Fodor's Expert Review Château de Fontainebleau

Fontainebleau Castle/Palace/Chateau Fodor's Choice

The glorious Château de Fontainebleau was a pinnacle of elegance and grandeur more than 100 years before the rise of Versailles. The château began life in the 12th century as a royal residence and hunting lodge and still retains vestiges of its medieval past, though much of it dates to the 16th century. Additions made by various royal incumbents through the next 300 years add up to the fascinating and opulent edifice we see today. Fontainebleau was begun under the flamboyant Renaissance king François I, the French contemporary of England's Henry VIII, who hired Italian artists Il Rosso (a pupil of Michelangelo) and Primaticcio to embellish his château. In fact, they did much more: by introducing the pagan allegories and elegant lines of Mannerism to France, they revolutionized French decorative art. Their virtuoso frescoes and stuccowork can be admired in the Galerie François-Ier (Francis I Gallery) and in the jewel of the interior, the 100-foot-long Salle de Bal (Ballroom), with... READ MORE

The glorious Château de Fontainebleau was a pinnacle of elegance and grandeur more than 100 years before the rise of Versailles. The château began life in the 12th century as a royal residence and hunting lodge and still retains vestiges of its medieval past, though much of it dates to the 16th century. Additions made by various royal incumbents through the next 300 years add up to the fascinating and opulent edifice we see today. Fontainebleau was begun under the flamboyant Renaissance king François I, the French contemporary of England's Henry VIII, who hired Italian artists Il Rosso (a pupil of Michelangelo) and Primaticcio to embellish his château. In fact, they did much more: by introducing the pagan allegories and elegant lines of Mannerism to France, they revolutionized French decorative art. Their virtuoso frescoes and stuccowork can be admired in the Galerie François-Ier (Francis I Gallery) and in the jewel of the interior, the 100-foot-long Salle de Bal (Ballroom), with its luxuriant wood paneling and its gleaming parquet floor that reflects the patterns on the ceiling. Like the château as a whole, the room exudes a sense of elegance and style, but on a more intimate, human scale than at Versailles—this is Renaissance, not Baroque. Napoléon's apartments occupied the first floor. You can see a lock of his hair, his Légion d'Honneur medal, his imperial uniform, the hat he wore on his return from Elba in 1815, and one bed in which he definitely did spend a night (almost every town in France boasts a bed in which the emperor supposedly snoozed). Joséphine's Salon Jaune (Yellow Room) is one of the best examples of the Empire style—the austere neoclassical style promoted by the emperor. There's also a throne room—Napoléon spurned the one at Versailles, a palace he disliked, establishing his imperial seat in the former King's Bedchamber here—and the Queen's Boudoir, also known as the Room of the Six Maries (occupants included ill-fated Marie-Antoinette and Napoléon's second wife, Marie-Louise).

Although Louis XIV's architectural fancy was concentrated on Versailles, he commissioned Mansart to design new pavilions and had André Le Nôtre replant the gardens at Fontainebleau, where he and his court returned faithfully in fall for the hunting season. But it was Napoléon who spent lavishly to make a Versailles, as it were, out of Fontainebleau.

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Castle/Palace/Chateau Fodor's Choice

Quick Facts

Pl. du Général de Gaulle
Fontainebleau, Île-de-France  77300, France

-01–60–71–50–70

www.musee-chateau-fontainebleau.fr

Sight Details:
€11, Napoléon\'s Apartments €6.50; €15.50 for both; gardens free

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