History lovers will appreciate the castle that the French monarchs from Louis VII to Napoleon III used as a summer home. Plush and ornate, the chateau is surrounded by a thick forest that the kings would use to hunt game and relax near the fresh springs.
Just 55 km (34 miles) south of Paris, the chateau is almost completely accessible for people with limited mobility and has special programs for the visually impaired. Guide dogs are allowed in the castle. French sign language tours are available by reservation and self-guided audio tours are hearing aid compatible.
People with limited mobility can be dropped off at the entrance of the chateau and avoid the cobblestones (enter opposite the municipal theater via the Cour des Mathurins and drive to the entrance). Entry is free for people with disabilities and their caregivers, but not guided tours.
Fontainebleau also has the benefit of being far less crowded than Chateau de Versailles.
While many castles in France were ravaged during the French Revolution, Fontainebleau was spared, giving us a unique glimpse into the colorful decorative style from before the revolution, especially visible in the apartments created for Marie Antoinette. Several of the well-preserved rooms in the chateau have been untouched for centuries before that, providing the best examples of Renaissance decor in France, like the Gallery of Francis, built in 1528.
Start the tour on the ground floor with a quick visit to the Chinese Museum that was built by Empress Eugenie in 1863 to house her collection of treasures. The collection contains pieces taken from the Beijing Summer Palace by French and British soldiers in 1860, diplomatic gifts from the Ambassador of Siam, who visited the following year, and pieces plundered from the homes of Chinese diplomats during the revolution. With ancient rickshaws that carried queens, porcelain vases and delicate ornate lanterns, the museum is worth visiting and is wheelchair accessible.
The museum is straight through the hallway at the entrance through a blue door to the right of the altar after the ramp. The doors open outward and are awkward to open, but are not extremely heavy.
Double back to the elevator after visiting the museum and for those with limited mobility, continue the tour to the right after the elevator doors open at the next level. To the left is the Napoleon Museum, which is down a flight of stairs. To the right is the wheelchair accessible Grand Apartments, a fresco-decorated ballroom, ancient chapels and a host of unexpected surprises.
As you wander through the Grand Apartments you will move through history as you pass from Napoleon’s bedroom with blue flowered velvet rolling steps to help him settle into his bed, to his throne set on the exact spot former kings slept, to the room with the table and chair he used to sign his abdication in 1814 before going into exile.
Pass through the Gallery of Francis with its Italian influence and frescos that provide insight into the dreams and concerns of the kings – ignorance being driven out, the loss of youth and the unity of state. Move past a musty, ancient chapel that feels heavy with the past and a lighter one with colorful paintings on the ceilings.
Visit the Queens chambers with the color aqua – Marie Antoinette’s favorite – scattered around in the wallpaper, chair fabric and bureaus in her apartment. Her bedroom contains a bed made for her that she never slept in; it arrived on the eve of the revolution and she was imprisoned before she was able to return to Fontainebleau.
It’s fascinating to see the preferences of the different kings and queens as you wander around, and the history of each can be found by pausing and casting your eyes from floor to ceiling, every inch covered with some design element.
A self-guided tour of the Grand Apartments will take about 2 hours at a normal pace. Different tours can be booked near the front entrance that will include areas not open to the public, such as a theater. It will take an entire day to see all the museums attached to the chateau and the gardens and park grounds (1,500 rooms and 130 acres of parkland and gardens).
Tours for the Visually Impaired Two tactile tours are offered specifically for people with visual impairments and they provide an incredible opportunity to get to know the artists that created the chateau and insight into its history.
A Primaticcio Bronze, in the Galerie des Cerfs, allows visitors to discover the Renaissance influences in the chateau by providing the amazing experience of touching the works of Francesco Primaticcio, primarily his masterpiece Sleeping Ariane, created between 1541 and 1543. Primaticcio was one of the major artists in Fontainebleau and spent much of his adult life working there.
Call 01 60 71 50 75 to book a tour.
Practicalities Hours: Open every day except Tuesdays; January 1st, May 1st, and December 25th.
October to March : 9:30AM-5:00PM (last entry at 4:15PM).
April to September : 9:30AM-6:00PM (last entry at 5:15PM). The courtyards and gardens are open every day.
From November to February : 9am – 5pm
March, April & October : 9am – 6pm
From May to September : 9am – 7pm The Jardin de Diane and the Jardin Anglais close respectively half and hour and an hour before the times shown. Outside of the summer season, the Jardin Anglais may be closed.
The park is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Getting there: The train station is not wheelchair accessible. The trip from the Gare de Lyon in Paris to Fontainebleau- Avon station takes about 45 minutes. Bus #1 stops near the Chateau. If you have the Navigo Decourvente, the train & bus are covered by it & the Museum Pass covers the Chateau.