Bonjour from Paris (spoken with a try hard French accent) seems like an appropriate greeting to our first cultural day in the French Capital. Today we left Val d’ Europa, the home of Disneyland Paris and took the RER A train line into Paris for the next few nights. Thom and I have both visited Paris before, albeit separately, so we decided to skip the ‘must do’ touristy things in Paris for the day and explore a little further afield. It took a little over an hour to get into Paris, drop our bags off at a rather swish looking hotel near the Eiffel Tower and then take a variety of Metro, RER and R line trains out to (the lovely to say with a French accent), Chateau de Fontainebleau.
Google Maps attempted to sent us on quite the scenic route to Paris’ Garde de Lyon station where our regional train heading towards Montreau departed. Fortunately, having passed the station on our way into Paris this morning, I ditched Google and got us to the station via a much faster route. Once we left Garde de Lyon we quickly built up speed on what was a relatively express train ride with only 2 stops between us and Fontainebleau Avon station. After making the two uneventful stops the train began to slow as it passed through the forest that surrounds Fontainebleau. An announcement was made (in French) that seemed to include Fontainebleau Avon and the train pulled to a stop. We, like many other non French speakers on board, presumed this message was announcing the stop of Fontainebleau Avon. The doors opened and we hopped off the train, noting something wasn’t quite right. There was no platform, just dirt surrounded by forrest with some trails leading into the woods in differing directions.
With about 30 people looking rather puzzled at this random stop, I asked a local on the train who let us know that this wasn’t the right stop. We were one of the few people to get back on the train before it closed its doors and proceeded onto the actual Fontainebleau Avon station a few minutes down the track. This was not before leaving most of the English speaking passengers in the middle of the forrest looking rather confused. While it looked walkable into the town from this makeshift stop, I’m glad we got off at the real station. I wonder what happened to those that got off or if they are still wandering through the woods in search of the Chateau.
The Chateau itself was about 3km from the train station, and although there probably was a local bus service, we decided to take the scenic walk through the town and parklands instead. The town was cute with many small homes and a few low rise apartment blocks but it wasn’t long until we came across the park walls and were outside the town streets and walking through beautifully green parkland. The colour green was the first thing that really caught our attention and was a point of difference from home in Melbourne. If we had travelled 40mins from the heat of Melbourne by train (we’d probably still be in Melbourne) but it would be dry. Brown and shades of greeny brown are what generally greets you back home. Here it was green like you see in photos or the green that kids use to paint grass.
Walking along the trail to the Chateau we pondered what our two dogs, Max and Louis would think of walking in this park. The grass is just the right length that would allow them to frolic in and bound across the meadows. If you can’t tell, we miss our furbabies when we travel.
The plan was to go to the town centre for a bite of lunch before exploring the grounds and Chateau. On first glimpse of the gardens we took a slight detour to view the beautiful swans floating on the pond that extends parallel to the forest. I call it a pond, but it stretches for hundreds of meters. Is that still a pond or is it a lake? Arriving in town I had a lovely chocolate and banana crepe and Thom went all healthy with a salad. Sadly the pineapple and curry never arrived with the salad. With bellies full and energy levels restored we made of the Chateau proper.
The first thing we came across was a fountain that another couple described as the best part of the visit. As we approached, we both were thinking, “is that what we think it is? Are those four dogs pissing?”. Sure enough as we got closer it was clear that we were spot on. The fountain’s water jets all came out of each dog, making it appear that all the dogs around the statue were pissing into the fountain. Talk about a laugh out loud moment.
Entering the Chateau we were required to check our bag in a locker and collect the audio guide (€4) before taking the self guided tour of some of the 1,500 rooms in the complex. The first thing Thom and I noticed was how little we now about French history. Our entire knowledge comes from the TV series Versailles in which Louis has quite a lot of sex. I’ll do some further research at a later point, but what he learnt as we moved from room to room was as follows.
- Although rooms had names and purposes, these could easily be changed depending on the whim of the current crown.
- There were a lot of said rulers during the course of the years since the Renaissance, each of whom seemed to like to add a wing or change a few rooms around.
- Artists were prized and painted or adorned in tapestries every available space of wall and roof. Given there was no Netflix and Chill back then, I presume it was paint and chill instead.
- Secret doors to hidden passages were all the rage.
Each room was seriously over the top in the amount of art and decorations. We could have spent hours listening to the audio guides for each room but just looking at the works and using your imagination was just as good. On a side note, if you did actually listen to every part of the audio guide you would need to be there for 5+ hours… Even the halls and passages are massive. The hall pictured below is over 75m long and looks pretty magical.
We explored the various exhibitions within the many apartments in the palace before exiting into the beautiful courtyard by the lake. The sun had made an appearance after a cloudy morning so we took a leisurely stroll around the gardens taking in the views of the palace from all angles. A younger British couple took one of the many row boats out onto the lake for a romantic voyage and, fitting to the character of the complex, a small group were taking a guided tour of the grounds by horse and buggy. I took a photos from many angles before we decided to call it a day at the Chateau. We retraced our steps back through the woods and to the railway and caught the next train back to Paris.