France is well-known for cheese, wine, and castles. When in Paris for vacation, most people elect to visit the Chateau de Versailles with its over the top opulence of Louis XIV and its crowded halls packed wall-to-wall with tourists from every nationality. Although beautiful and ornate, Versailles can be a bit of an overcrowded hell for the unsuspecting traveler. However, about an hour and a half train ride out of Paris lies one of the most unique castles that France has to offer. Long celebrated by Parisians as a weekend retreat, the Chateau of Fontainebleau is nestled regally in a picturesque village of the same name.
Spanning 800 years, le Chateau de Fontainebleau has a longer and richer history than any other French Royal Residence, as it was the residence of 34 French monarchs from the Middle Ages until Napoleon III. It was the favorite residence of Francis I and Napoléon I and the birthplace of Louis XIII. This history is clearly on display in every space of the castle through the varied architecture, rooms packed with original furniture, and ornate gardens and courtyards. Around every corner, the visitor literally can see the history of this Jewel in the Crown of France displayed so gallantly. As one walks through the rooms and museum of the Emperor Napoléon I, they can almost hear the voice of the Emperor himself as he laments over the loss of his War with Russia. Strolling through the many gardens and courtyards, one can imagine the Sun King, Louis XIV, setting off on horseback with a pack of hounds to hunt for deer and wild boars in the Royal Hunting Grounds in the Fontainebleau Forest.
Very rarely can one building embody the History of a nation or of a people. However, the Chateau of Fontainebleau with its surviving rooms full of period furniture and walls covered in ornate tapestries and life-sized Royal Portraits portrays La Gloire de la France like no other place in France. Regal and glorious, the Chateau of Fontainebleau is a shimmering display of both French Culture and French Opulence.