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Try Fontainebleau and Barbizon

Professor Arnie Greenberg

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
The Gleaners 1857

For Rousseau appreciation came later. He referred to the forest paintings as ‘portraits’.

But 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 Francoise 1.

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 including travel.

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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.

Go to: or contact him directly at

(More about the writer.)


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Last Revised: Friday, May 15, 2015 06:38:58 AM
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