A day in Fontainebleau and Barbizon

cultural visits | French culture
Sep 30, 2022
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Vacances Actives Linguistiques proposes you to spend a “royal” day with a first stop at the medieval castle of Blandy-Les -Tours, then at the Château of Vaux le Vicomte (which served as a model for Versailles!), a lunch break in the centre of the Ville impériale© (imperial town) of Fontainebleau, a visit to the Château de Fontainebleau and finally an inspiring walk in the village of painters: Barbizon.

Are you ready for our royal day ?

chateau-vaux-le-vicomte
barbizon et glycine
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1st step : Château of Blandy-les-Tours

château fort Blandy-les-Tours

Let’s start the day with an immersion in the medieval French military architecture: the Château of Blandy-les-Tours has changed of face and vocation over the centuries and according to the ambitions of the prestigious families who have owned it. 20 km from the Fontainebleau Forest, this fortified castle, a rare example in Ile-de-France, still displays proudly its keep and its rampart walkway. Our driver-guide stops there, the visit is optional. The Château de Blandy Les Tours was originally a fortified manor house, built in 1220 with a first enclosure. This one, still visible today, has 4 towers: the square tower, the cylindrical tower, the justice tower and a square main tower, all underlined by ditches.

 

château Blandy-les-Tours-

At the beginning of the 14th century, this enclosure evolves and the castle takes the form of a fortress as we know it today. A drawbridge with spires and three large towers are built at the south. Blandy becomes an emblematic military defence structure and the residence of illustrious families of the kingdom who will also enrich its interiors. 

However, in 1707, the castle of Blandy was transformed into a simple agricultural farm, causing the disappearance of many buildings. The building is gradually abandoned, until the ruin…

 His last destiny?  Sold to the town, it was listed as a Historic Monument in 1889, and restoration work was launched only in 1992. 

2nd step at the Château of Vaux-le-Vicomte

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Vaux-le-Vicomte, here is a name that makes an impact! The Château of Vaux-le-Vicomte is the second stop (without a visit) of our excursion to Fontainebleau: it was inaugurated by the Sun King himself, during expensive celebrations in 1661. This masterpiece built by Louis Le Vau for Nicolas Fouquet, the superintendent of finances of Louis XIV, inspired by its splendor the construction of the unmissable Château of Versailles… 

The Château of Vaux-le-Vicomte is also famous for the anecdotes which surround it, and in particular the sad fate of Nicolas Fouquet, who, too ambitious, was arrested by order of the king three weeks after the inauguration, and imprisoned for life. 

In Vaux-le-Vicomte resonate the biggest names of the masters of French arts and techniques: Charles Le Brun for the decoration of the interiors, Vatel excelling in the sumptuous kitchens, or even Le Nôtre, landscape artist of the splendid French gardens which adorn the fore-stage of the castle moat. A magical atmosphere emerges: the flowerbeds designed to perfection, the waterfalls, caves and sculptures invite walkers to daydream. 

3rd step : Discovery of the town of Fontainebleau

For lunch, a relaxing and pleasant stroll awaits us in the historic centre of the Cité Impériale© (Imperial Town) of Fontainebleau, famous for its protected green setting: its park, its exceptional forests, the site of the Grand Parquet, the racecourse… A resort town very popular with Napoleon I and Napoleon III, a well-to-do court liked to stay there. Elegance and refinement reign in this shopping town, punctuated by opulent buildings, private hotels such as the Hotel de Pompadour or l’Aigle Noir.

Religious buildings, often remodelled under the Second Empire in a monumental style and majestic decorations, dot the city such as the Church of Saint Louis or the Chapel of the Virgin. A curiosity in the heart of the historic centre: the Italian-style theatre of Fontainebleau, built in 1905 in a sumptuous architecture of Louis II style.

fontainebleau-hotel aigle noir
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4th step : Visit of the Château of Fontainebleau and its gardens

The time has come to visit the famous Château of Fontainebleau, a royal building in Renaissance and Classic styles, which has crossed the history of France since the 12th century. The monument was the main residence of the Kings of France from François I to Louis XIV until 1682, then the secondary residence of Louis XIV to Napoleon III.

“The House of the Centuries”, so nicknamed by Napoleon I, testifies to the passage during eight centuries of successive kings who ordered their own arrangements and decoration there, according to the styles of their time, medieval, Renaissance, Classical…Our guided tour will reveal to you the splendour and secrets of this architectural masterpiece listed as a Historic Monument in 1862 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981.

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chateau-de-fontainebleau

Château and royal apartements

The Château of Fontainebleau was set apart by François I, who chose it as his hunting ground and his residence, and had the original feudal building transformed into a modern palace which he wished to establish as the new centre of Renaissance art, a “new Rome”. At that time, the monument became a veritable art gallery, bringing together collections of objects brought back from travels by the sovereigns or offered by other personalities. During our guided tour, we discover the Furniture Gallery, displaying the furniture of the disappeared or refurbished apartments, the Small Apartments of Napoleon I, the Turkish Boudoir, the Imperial Theatre of Napoleon III… The castle with 1,500 rooms conceals many surprises… 

chateau-de-fontainebleau galerie

Area and gardens

The area of Fontainebleau has as many beauties outdoors: on an area of 130 hectares, the castle is surrounded by four main courses, three gardens and a park which styles are as diverse as the buildings. The classic Grand Parterre by André Le Nôtre (1660-1664), made up of formal gardens, is extended beyond the Cascades basin by a long park crossed by the Grand Canal of Henri IV. From one plant scene to another, we move on from landscape style to 19th century English style compositions, with the Diane’s Garden and the English Garden. 

jardins-de-fontainebleau

5th step : Walk in Barbizon, the “Village of painters”

barbizon

At the edge of the Forest of Fontainebleau, we will end this day with a walk in Barbizon, well known as the Village of Painters… In 1827, when Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot discovered this village, he invited a whole generation of young artists, including Théodore Rousseau and Jean-François Millet, to come and paint nature “on the ground”, in situ. Many painters then moved away from the capital and the Parisian salons to settle in this charming village with its exceptional light and refreshing nature. The Ganne’s grocery store-inn became the rallying point for a whole cheery outfit, « les peint’à Ganne » (painters in Ganne), transforming the destiny of the hamlet of Barbizon. 

From 1830 to 1875, hundreds of painters, sculptors (French and foreign), writers, journalists, actors, even politicians, met and shared part of their time and their creation in Barbizon! In 1867, the Ganne Auberge gave way to the Villa des Artistes and the Hôtel de l’Exposition, marking the beginning of a new era of creativity and residency by renowned artists of all disciplines: Rosa Bonheur, Charles -François Daubigny, Karl Larsson, Camille Paris, Alfred Sisley, Robert-Louis Stevenson and Lady Osbourne, Constant Troyon… 

Today, we walk with pleasure in this village where the sources of inspiration and the soul of many artists of the impressionist era remain.

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