The commune of Fontainebleau is located on the outskirts of Paris France. Fontainebleau has a pleasant urban middle with the typical old churches and a stylish covered market area. But that is not what this small town is noted for. Fontainebleau is famous for its grand chateau and the 110 square miles of forest that was once a royal hunting park.
Used by the kings of France from the 12th century, the Palace of Fontainebleau began as a medieval royal hunting lodge. Starting in the 16th century with the reign of François I, the complex was transformed, enlarged and embellished. Wing after wing of grand ornate halls and finely decorated rooms were built. Outside a large landscaped park and garden that includes a 1200-meter long canal was constructed. Ultimately Fontainebleau became one of the most important and prestigious sites of the French Court.
In all, thirty-four sovereigns, from Louis VI, the Fat, (1081–1137) to Napoleon III (1808–1873), spent time at Fontainebleau. The walls of the palace have been central to centuries of French history. Most famously, on 18 April 1814 Napoleon Bonaparte, shortly before his first abdication, bid adieu to the Old Guard, the renowned grognards who had served with him since his earliest campaigns, in the Fontainebleau’s “White Horse Courtyard” (la cour du Cheval Blanc). After Napoleon’s moving farewell, la cour du Cheval Blanc was renamed the “Courtyard of Goodbyes”.
Today Fontainebleau with its impressive gardens and ornate interior spaces draws visitors from around the world. In our case a visit was driven by curiosity about the palace and by simple convenience. Fontainebleau is located close enough, a little more than an hour by car, from Paris’s Charles de Gaulle International airport. It’s a good place for a jet lag recovery stop after a long intercontinental flight. Both humans and our traveling canine Gigi could stretch legs and clear groggy heads by walking about the ville.
With a two-night stay, we’d figured that we’d have a full day to tour the chateau, but that was not to be. Fontainebleau’s chateau is closed to visits on Tuesday, the open day of our visit. It’s a detail we should have checked in advance. Nevertheless on Tuesday we could still walk the exterior gardens as long as we left Gigi to sleep off the long flight in the hotel room. Fortunately our schedule allowed enough time for a two-hour visit before we headed south the following day. Two hours is a sufficient amount of time tour the open areas of this impressive palace. At the end of our visit we made like Napoleon and bid adieu to Fontainebleau in the Courtyard of Goodbyes and began our long European road trip.