Fontainebleau is a city about 60 kilometers southeast of Paris, known primarily for its magnificent Renaissance palace, the residence of many rulers of France. Built in the style of Italian mannerism, the palace looks more like a series of intricate crystal flutes of different height and shape: squat plump annexes – heavy glasses for whiskey, elegant wide wings – thorough vessels for red wine, and graceful slender towers between them – frivolous flutes for champagne. The name itself is coquettish: fontaine bleau means “beautiful fountain.
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The residents of Fontainebleau call themselves “les bellifontains” (the bellifontains), and the adjective “bellifontain” is also recommended when describing local phenomena.
The palace is surrounded by a wonderful park, and it, in turn, by an extensive forest.
In addition, Fontainebleau is one of the equestrian capitals of France: the hippodrome is located here and the largest international competitions in all disciplines of equestrian sport are held.
Orientation and movement in the city
The city of Fontainebleau is very compact and easy to navigate. The main street, rue Grande, which connects the palace to the opposite end of the city, runs through the central square of Place Napoléon Bonaparte. This is also where most of the stores, restaurants and cafes are located. From the center of Fontainebleau to the palace complex is no more than a half-hour walk.
The tourist office of Fontainebleau (rue Royale, 4) offers bikes for rent for 5 EUR per hour, 15 EUR for half a day and 19 EUR for the whole day.
The Fontainebleau palace complex is undoubtedly the main attraction of the city. It includes the palace itself, the courtyards and gardens, and the palace park.
The Fontainebleau Palace has a huge number of rooms open to visitors, and it is simply impossible to go around them all. The gems include the Renaissance halls of the 16th century, the Great Apartments of the 16th-19th centuries, literally bursting at the seams with luxury, gold and glitter, the Napoleonic Interior Apartments and the Small Apartments (used by Napoleon, his wife and closest associates). Visit also the cozy boudoirs of Marie Antoinette and the apartments of the Pope (meaning Pius VII, who stayed here twice).
In the Fontainebleau palace you can learn the old-fashioned game of ball – jeu de paume, a sort of volleyball with rackets.
There are also four museums in the palace: the Chinese Empress Museum, the Napoleon Museum, the Gallery of Paintings (take note of the “Royal Elephant” fresco) and the Gallery of Furniture with a magnificent chest of drawers by Beneman.
For a thorough understanding of the salons, boudoirs, galleries and bedchambers of the palace, take an audio guide (available in 8 languages, including Russian). The audio tour lasts 1.5 hours and costs 1 EUR.
After leaving the palace, go for a walk through the courtyards and gardens, arranged to suit all moods: the austere and slightly gloomy Oval Court, the Fontana Court with the still water surface of the pond, the English Garden buried in verdure, the chamber garden of Diana and the pacifying Pine Grotto.
Finally, for the indefatigable sightseers the Fontainebleau complex offers a 130-hectare park with an artificial canal, numerous bridges and marble statues of goddesses and nymphs.
Nature lovers can enjoy walks in the forest of Fontainebleau. There are 300 km of hiking, horseback riding and biking trails for all levels of fitness. The variety of species of animals, birds and plants will fascinate even the most devoted fan of urbanization. Extremes can practice rock climbing.
Horseback riding is another highlight of the region. The Hippodrome de la Solle regularly hosts horse races and races, and the prestigious international show jumping and dressage competitions are held in the riding halls of Le Grand Parquet. For the non-professional, there are horseback riding lessons and equestrian walks in the surrounding area.
In the city you can also visit the Museum of Military History and the only one in Europe Prison Museum (note the letters from the walls of the famous prisoners: François Villon, Mirabeau and the Marquis de Sade).
Address: 77300 Fontainebleau.
Opening hours: October-March: 9:30 am – 5:00 pm (access until 4:15 pm), April-September: 9:30 am – 6:00 pm (access until 5:15 pm).
Entrance: 11 EUR, children under 18 years old free of charge. Cost of the audio guide: 2 EUR.
Opening hours of courtyards and gardens: November – February: 9:00 – 17:00, March – April and October: 9:00 – 18:00, May – September: 9:00 – 19:00.
Park hours: 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Local agricultural products are a source of special pride to the people of Bellifontaine. The stalls at the food market, held on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays near the church of Saint-Louis, are bursting with exquisite examples of vegetables, fruits, root crops and herbs. There are also cheeses and dairy products, meat delicacies, cakes, pies and buns to suit all tastes.
In 1996 the National Culinary Association awarded the Fontainebleau food market the title of Marché d’exception – an exceptional market.
Souvenirs depicting the Fontainebleau palace are accompanied by glassblowers’ works, paintings, mosaics and stained glass windows, cheese heads and chocolates.
There are numerous restaurants, eateries, cafes and bars in Fontainebleau, most of them on rue Grande. The cuisine ranges from classic French (for example in the restaurant at the Hotel Napoleon, one of the best in town) to Mediterranean, Mexican and Japanese. For a bite to eat, go to establishments under the sign “brasserie”, in restaurants it is customary to order more substantial dishes. Be sure to try the local pastries and sweets.
How to get to Fontainebleau
To appreciate the beauty of the palace and the parks, you must first get to Paris, the nearest major city to Fontainebleau. Every day at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport lands up to 10 joint Aeroflot and Air France flights from Sheremetyevo. How to get from the airport to the city center see the Paris page.
In Paris, go to Gare de Lyon and take the train to Montargis Sens. After about 40 minutes, prepare to get off at Fontainebleau Avon station. Trains run from 0:34 to 22:46 from Paris to Fontainebleau and from 5:24 to 22:40 in the opposite direction. The fare is 8 EUR.
Also in Fontainebleau you can come from Marseille by high-speed train TGV. Travel time is about 4 hours.
From the station to the center of Fontainebleau you can take a bus line AV, leaving every 15 minutes. The fare is 1.70 EUR. To get to the Fontainebleau Palace, get off at the Château stop.
Fontainebleau is a historic French town south of Paris (55.5 km or 34.5 miles). It is known for the large and picturesque Forest of Fontainebleau, a favorite vacation spot of Parisians, and the Palais de Fontainebleau, home to many kings of France. The Palace is visited by crowds of tourists.
How to get there
To get to the city is very simple from Paris.
By train you can get from Paris to Gare de Lyon station. There, at the green Billet Ile-de-France ticket machine (not the yellow SNCF machine), buy a ticket to Fontainebleau Avon. Trains leave once an hour, usually from the first track of the upper level of the multi-level station. Any train that has a terminus at Montargis, Montereau, Sans or Laroche-Mizin will stop at Fontainebleau. Check the scoreboard at the platform to be sure.
In August 2011, a round-trip ticket for an adult cost 16.80 euros and the ride itself took about 35 minutes. Before arriving in the green city of Fontainebleau (you’ll feel how fresh the air is there as soon as you step off the train), the train stops only in the towns of Melun and Bois-les-Roi. On Sunday mornings, some trains stop at an intermediate station before reaching Fontainebleau to let hikers out into the woods. This is called the Al de Fontainebleau-Forêt (Halte de Fontainebleau-Forêt). Later, when you return back to the Gare de Lyon, note that the ticket you bought for the train to Fontainebleau can be continued to the metro within Paris.
At the Gare de Fontainebleau Avon station, you can take the Line 1 bus, operated by Veolia Transport, to get to the château (about a 15-minute journey). Buses run until about 8pm. Be warned! Line 1 has two directions, even when you are already at the end of the Line. If you’re not sure you’ve chosen the right one, check with the driver. The bus ticket costs 1.80 euros. But if you bought a zone 6 ticket at the Gare de Lyon, you are entitled to travel to and from the castle at no extra charge. Just show your ticket to the driver and he will tell you to use the ticket machine of the bus. Insert your ticket into the machine and you will immediately get it back. You need to keep the ticket. To figure out your final stop, look outside the window for either Place Napoléon Bonaparte (Place Napoléon Bonaparte) or the Palais, since the bus stops in the center. Alternatively, you can walk. It will take you about 45 minutes to walk through the city. If you walk straight from the train station, however, you will see a sign pointing in the direction of the Palace. This road is more direct and shorter (about 25 minutes on the way), passes through residential areas and leads into the wooded lands of the Palace. Once you enter the wooded area, stick to the main road.
When you get off the train, you’ll be near a bus stop on the opposite side of the road leading out of town. You can find good maps there to help you navigate if you decide to walk to the palace or to the town on your own.
From the center of Paris to the center of Fontainebleau is only about 65 km or an hour drive. If driving from Paris, follow the signs pointing south and then to Lyon and the A6 freeway. After about 35 minutes you will see road signs for Fontainebleau. Once you enter the city, you’ll notice a tall apartment building, a relic of some architectural style that many townspeople would like to tear down. However, it is still part of the city’s history, though not as delightful as the palace,
If you take the Francilienne freeway from Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, you can either take the local roads through the center of Melun, or the more scenic and (during peak times) often quicker road through the communes of Sivry Courtry and Fontaine-le-Paure.