even if you are not buying anything, it is worthwhile to walk down the isles made up of stands selling cheese, meat, flowers, fish, fruits, pre-cocked meals, bread, clothes and more.
Window shopping: For me the best part of living in Fontainebleau was walking through the streets and getting lost, you can find small specialized stores, designer clothes, and the occasional big old house that takes you back to the early 1900’s. I could spend the whole day looking at the window-display of stores, while eating a to-go crepe. But be aware! Most people own dogs but not always clean up after them, so watch your step if you don´t want to spend the rest of the day cursing and scraping poop out of your shoe.
Fontainebleau became a second home to me and that is why I always urge people traveling to Paris to take a day to leave the busy city behind and discover this picturesque town. Trains leave every half an hour from “Gare de Lyon” and take only about 40 minutes. (Warning: make sure you take the fast train that has only two stops before arriving to “Fontainebleau-Avon” or you will spend the whole day sitting on a train wanting to kill me.)
I am sure you’ll enjoy this place as much as I did.