If walls could talk then those at the Chateau de Fontainebleau would have plenty to say. Just 55km from the centre of Paris this immense palace simply oozes history…
500 years older than Versailles. The original chapel was consecrated by Thomas Becket, AKA Saint Thomas of Canterbury and Thomas à Becket. This incredible place has more than 1500 rooms and is the only royal and imperial chateau in France that has been continuously inhabited for eight centuries. From the 12th Century, what was a royal hunting lodge in a vast forest was renovated, extended and embellished by various Kings, Queens Emperors and Empresses until it became the extraordinary, enormous castle you can visit and ogle at today…
Who did what at the Chateau de Fontainebleau
Francoise 1 (1494-1547) had a huge influence on the transformation of Fontainebleau in the 16th Century which in turn influenced the architectural development of France and Europe. He is often known as the first Renaissance King of France and he introduced the style of renaissance architecture to Fontainebleau by bringing artists of renown from Italy including Leonardo da Vinci.
He ordered a major transformation of the castle, supervised by master builder Gilles le Breton. Much of the medieval buildings were demolished and the Italian artists who worked on it introduced Greco-Roman themes, amazing frescoes and gloriously colourful paintings.
After the major work carried out by Francis I the chateau became an elegant and prestigious chateau for the French Court. Here he held famous bathing parties and hung the Mona Lisa over the bathtub. He installed a Michelangelo statue in the gardens and had grottoes created.
Louis XIV who loved a bit of bling also loved Fontainebleau and fed the giant carp in the pond. Marie Antoinette found it came close to her ideal of a country palace though she built her perfect dream home at Versailles. It is said she once gambled for a straight 36 hours at Fontainebleau adding fuel to the fire of whispers that the Queen was a degenerate who cared nothing of the poverty of the people. Napoleon said this was his favourite home above all others.
What do you see today at the Chateau de Fontainbleau
You can’t visit all 1500 rooms but there are plenty to keep even the most hardened chateau lover occupied for an entire day (and longer). Set in the heart of 130 acres of parkland and gardens at the heart of a forest in the Île-de-Franc, A visit to Fontainebleau opens up a wonderful outlook on French history, art and architecture.
Thanks to all those Royal and Imperial home owners, Fontainebleau is a bit of a potpourri of styles, sometimes informal, sometimes grandiose. The mismatch in styles gives it a very real, unique charm. From the outside there is no real indication of just what glories are to be found once you get through the ticket office and inside.
16th, 17th, 18th and 19th Century styles and fashions co-exist and it works – perfectly. It’s a castle that is not just picture book history but a place where you really get a strong feeling that real people from history lived here.
In one room there is a bed which Marie-Antoinette commissioned especially for the room. She never got to sleep on it; she lost her head before she had the chance. The décor of Marie Antoinette’s rooms is so elegant and delicate that you can’t help imagining that it reflects her personality as well as her taste. Did she stand there and point out the intricate patterns to her ladies-in-waiting? The Queen’s boudoir is extraordinary, a fantasy room with a ceiling painted to look like a sky and where the desk and side table remain in their original place and you know that the queen herself used these pieces and they looked then as they do now.
Not just Kings and Queens but Emperors too fell under the spell of Fontainebleau. There is a section dedicated to Napoleon and his family, the great man’s clothes, his famous hats and personal belongings are on display. There is a room where the little King of Rome, Napoleon Bonaparte’s longed-for son spent time. His cradle, toys and books are there and you feel that here was a child who wasn’t just the son of a legend; he was a loved child of a doting dad. It brings the great man to life in a way you just never envisage it could.
Dazzling decorations like the gold panels with delicate paintings, incredible furnishings, Napoleon’s throne ”nothing but four sticks of gilt wood” he called it. There are stunning stained glass windows, an incredible library, clocks and cupboards – this is a chateau that doesn’t let you down.The gardens of Fontainbleau
More gorgeous chateaux in France
Chenonceau – the “Lady’s Castle” so-called thanks to the lady owners who transformed it.
Chateau de Chantilly this enchanting castle in Picardy is where Chantilly cream takes its name from!
Peek into a living museum – Chateau du Lude in the Valley of Loir (no e!), an incredible castle which is still lived in…