When Napoleon I called the Chateau de Fontainebleau “The true home of kings, the house of ages”, he wasn't kidding. This castle, built in the 12th century, has the distinction of being the only royal castle which was inhabited almost continuously for around seven centuries, up to the end of Napoleon's III's reign in 1870. As a result, the interiors of the 1500 or so rooms of the castle represent a stunning record of furniture and decorations spanning eras.
The early 16th century ushered in a major castle restoration and transformation by Francois I, who, with the help of architect Gilles le Breton, built the Italian-inspired cour Ovale (Oval Courtyard) and the porte Dorée (Golden Gate). The galerie Francois I (Francois I Gallery) is a testament to the King's love for Italian Renaissance; it most probably inspired the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles with its grandeur!
Henri IV, who was extremely fond of Fontainebleau castle, carried out a huge bulk of rebuilding the chateau in the 17th century. The Galerie de Diane, the galerie des Cerfs, the Volière (Aviary) and the jeu de Paume, the largest tennis court of such were all carried out under his orders.
The 18th century saw several renovations under Louis XV, but the Revolution led to the castle's dilapidation as its original furnishings were sold off . It was Napoleon Bonaparte who refurnished the castle to its former state of glory – most of the castle that we visit today is largely due to the modifications made during his time.
With over 1500 rooms to peruse and sprawling gardens and parks stretching across 130 acres, this royal residence may seem overwhelming to visit. Surprisingly, it is not as crowded as Versailles, which allows one to stroll through its halls and apartments and take in the exquisite details at a leisurely pace.
Flanking the castle's entrance - and therefore impossible to miss - is the divided horseshoe-shaped staircase built on a Renaissance model in 1632–1634 by French architect Jean Androuet de Cerceau. It has become a prominent feature of the Chateau.
The Grands Appartements give us a glimpse into how they appeared in 1868, under Napoleon III and Eugenie's reign. Located on the first floor of the main building, visit the Galerie des Fastes (Ceremonies Gallery) and the Galerie des Assiettes, as well as the 11-room appartment du Pape (Papal Apartment).
Swing by the Renaissance Rooms: Francois I Gallery to see its frescoes, stuccos and paintings; the Duchesse d'Etampes' Chamber (or Escalier du Roi), the former bedroom of Francois I's favourite which was converted into a staircase in 1748; and the stunning Ballroom.
While some may prefer to visit the castle on their own, guided tours of the Chateau de Fontainebleau actually get you into rooms closed off to the public and are very much worth visiting: like the Musée Chinois (Chinese Museum), the Petits Appartements which feature Napoleon I and Josephine's adjoining rooms, the Galerie des Cerfs (Stags Gallery) dotted with stag heads and sculptures that come all the way from the Vatican, the Furniture Gallery, and the Appartement des Chasses (Hunting Apartment) with its rich hunting-themed tapestries.
Allot at least an hour to visit the castle's parks and gardens, which include the small yet charming Jardin de Diane, with the godess' statue standing proudly in its fountain; the Jardin Anglais, flanked by exotic trees and winding trails; and the Grand Parterre, best visited in the summer to fully admire the thousands of plants and flowers planted along the French-styled formal garden.
To get to Chateau de Fontainebleau, take a train from Gare de Lyon to either Montargis Sens, Montereau or Laroche-Migennes up to Fontainebleau-Avon station. Take the Line A bus (direction Les Lilas) and get off at the “Chateau” stop.
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