One of the things I love about living in Paris is how very easy it is to get out.
Unlike New York, where I oftimes felt like a prisoner and it was as though someone was against me leaving the city limits for any reason ever, the trains in Paris run frequently to pretty much to everywhere you want to go. As long as it's not pouring rain out and storming, we've been ambitiously trying to get out on various day trips to notable towns within an hour or two outside of Paris. Fontainebleau is a 45 minute train ride out of Gare de Lyon.
Like most towns with an attraction, you can get a shuttle bus straight to the noted Chateau that is timed with the arrival of the train. What fun is that? It took about 45 minutes to walk, and what a gorgeous walk it was. There is a huge forest preserve here (with rock climbers, a whole new sport for us to obsess about!) and plenty of overgrown formal gardens that make it a nice country stroll.
Fontainebleau was an interesting chateau to tour. It's not as grandiose as Versailles.
It actually looks a little cobbled together, since it was built in stages over centuries. What started as a little hunting lodge for the king ended up a sprawling estate, built upon and expanded by kings and emperors to suit their needs and taste. In total, 34 regents spent time here, and the Napoleons used it as their base of operations as well. Unlike Versailles, which was the work of one megalomaniac Louis, this chateau has a really interesting connection to generations of royal families.
François 1st has some Italian artist and architects come in and decorate the place, which in turn helped spur the French renaissance.
The remarkable thing is that it's very well-preserved. Despite some plundering during the revolution, a great deal of the furnishings remain original, and the paintings and art work are exquisite.
It's also nowhere near as crowded as Versailles (but really...what is?). Even on a Saturday afternoon, it was an easy and pleasant visit.
Pretty soon, we were dodging all the wedding photographers in the courtyards. It was a good time for people watching, as there were probably a half dozen wedding parties vying for the primo spots in front of the grand staircase.
We found a peeing doggie fountain.
Afterwards, we took a walk through town. Rather predictably, it was adorable, with a 100 year old carousel in the square and lots of shops and bakeries that lined cobblestoned streets.
Finding a place to eat became a priority, as it always does after a long day of culture. There were plenty of tourist restaurants you typically find in towns like this: Irish pubs, loads of old school french bistros, Italian restaurants.
I try and seek out a place that makes things special. Not necessarily highbrow or super expensive, but a place that will make creative unpretentious food with respect for the ingredients, and not just churn out uninspired pots of cassoulet in midsummer.
We ended up at Le Petit Ardoise. I can not say enough good things about it, and we would go back to Fontainebleau just to eat here again.
They specialize in small plates to share, which to me, are the best kinds of plates. There were briny fresh mussels cooked in a coquette with a wedge of brie, really fresh vegetables, rich and creamy lobes of seared duck liver served with mango chutney, a lovely entrecote, and of course, copious amounts of cheap and drinkable Cotes du Rhone by the carafe.
It was one of the best meals I've had anywhere. I loved it. We couldn't stop raving about it, and it was totally not expensive at all. It made for a pleasantly mellow walk back through the forest and to the train station, where we were whisked back to the city on a perfectly on-time train.