A couple of weeks ago, I decided to take a day trip over to the château de Fontainebleau, a castle-turned-palace situated about 55 kilometers (34 miles) from Paris. From the 16th to 19th centuries, it housed the French royalty, including that of Emperor Napoleon Bonparte for a short while before he abdicated his throne in 1814. The château is a popular place to visit, since it makes for the perfect day trip over from Paris for many tourists.
My decision to visit the château de Fontainebleau had been somewhat of a spontaneous one: it was one of my flatmates who proposed the short trip, informing the rest of us just the day before about going. Although I’d already been there about three years ago for a field trip with my university study abroad group whilst in Paris and even though I had some work to do that weekend, nevertheless I made the choice to go for it, securing my round-trip ticket over (22,50 euros- not bad) and heading over the following morning with three other flatmates. It’d been a long while since I’d gone out of the house (aside from working and grocery shopping, of course), so I thought that it would be a good thing to do this short trip, for the sake of getting some fresh air and flexing my travel muscles just a bit.
We caught the train over to Paris on Saturday morning, before transferring to Gare de Lyon for the Transilien train (serving towns and cities in the Île-de-France region) bound for Fontainbleau-Avon. It was about a 35 to 40-minute train ride and at 13h30, we arrived at the station. However, it was about a 2 to 3-kilometer walk over to the château– granted, there’s a bus service that takes visitors directly to the place itself, but we were being cheap and didn’t mind the walk over. Plus, it happened to be beautiful and warm that afternoon, so we decided to take full advantage of the sun while we were at it!
At first, we weren’t sure just how to get to the château on-foot; there weren’t signs that pointed us directly to it, so we kind of headed in what we perceived was the general direction before stopping by at a Carrefour for some groceries (i.e. picnic food) and asking a worker on how to get there. While a random thing to do, it actually helped, as we reoriented ourselves and came across the entrance to the palace’s park grounds. Taking the long, straight path through nature, we eventually arrived at the château de Fontainebleau around 14h30.
We circled around to the front of the palace, admiring its double, serpentine staircases and deep navy-blue sky in the background. We took some obligatory photos of the outside before queuing up to get our tickets and explore the interior. For us as “teachers” (rather, assistant(e)s), we could get in for free by showing our Pass Éducation, which was a good reason to go! After happily (not) paying for our tickets, we set off to check out the numerous rooms of the château.
The château de Fontainebleau is split into several museums and galleries within, all of which are connected together as the palace. We started off in the Napoleon Museum, touring the Emperor’s Bedroom, which once belonged to the King of Rome. Seriously, what an opulent cradle inside of an opulent room! No baby really needs all that lavishness, am I right?
Passing through a very classy corridor lined with rows of life-size portraits of royalty (of which we jokingly captioned based on the figures’ interesting poses), we arrived at the Apartment of the Pope and the Queen-Mothers, which had room after room of extravagant beds and draperies which once housed not the queens themselves, but their mothers. To have a palace with amazing-looking rooms for just the mothers, that just blows my mind.
We also passed by the Throne Room (salle du Trône) of Napoleon, along with the Diana Gallery (Galerie de Diane), both of which are considered to be one of the many iconic rooms in the château. The former was absolutely dizzying with all its plush velvet and gilded lines whereas the latter was covered from floor to ceiling with its long library bookshelves which along with the large globe gave it a scholarly, erudite feel to it.
In-between all of these rooms, we also passed by the Gallery of Francis I, named after the very first king of France from the 16th century. Aside from its strong resemblance to the gallery in the Palace of Versailles, this long corridor was the setting of American singer Lana del Rey’s “Born to Die” music video, which I’m a huge fan of and it was impressive to actually be right where the filming shots were taken. Besides that, it was a gorgeous walkway!
…also stumbled upon this intriguing statue, which I remembered seeing from my first visit while studying abroad in Paris. Very intriguing, indeed…
After checking out the ballroom, we finally wrapped our way around, finishing up the tour at the Trinity Chapel (Chapelle de la Trinité) which was another location for del Rey’s music video. The sheer amount of embroidered walls and elaborate fresco above were overwhelming to the eye- I, along with my flatmates, had to sit down on the plush, red benches for a while just to take it all in. One of my favorite rooms ever in the château de Fontainebleau.
With our visit done, we passed through the gift shop and exited the palace. By then, it was around 16h30. We thought about checking out the gardens surrounding it, but when we tried to, we were left disappointed: not only were they sealed off by wired gates, but also they didn’t look very impressive to begin with from the glimpses we saw of them. I recalled from my first visit to the Fontainebleau that I hadn’t been impressed with the gardens to begin with, so it wasn’t a huge deal to consider.
Eventually, we decided to head back to the train station to take it back to Paris, then back home to Normandy. The sun was just about setting as we made the long walk back, with the outline of the château looking ever so mysterious and captivating in the orange glow of the early-evening light.
Arriving at the train station, we caught the 18h00 train back to Paris and from there caught the 20h20 train back to Normandy, returning to our town close to 22h00. It’d been a long day and, while tired, we were nevertheless satisfied.
Reflecting on it, I believe that it was a good idea for me to have gotten out of the house for the day, even though I’d already been to the château and had work to do that weekend. It turned out to be an educational experience, since I’d pretty much forgotten most of what I’d learned from my first visit there. The architecture inside greatly impressed me, although the gardens couldn’t compare with those of Versailles’. Sometimes, it really is rewarding to take a step back, put aside duties and obligations, to treat yourself to a lovely day out with good company.