Throughout its eight centuries of history Fontainebleau has been constructed, reconstructed, pilfered, abandoned, and refurbished again. Although there is documentation mentioning Fontainebleau from as early as 1137, it was in 1169 Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas à Becket (who was in exile in France after displeasing King Henry II) anointed Chateau de Fontainebleau to the Virgin Mary and Saint Saturnin.
The grounds were later established as a monastery hospital in 1259 by Saint Louis, and remained occupied by monks until Francois I came along in the early 16th century.
Francois I was ambitious in his plans for Fontainebleau during the Renaissance. The proximity to the capital, the forest and hunting lodges had made Fontainebleau one of the King’s favorite locations. Heavily influenced by the palaces he had visited in Italy, Francois I set out to create a royal estate at Fontainebleau, a place by then he had started to consider home.
During the reconstruction of Fontainebleau under Francois I, artists such as Leonardo de Vinci, Benvenuto Cellini, Rosso Fiorentino and Primatice commissioned works at Fontainebleau. The result was a mix of Italian and French Mannerism, resulting in what came to be known as Fontainebleau style, or the School of Fontainebleau. The gardens designed under Francois I were also inspired by the courtyards he had experienced in Italy.
Francois I established Fontainebleau as a noble place that attracted the court to Fontainebleau, and establish the estate as a place to receive guests such as Francis I son in law James V the King of Scotland, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, and his son Henry II.
Henry II, and his wife Catherine de Medici succeeded Francois I at Fontainebleau, and continued work on the grounds. During this time the artist Niccolo dell’Abate worked at Fontainebleau during what is considered the second School of Fontainebleau.
Into the 17th century Henry IV would convene his court and make his contributions to Fontainebleau’s landscape. During this time of the roaring conflict between Catholics and Protestants, Henry IV regularly visited Fontainebleau. He made additions to the grounds including the Cour des Offices, a large front entrance, and many new buildings. A canal was added as well as new gardens.
Important royal celebrations and occasions were held at Fontainebleau. The future dauphin Louis XIII was born and baptized there, and spent happy childhood years at the chateau.
In addition to the social scene at Fontainebleau, key political moments occurred at Fontainebleau. Notably two peace agreements were negotiated between France and England at the estate: first in 1629 ending the Anglo-French War and again in 1712 when Viscount Bolingbroke, on behalf of Queen Anne, settled a peace agreement putting an end to the War of the Spanish Succession.
The only royal wedding celebration to take place at the chateau was between Henry V and a Polish princess Marie Leszczyńska in 1725. Reportedly the festivities included comedies by Molière, were attended by Voltaire and drew to a conclusion with fireworks after three days of festivities.
The years leading up the revolution were said to have been the peak times of society and sophistication at Fontainebleau. Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, a French diplomat at the time, is said to have claimed, “Those who have not lived through the years around 1789 cannot know what is meant by the pleasure of life.”
Napoleon was a huge force in restoring the chateau after the revolution, during which many of the royal collections were disbanded and sold. Napoleon’s architect Pierre-François-Léonard Fontaine transformed Fontainebleau into a second residence of the state under the instructions of Napoleon. Later, Napoleon would make his farewell speech at Fontainebleau.
Prior to the French Revolution the Chateau at Fontainbleau had fallen into disrepair and during the Revolution many of the original furnishings were stolen and what remained were sold. Within a decade Napoleon began to transform the Chateau into a symbol of his grandeur as an alternative to empty Versailles, with its Bourbon connotations. He completely refinished the entire palace and Fontainebleau became one of his favorite residences. The throne room is the most spectacular room in the apartment, with silks and brocades enriched with precious decorations of gold bee and other Neoclassical symbols.
It was here at Fontainebleau that Napoleon bade farewell to his Old Guard and went into exile in 1814. Napoleon, from his last exile at St. Helena, recalled Fontainebleau fondly: "Here was a true home of kings, the best furnished and most happily situated ancient house in Europe".
Today the museum dedicated to Napoleon in the Chateau brings his epic career to life thought small objects that were part of the daily life that he shared with his brothers and sisters, the monarchs of half of Europe.
Cour du Cheval-Blanc including the statue of Marcus Aurelius and the famous monumental horseshoe shaped stairway; the grand apartments; gallery of François I; Renaissance Halls; Napoleon’s room; the museum of Napoleon I.
Spend the day in the heart of Royal Picardie and visit the world's most beautiful stables in Chantilly, as well as the Musee Vivant Du Cheval (The Living Horse Museum), the Chantilly Chateau and the famous Conde Museum.
A former monastery, transformed during the Renaissance into a pre-eminent palace for royalty, Fontainebleau is one of the largest French chateaux. With a history from the 12th century, the buildings, courtyards and gardens that make up this impressive estate are well worth the day trip 50 km outside of Paris.
The foundation is all that remains of the medieval monastery hospital that was formerly Fontainebleau. Today the grounds consist of many buildings, courtyards and gardens, and are full of historical and beautiful elements to be explored.
Fontainebleau has been a national museum since 1870. Today the chateau houses the Ecoles d’Art Americaines: a school of art, architecture and music. The school was established by General Pershing during the First World War, when he and his men were stationed in Fontainebleau.
The castle was built from 16th until the 18th century. In the 16th century, Francois I transformed the castle into a Renaissance palace decorated by Florentine artists. The castle was made into a national museum since 1870.
The day starts off with the visit of Barbizon, famous since the 19th century thanks to artists such as Millet, Rousseau and Stevenson. Monday and Friday at 8:30am by semi private minivan full day tour.
Duration 9 1/2 hrs
169€ pp Secure Online Booking
You will then cross the forest to the Castle of Fontainebleau, favourite residence of French kings and emperors during eight centuries. An audio-guided tour inside the castle will be followed by some free time in the gardens.
Then off to Vaux-le-Vicomte, Nicolas Fouquet's masterpiece which inspired considerably Louis XIV when he built the palace of Versailles.
After lunch on site (included), an audio-guided tour of the main rooms of the Castle. The day ends with time to stroll freely through the gardens and the carriage museum.
Entrance tickets included.
With its richness, complexity and power to surprise, the magnificent castle of Fontainebleau sums up the history of France. From Francis I (the castle was his favorite residence) to Napoleon III, each sovereign left a unique mark on the structure and its grounds.
After pick up from your hotel, you will drive to Fontainebleau for a guided visit of the Palace of Fontainebleau where you will appreciate various styles of architecture, magnificent decorum and ancient pieces of furniture. These are the richest you can find in France.
On the way to Fontainebleau we will visit the charming village of Barbizon, an artistic centre since the 19th century. Our guide-interpreter will revive the atmosphere of the different periods: from Saint-Louis to Napoleon III not forgetting Francois 1st and Napoleon 1st. Free time to wander through the gardens.
Outside, you'll visit the "cour du Cheval-Blanc" with the statue of Marcus Aurelius and the famous monumental horseshoe shaped stairway. Inside, visit of the "Grands apartments", François I's gallery and the Renaissance Halls, Napoleon I's room. You can also visit the museum of Napoleon I.
And not to forget to take a stroll through the gardens.
Full Day Option - Fontainebleau and Vaux le Vicomte
After lunch in Barbizon, off to Vaux-le-Vicomte, Nicolas Fouquet's masterpiece which inspired considerably Louis XIV when he built the palace of Versailles. You will visit the main rooms of the Castle. The day ends with time to stroll through the gardens and the carriage museum.
Your guide will check you into your hotel and at around 6pm you will walk back over to the Chateaux where you will begin your balloon adventure. Prepare the balloon, fly, land, drink champagne and back to the hotel for an overnight in a lovely 4 star hotel.
At your leisure next morning wander the town before taking the train to Paris in less than 1 hr.