While there’s enough to keep one busy in Paris for weeks at a
time, I often get the urge to tour the area around the city as far as
Monet’s beautiful house and garden at Giverney. It’s a worthwhile trip as is
a shorter voyage south of the city to Fontainebleau. You can drive or take a
train from the Gare de Lyon but however you do it there is a reward waiting
for you. Not only can you see Fontainebleau and stand on the ‘u’ or
horseshoe shaped staircase where Napoleon descended to go into exile at
Elba, but you can bicycle through the hunting grounds of Francois 1 or visit
the nearby hamlet of Barbizon, a quaint little town not far from Vaux-le-Vicomte.
It was here in the Barbizon forest during the 18th century that Millet,
Corot and Thomas Rousseau created master works now in Paris museums. It was
painting ‘en nature’ a sign of what was coming. But all things new have
their dissenters. Charles Baudelaire opposed merely reproductive landscapes.
He said it was “a silly cult of nature unpurified, unexplained by
imagination with evidence of general decline. Time has proven the great
writer wrong. Here the future of Art was decided.
Corot lived at the Auberge Ganne and started painting in
the Forest of Fontainebleau as a young man, He was able to capture the
essence of the forest colors and the quality of ‘light.
The Gleaners 1857
|For Rousseau appreciation came later. He referred
to the forest paintings as ‘portraits’.
Millet was more interested in the farm fields and workers. As a
realist he was drawn to the country people who worked the land.
On my first trip to Fontainebleau, I took a small
street train that started at the impressive gilded front gate
separating the Place Charles de Gaulle from the Cour de Cheval Blanc
where a proud sentry stood motionless. We rode through the verdant
manicured gardens. One had to stretch the mind to try to visualize
Louis IX or Francoise I hunted with Egyptian Hounds or with
thousands of others following the young king on horseback. It was
easy to see how this natural hunting forest could interest Francoise
I, especially as a young boy.
But my interest was also inside the chateau.
The central building was expanded by every ruler from
Francis I to Louis XV and the unique Fer a Cheval staircase conjures
memories of Napoleon’s dramatic farewell when he bade the guards to look
after France. “Her happiness is my only thought,” he said.
Today one can walk through the rooms filled with
memorabilia of the Emperor’s reign. The Napoleon Museum is worth seeing in
the Louis XV wing.
|You can freely roam around the palace which
includes the Chapelle de la Ste-Trinite. It has a wonderfully carved
surface with guilt paint. Here too is the pleasing Galerie de
I especially liked the huge
Renaissance Salle de Bal, built in 1553. This entertainment room
finished under Henri II, with its high ceiling, wood panels and
exquisite view of the Cour de La Fontaine and carp filled pond. This
is undoubtedly the most spectacular room in the palace.
The apartments of Napoleon feature the Salle du
Trone with the great throne.
While the beautiful park and English garden are
perfect for a stroll, there are also bicycles to rent for those more
adventurous and hardy.
There is no use trying to compare this with
Versailles as they were built at different times for different
reasons but the Palace of Fontainebleau is a must for students of
history or those looking for a perfect day in the country.
Try to find time to walk down Barbizon’s rue Grande, past
the restaurants and inns where the Barbizon School of Art was born.
Now, these great artists are featured in Paris. They are
unique, especially since their creation was a stepping stone to
impressionism later on.
Just outside the gilded gate at the Cour de Cheval Blanc,
the streets open to a gigantic square that holds a number of worth while
restaurants but a short walk into town will offer more. The town has seen
better days and some of the hotels are beginning to show their age but being
there is an experience.
Fontainebleau Palace was used as the headquarters of NATO
for a while.
The Tourist Office can be reached at
The French Government Tourist Office can be reached via
For group Email reservations write to:
Phone: 01 60 71 50 70
By car, the Palace and Barbizon can be reached by
following Autoroute A6 and N37.
I suggest the visit should be no less than two days
You can Contact Professor Arnie Greenberg at:
Over the past few years, Professor
Greenberg has traveled with groups to France, Italy, Spain, Greece,
Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Prague and both Sorrento and the Bay of
Naples plus most of Sicily. His tours traveled to the far reaches of the
globe including Italy and most of
China (Beijing -Hong Kong) and to Russia where his group cruised the waters
from St.Petersburg to Moscow.
"He took a group to Greece and another to northern
Russia. In Nov 07 he took a tour group to much of India and ended his tour
groups by revisiting France. He now travels with his wife and friends. They
winter in Argentina or San Miguel Mexico. His newly found spare time
is taken up with his painting and writing. "I must write every day." His
current work is a cautionary manual for would-be tour leaders.. "So
You Want To Be A Tour Leader."
Arnie now travels with friends. He continues writing
Travel articles about unusual places but often concentrates on novel
writing. Two books based on French Art will be published this year.
Keep reading his web for travel ideas. His next
novel HELLSTORM'S Folly,
will be available this fall. He now
lives in British Columbia.
www.top-travel-ideas.com or contact him directly at
(More about the writer.)