My daughter and I just returned from our (very) short trip to Paris and vicinity. The trip was great! In this and future posts, I’ll tell about what we did and saw.
We have been to the Palace of Versailles a few times, and we had read that Fontainebleau was somewhat similar, so we decided it warranted a visit.
We did not purchase tickets ahead of time, because the weather forecast was not great. In fact, rain was predicted for almost every day that we were in France. Actually, though, we only saw a small amount of rain throughout the week.
Access to the gardens is free – a ticket is needed to tour the Château. We entered the front door, purchased tickets for €12, and began our self-guided tour. The ticket for the Château also includes entrance to the Napoleon Museum. In addition to the ticket, we could have chosen to pay for an audio guide or a professionally guided tour. Guided tours are only available at limited times. We chose to go with the least expensive option and were very satisfied with it. All displays are explained well in English.
Fontainebleau or Versailles
Which chateau or palace is the best? Versailles is definitely the largest and most popular – for a first-time visitor, I’d recommend it. For someone who has already visited Versailles, though, Fontainebleau, Vaux-le-Vicomt, and Chantilly are close to Paris and can be visited in a day-trip.
We found the interior of the Château beautiful. The rooms were decorated in various styles, depending on who was in residence at the time. The gardens, though, were not nearly as elaborate as the ones at Versailles.
I haven’t been to Versailles in October, so I can’t realistically compare the number of visitors at each place. There were very few people at Fontainebleau, however, so we did not have to worm our way to the front of the crowds to get pictures or read the placards. If crowds are a problem for you, Fontainebleau may be a better option. (Again, it was October – summer is likely busier).
Fontainebleau Château has been in existence since the 12th century. Throughout the years, it has been enlarged, renovated, and redecorated. At some point, it has been the home of kings from every ruling royal family.
According to its website, “With over 1500 rooms…Fontainebleau is the only royal and imperial château to have been continuously inhabited for seven centuries.”
Of course, we were only able to see a small portion of the rooms. Each one, though was lavishly decorated. The walls were covered with murals, paintings, or tapestries. Much of the original furniture was still in place.
After visiting Versailles, I was disappointed in the gardens at Fontainebleau. There were a few small flowerbeds, but nothing extraordinary.
We enjoyed watching the fish in the carp pond, where we could have rented a small rowboat.
We entered the chateau grounds through the Diana Garden, formerly the queen’s private garden. It seemed to be a less formal garden, filled with large trees lining the walking paths.
How Long to Spend at the Château
Fountainebleau’s website suggests that it will take about an hour and a half to visit the interior spaces. Since there were no crowds, we covered the area in a little over an hour. We strolled leisurely, reading every placard, so 1 to 1 1/2 hours should be adequate.
We could have spent a little more time in the gardens, but by the time we finished the interior we were ready for lunch. Even allowing more time for the gardens, visiting Fontainebleau could be completed in a half day compared to the full day or more that it takes to see Versailles.
Where to Eat
I was surprised that there was no restaurant or food vendor on the Château grounds. Signs indicated that there could have been food carts in the summer or on weekends.
We had noticed several cafes just outside of the entrance, so we chose to leave and find lunch at one of them. When we exited the Château grounds, we counted four cafes. We checked the posted menus and saw there was a good variety of choices. We ate and then returned to Paris.
Getting to Fontainebleau
Fontainebleau is located south of Paris. It is possible to drive there, but there is also public transportation from anywhere in Paris to the entrance of the chateau. If you are driving, take A6 to the Fontainebleau exit.
If you are taking public transportation from Paris, you can buy a ticket from any metro station to the Fontainebleau-Avon Station. It is even possible to purchase your ticket from one of the ticket machines.
If you are familiar with the ticket machines, you should choose “Tickets for Paris Region” and then select your preferred destination by typing in the first few letters of Fontainebleau. Follow the directions on the screen to purchase tickets. Our tickets cost €8.70 for each way.
You will need to take the metro to the Gare de Lyon station – the train for Fontainebleau leaves from there. Watch the departure screens to find the correct track. (The train will end at Montargis Sens, Montereau, or Laroche-Migennes – the end point will be on the screen).
When you get to the Fontainebleau-Avon station, follow the crowd to Bus Line 1 toward Les Lilas. Get off at the Château stop. The bus ticket cost €2. For the return to Paris, follow the same procedure backwards.
Visiting Fontainebleau Château
We had beautiful weather for our visit to the Fontainebleau Château, although just as we finished lunch it started to rain. (The rain lasted only a minute or two). Even though we didn’t spend much time in the gardens, we were outside for a while – walking through the garden and across the large plaza to the entrance of the Château – so we were thankful for good weather.
We found the trip worthwhile, even though the gardens were smaller than expected. The Château itself was incredible. Although I would recommend the Palace of Versailles as a first visit, Fountainebleau could be your second.
I still have to visit Vaux-le-Vicomt and Chantilly, but I’m sure I’ll go back to Paris.
Have you been to any of the palaces or châteaux near Paris?