Rowers in the carp pond at Chateau de Fontainebleau
Photo by Kenneth Lu  –  Link

Fontainebleau

France

Technically part of the metropolitan area of Paris, the charming town of Fontainebleau feels world away from the French capital. Just a half an hour train ride from the city's Gare de Lyon, it's clean and green, with ample open spaces and an olde-worlde charm that oozes from its pretty buildings, quaint cafes and restaurants. For years a haunt of French royalty, it's now a popular weekend getaway for city dwellers looking for solitude and adventure.

To do in Fontainebleau:

  • Visit the Palace of Fontainebleau: Otherwise known as Château de Fontainebleau, this UNESCO World Heritage Site served as a residence for successive French royals and rulers, from Louis VII through to Napoleon III. Built on the site of what was originally a medieval castle, it was invented and developed by various monarchs to suit their own personal tastes. Today, you can walk around the sprawling complex and marvel at its flamboyant architecture and perfect gardens, step inside Marie-Antoinette's powder room or Napoleon's throne room, and see where Pope Pius VIII stayed.
  • Fontainebleau forest: Stretching for an impressive 110 square miles, Fontainebleau Forest is the second largest in France and a hub for outdoor activities. Just walking through it is an experience in itself, with many species of birds to look out for, wild boar to spot and over 3000 species of mushrooms hidden within it. Then there's the more active selection: cycling and horseback riding are both popular, and the rock climbing is famously good here.

Eat and drink

There are plenty of options for wining and dining in Fontainebleau, with everything from sushi restaurants to classic French cuisine on offer. L'Alhambra, which specialises in Moroccan food, serves up a fantastic tagine and cracking couscous; Le Grand Cafe, while not exactly the prettiest place you'll ever eat, does a solid steak and chips, and a delicious French onion soup. Although not a big party town, there are a few nice bars and terraces on and around the city's central Place Napoleon Bonaparte.

What's on?

Fontainebleau is a lovely little town no matter what time of year it is, but the gardens of Château de Fontainebleau will be at their best during the summer months. The town also hosts a number of festivals and events throughout the year, including a nature festival in May, an art history festival in June and various equestrian shows throughout the year. Visit the town's website to see what's on during your visit.