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Though kings were already living here by the 12th century (Philippe August and Saint Louis both spent a good deal of time at the castle), it was during the Renaissance that Fontainebleau really took on its regal allure. In 1528, inveterate castle-builder King François I decided to completely rebuild Fontainebleau and make it into a palace that would rival the marvels of Rome. He tore down everything but the core of the medieval castle and hired an army of architects and artisans to construct a new one around it. He also brought in two renowned Italian artists, Il Rosso and Primaticcio, to decorate his new home. Their style of work came to be known as the School of Fontainebleau, which was characterized by the use of stucco (moldings and picture frames) and frescoes that depicted various allegories and myths. This school was highly influenced by the Mannerist style of Michelangelo, Raphael, and Parmigianino.

François I was also an art collector: His vast accumulation of Renaissance treasures included Da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” and “The Virgin of the Rock,” both of which once hung here. After François’ death his descendants continued work on the castle, but it wasn’t until the 17th century and the arrival of Henri IV on the scene that there were any major transformations. Henri added several wings and a courtyard (the Cour des Offices), and made major changes to the decor, inviting a new clutch of artists, who established a second School of Fontainebleau. This time, the artists were of French and Flemish origins (Ambrose Dubois, Martin Fréminet, and others) and used oil paint and canvas instead of frescoes.

Louis XIV, preferring Versailles, didn’t bother much with Fontainebleau, but Louis XV and Louis XVI found the palace very much to their liking and added their own decorative flourishes. Napoleon was also very fond of this palace and made a lasting imprint on the castle’s interior. No doubt, Fontainebleau made an imprint on the Emperor as well: On April 20, 1814, he abdicated here, before being sent off to exile on the island of Elba.

Hiking Along Trails Left by French Kings

The Forest of Fontainebleau is riddled with sentiers (hiking trails) made by French kings and their entourages who went hunting in the forest. A “Guide des Sentiers” is available at the tourist information center (see above; you can also download trail maps from its website). Bike paths also cut through the forest. You can rent bikes at A La Petite Reine, 14 rue de la Paroisse, in the center of town, a few blocks from the chateau (www.alapetitereine.com; [tel] 01-60-74-57-57). The cost of a bike is 8€ per hour, 15€ for a full day.
 
 

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.