Great to see you back reading our newsletter.
The newsletters for next few week will give you a taste of different sites and places worth a visit outside Paris; either by car or public transport. This email I thought I’d do a few places that are to the south of Paris.
Fontainebleau — Royal City — Seine-et-Marne
Fontainebleau is located 55 km south of Paris and has an amazing history of royal patronage, intrigue and war. The town was originally the site of a royal hunting lodge and chapel from the 12th century. Many of the kings renovated and expanded the lodge into the Palace of Fontainebleau where the french court was based from 1528 and where the ideas of the Renaissance were discussed and implemented.
The Château was the birthplace of at least 5 of France’s kings and also witnessed the death of royalty, the murder of noblemen and the abdication of the King of Spain, and Napoleon Bonaparte in 1814, and the signing of many pacts and treaties
This lovely chateau is absolutely worth a visit with magnificently decorated rooms covered in paneling, stucco and frescos. The most impressive and stunning areas of the chateau include the Galerie Francois 1, at 30 meters, the Salle de Bal (ballroom), the Galerie de Henri II, salon de Marie de Medici and Napoleon Bonaparte’s Empire style apartments.
Not to be missed are also the incredible gardens immediately surrounding the Château, which includes a hand-dug grand canal that’s a kilometre long and 30 metre’s wide. The Château was named after Bellifontains (Beautiful Fountain), and the immense forest that surrounds the chateau in all directions! Within the forest are dozens of villages and area is popular with boulders, walkers and the tourists who want to experience the royal forest!
The township of Fontainebleau is also worth a visit with the houses of courtiers and merchants scattered around the town, a delightful shopping precinct
There are many places close to Fontainebleau worth visiting including the artists village, Barbizon (see below); Milly la Foret with its 12th-century market hall and medicinal herb making sites, and the mediaeval walled village of Moret-Sur-Loing with its stunning river area as a source of inspiration for Monet, Renoir and Sisley. A former inhabitant, Albert Sisley famously painted the river in the early 19th century and was a member of the Romantic Movement school of painting. (Getting to Moret-Sur-Loing is quite easy just three stations past Fontainebleau-Avon direction Montargis or Montereau.)
How to get from Paris to Fontainebleau by train
Fontainebleau is easy to get to by train from Gare de Lyon. Usually leaving from Hall 1 at Gare de Lyon the trains leave almost every 30 minutes stopping at Gare de Fontainebleau-Avon but with final destinations of Montargis, Montereau or Migennes-Laroche . The fast train stops at Melun, Bois le Roi with the 3rd stop Fontainebleau-Avon. The rail station is walking distance to the chateau, about 30 minutes, but you will need a map as the shortest route takes you through the back gates of the chateau through the gardens. A bus from the station drops visitors in the township near the front entrance of the chateau.
During the mid-1800’s the Barbizon school of painters, considered a precursor of Impressionism; was formed in the village by Théodore Rousseau and Jean-François Millet, who lived and died in the village. English painter, John Constable was a regular inhabitor. The group mainly worked outdoors painting peasant and landscape scenes. The village now houses several museums devoted to the artists and is abound with galleries of contemporary art, restaurants and beautiful ancient houses.
How to get to Barbizon
It is possible to get to Barbizon by bus from Fontainebleau, but be aware the buses run infrequently. Barbizon is situated 8 km from Melun, or 10 km from Fontainebleau. Apart from a hire car taxis are your only option See Local transport options here. Do ask for the cost to travel to Barbizon by taxi. Be aware that tariffs for tourists can vary from the locals tariffs.
Chateau de Courances
Built between 1622 and 1630, Château de Courances is in my view one of the prettiest Chateau’s I’ve seen in my seven years in France. And I’d highly recommend this one for visitors.
The stunning château dominates the view from the passing road with a long avenue of massive trees and canals.
Wandering the spectacular gardens with fountains and forest, a Japanese garden and gorgeous tea rooms, one is transported back to the 18th century. The swings, hanging from magnificent old Oak trees, have the skirts of 18th-century ladies fixed to the seats. It shows how hot and down-right awkward it was to swing yourself, in the fashion of the time was for a lady! Plus giving the “footman” or “courtier” (code for husband or child) a job pushing the lady to giddying heights!
There are 14 natural springs in the park, a river (the Ecole) and 17 ornamental pools were added over the centuries. The earliest pools date back to the 16th and 17th centuries. There are no water pumping mechanisms in Courances’ park. Instead, there is a system of levels allowing water to flow between the source and the many pools.
BIO vegetables can be bought at the farm and tours of the house are run most weekends. Check open dates and see Local transport options here.
Just as an aside, many of the expat community are connected to the Courances family. An Australian friends french husband managers their farms. An English friend managers their other chateau Fleury en Biere and the owners are very kind to the supportive of the expat communities church allowing us to hold regular fund raising events in the park.
Courances has had a number of interesting tenants. During the 2nd world war, the property was a hospital for a short time controlled and tenanted by the Germans and after the war Montgomery took up residence
Verrerie d’Art — Soisy-Sur-Ecole
This stunning glass factory, school and shop is a must see if you are in the area. Situated north of Fontainebleau on the Ecole river, the gallery has tableware, vases, lights, jewellery and unimaginable glass creations in every hue of the colour spectrum.
Entering the gardens surrounding the complex is a secret garden of glass pumpkins, swans heads and foliage dotted amongst the landscaped ponds and garden beds. An ideal holiday excursion for children and adults alike, the gardens lead you to the factory where demonstrations run most days and delight the crowd with statues, vases and all manner of brightly coloured glassware creations.
Check out the website for details, but be aware without a bicycle to ride from Château de Courances (a flat ride 6 km along the edge of the Ecole River, through gorgeous fields and old villages), this is a trip mostly for a car.
Provins — medieval village — Ile-de-France
Provins is located in the Ile de France, same region as Paris. It is a UNESCO world heritage site. It is about 80km from Paris and will take you an easy 1 1/4 hour drive East South East of Paris Central. It is renowned for being one of the better preserved medieval villages close to Paris and was first inhabited in 1000AD.
You enter the town through the impressive mediaeval ramparts, which extend for 2 km and were built in the 13th century. Provins became an important town because of its location on the European trade routes and the significant Fairs of Champagne held by the landowners, the Earls of Champagne. The town still hosts an amazing number of markets throughout the year easily accommodated by the wide streets that were planned to reflect their history as a market town.
There are many ancient buildings throughout the town, many still the functional homes of the townsfolk.
Provins is famous for its unusual octagonal keep, sitting on a square base known as Caesar Tour (Tower). Originally named the Tour de le Compte (Count), it was built as a symbol of authority over the town of Provins and the region by the Counts of Champagne and formed a defense post, which proved to be ineffective. Known from the 14th -16th Century as the prisoners Tower, it served mainly as a prison until it became the bell tower for the church when it became known as Caesar’s Tower.
St Quiriace’s Church
The medieval church St Quiriace construction was started at 1160 AD. Charles the 7th and Joanne of Arc attended a church service here in 1429.
The church suffered internal damage after a fire in 1662 and was repaired, with the work completed in the 17th century,
The inside of the church has beautiful stained glass windows and high vaulted ceilings with a central dome seen from the outside in blackened wood.
Other Places of Interest
Tithe Barn — A former merchant house dating from the 13th century is one of the most ornate buildings of the town and is open to the public.
The underground galleries — Originally used to quarry special earth for de-greasing the deep blue coloured wool cloth that was highly sought after in the Middle Ages. Once dug out, these galleries were used for storerooms, hiding-places and meeting rooms. Booking a guided tour is essential at the Tourist Office — 25 people per tour for safety and to preserve the underground caverns.
Mediaeval shows with jousting and falconry are available in summer.
Check out www.provins.net for events throughout the year including markets for Saint Martins Day, Christmas and the Harvest Festival to name a few.
How to get from Paris to Provins by train.
Provins is in Zone 6 so you can use the local trains to get there. Get a 1-day Mobilis pass for 6 zones for 18.50 euros, which will be cheaper that buying multiple train tickets, plus you can use the Metro/buses etc the entire day.
From Gare de L’Est, there are trains leaving about once an hour (9:45 am and 10:45 am) on Saturday and the trip takes about 80 minutes.
Take Bus Line C to the Tourist Info Office leaving from Bus Stop 3 approximately 3 buses per hour. Be aware that the bus is actually a minibus and not the usual kind of bus you would expect. Your Zone 6, Mobilis Pass will still be usable, so you don’t have to pay extra for the bus ticket. The bus drops you off (and picks you up) at the Tourist Info Centre. Inside you can get all kinds of information regarding touring Provins.
To return to Paris, trains leave every hour at 15 minutes to the hour (1:45, 2:45, etc.)
The Day Trips Parisians Take Themselves gives you The Wall Street Journals opinions of Fontainebleau, Provins and Moret-Sur-Loing!
Thanks for reading this. Next newsletter will be sites to the north Paris.
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