This French Palace Has Stunning Gardens and a Fascinating History — and Way Fewer Crowds Than Versailles

Here’s what you need to know before visiting Fontainebleau — a charming town just outside Paris.

<p>David Giral Photography/Getty Images</p>

David Giral Photography/Getty Images

There are beautiful places to visit across France, from snow-capped Mount Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps, to the lavender fields of Provence. Even with so much to see and do around the country, many travelers visiting the home of Champagne and the Eiffel Tower fly into Paris and never leave, not that we’d fault anyone for wanting to spend the maximum amount of time possible in one of the most cosmopolitan and romantic cities in Europe. Even if you plan to hunker down in the French capital, it’s still worth exploring the many wonderful destinations that are a short train ride or drive away. Sure, Versailles may be the most obvious — and opulent — day trip from Paris, however, it’s far from the only worthwhile option.

Located southeast of Paris, the town of Fontainebleau is home to a grand palace where French monarchs lived for eight centuries, as well as verdant forests and many outdoor activities. And it’s way less crowded than the more famous royal residence just an hour away.

Here’s how to plan the perfect trip to Fontainebleau, whether you go for the day or stay overnight.

Related: 20 Beautiful Places to Visit in France — From Normandy to the French Riviera

<p>Adrian Pope/Getty Images</p>

Adrian Pope/Getty Images

Visiting the Château de Fontainebleau

Château de Fontainebleau is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with 800 years of history. Erected during the medieval ages and almost completely rebuilt in 1528 by Francis I in grand Italianate style, the palace was passed down through the generations and continued to house monarchs well into the 19th century. At present, the château shows off elements that date to its medieval origins as well as French Renaissance ornamentation.

More than just a place for lavish galas and royal engagements, the Château de Fontainebleau held special significance to Henri IV, was the birthplace of Louis XIII, and served as an escape for Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

After the French Revolution, it became the imperial palace. Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte put his own stamp on things, and present-day visitors can tour the only Napoleonic throne room still around today. Other highlights include Marie Antoinette’s Turkish boudoir, the horseshoe-shaped staircase, and the Francois I Gallery. Be sure to carve out some time to stroll around the formal gardens, which feature lakes and sculptures.

<p>Vladislav Zolotov/Getty Images</p>

Vladislav Zolotov/Getty Images

Château de Fontainebleau welcomes visitors every day except Tuesdays, and it’s closed on Jan. 1, May 1, and Dec. 25. Tickets are 14 euros, and guided tours (only offered in French right now) are 7 euros. The gardens are open every day and are free to visit.

Other Things to Do in Fontainebleau

Besides its most famous attraction, the town of Fontainebleau offers travelers much in the way of natural beauty with verdant forests, hiking and biking trails, river access, and scenic lookouts that have long made it a favored escape for Parisians looking to trade city life for a weekend in the countryside. There’s also a golf course, some specialty museums, and a vintage carousel. Many travelers combine Fontainebleau with a trip to other nearby villages or as a pitstop on a cycling tour in the warmer months.

<p>AUFORT JEROME/Getty Images</p>


Best Hotels and Resorts

While the majority of visitors take day trips to Fontainebleau and return to Paris after touring the château, it’s well worth spending a bit more time if your itinerary allows. Pascal Leneveu, head concierge at Saint James Paris, a member of Relais & Châteaux, suggests checking into L’Aigle Noir Hôtel Fontainebleau - MGallery. The former private mansion turned boutique hotel supplies refined rooms, art-filled lounges, a cobbled courtyard, a bar, a gastronomic restaurant, and many outdoor activities, from horse riding to cycling. Château de Bourron is a historic castle hotel surrounded by parkland that’s enchanting and steeped in nature. Situated near Château de Fontainebleau and many restaurants, La Demeure du Parc attracts guests with its walkable location and relaxing ambiance.

<p>littleclie/Getty Images</p>

littleclie/Getty Images

Best Restaurants

For an upscale lunch or dinner, Leneveu recommends L’Axel, a Michelin-starred fine dining restaurant helmed by a Japanese chef dedicated to French cuisine. On the short list of top-rated places to eat in town, La Salamandre serves delicious food and excellent wine in an atmospheric setting with warm hospitality. At Le K, you’ll enjoy sophisticated traditional fare and amazing pieces of meat. Family-run Hirondelle whips up savory and sweet crepes that hit the spot and won’t break the bank. There’s also a restaurant at Château de Fontainebleau if hunger hits while exploring the grand rooms and galleries.

<p>David Giral Photography/Getty Images</p>

David Giral Photography/Getty Images

Planning a Fontainebleau Day Trip from Paris

“Driving is the most comfortable and convenient way to reach Fontainebleau from Paris, in my opinion, as it’s direct and takes about an hour,” says Celia So, a Paris-based ToursByLocals guide. “Many first-time travelers find it easiest to book a car and guide together for an easy and informative day.” You can also take the train from Paris to the town and then take a taxi or hop on a bus to reach the palace.

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