Situated 68km southeast of Paris, the town of Fontainebleau developed around its magnificent château, one of the most beautifully decorated and furnished in France. Although it’s less crowded than the more popular Versailles, exploring it can still take the best part of a day.
It is hard to overstate the importance of the castle, both as a monument to be visited and because of its historical importance to France. This has been officially recognised by UNESCO listing the palace and park together as a world heritage site.
The town has a cosmopolitan drinking and dining scene, thanks to the town’s lifeblood, the international graduate business school INSEAD.
For more information, check out the town’s tourist information website.
Built between 1622 and 1630 by Claude Ier Gallard, the Château de Courances is an exceptional Louis XIII chateau.
Left in a state of neglect during the 19th century, it was entirely restored in 1872 by Baron Samuel de Haber, a wealthy Swiss banker seeking a large estate. At the time, Baron Samuel de Haber added important elements, including the famous horseshoe staircase, copied from the Château de Fontainebleau.
Today, the château is privately owned, and is home to four generations of the Ganay family.
The chateau offers guided tours to learn more about its history and its architecture. You can also explore, the gardens, grounds, woods and there is even a farm shop.
For more information, check out the chateau website.
Nestling at the edge of the forest, at the heart of the French Gâtinais Regional Nature Park near to the Trois-Pignons massif, the village of Milly-la-Forêt enjoys a privileged geographical location. It also boasts a beautiful architectural heritage: an old wooden covered market from the 15th century, where a market takes place on Thursday afternoons, 13th and 15th-century La Bonde Castle, with two castellated towers on either side, a stone bridge over the river and a picturesque wash house are some of the attractions to discover on your walk around the compact town.
Not to be missed is the Chapel of Saint-Blaise-des-Simples, a relic of a former 12th-century lazaret, which is of special interest as it was decorated by Jean Cocteau in 1959. Nowadays the Roman edifice contains the artist’s tomb, along with stained glass windows and frescos drawn by Cocteau illustrating the Resurrection, and a series of medicinal plants.
The Cyclop is a unique sculpture standing 22.5 metres tall and made of 350 tons of steel and other recylced materials. It takes center stage at the heart of the forest of Milly-la-Forét. Jean Tinguely, his wife Nikki de St Phalle and their friends began the building in 1969, aided by numerous contributing artists. Finished 25 years after it was first started, the Cyclop was opened to the public in 1994. It is now owned by the state and is part of the inventory of the National Art collection of contemporary art.
Conservatory Of Medicinal Plants
The National Conservatory of Perfume, Medicinal, Aromatic and Industrial plants is an interesting showcase of plants used for perfume, aromas, medicine, textiles, tinctures, and repulsants. The various gardens and the collections of the Conservatory contain more than 2000 species and an exhibition space provides tape guides to learn about the Conservatory and it’s plants. Thematic shows take place throughout the year, including during Le Marché de l’Herboiste and Heritage Days. There is also a sales area offering all sorts of products (herb tea, jam, essential oil and local products), a bookshop focusing on plants of the Conservatory, organic cosmetics, and a herbalist shop. A nursery garden at the entrance to the shop offers hundreds of plants for sale.
Tête Des Trains
Pierrot’s bar is simply unique and wonderful. A huge selection of international bottled beer to drink in a relaxed atmosphere, either inside or in the courtyard weather permitting.
It’s open Friday and Sunday evenings. Food is served on Sunday only, and booking in advance is sensible to avoid disappointment – Pierrot will only cook so much. There is also a greater range of food on offer if pre-booked.
Check out the website here.
For more information on all places of interest in the area, check out the local Tourism Office website.