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Fontainbleu Palace, near Paris

Fontainbleu Palace, near Paris

Fontainebleau was another project of King François I. There's been a château on this site since at least the 12th century, when it was occupied by King Charles VII. François I started rebuilding in the middle of the 16th century and the château kept growing for the next 200 years. This is France's second-grandest château, only Louis XIV's grandiose Versailles ranks ahead of it. Last time I was here visitors could take a guided tour, or wander around the palace at their own pace, or do both as we did. The château is lavishly furnished and needs at least a day to see just the interior; the gardens are worth a second visit. Fontainebleau was said to be the favourite residence of Napoleon's consort, Empress Josephine.

The large picture is of the Cœur (Court) du Cheval Blanc or Cœur des Adieux, named for Napoleon's farewell address to the Grand Army, made from the horseshoe staircase, before he was despatched to prison on Elba in 1814.

Stained glass window at Fontainbleu Palace, near Paris

It's not known who the figure depicted in this beautiful window is meant to be; it's quite likely that François I fancied portraying himself as a learned scholar.

The Royal Chapel at Fontainebleau, near Paris

This is the Chapel of St-Saturnin, remodelled with no expense spared, by François I. The earlier chapel was consecrated in the 12th century by Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury murdered in the reign of Henry II of England.

Interior view

Fontainebleau is built around a series of open courtyards which make the building light and airy, and oak-panelled galleries like this one give a wonderfully warm and sumptuous feel on a sunny day. The paintings on the walls shown here aren't conventional paintings at all, they're frescoes surrounded by frames sculpted in plaster to mimic frames, an unusual feature.

Fontainebleau is about 30 miles from Paris, if you're staying in Paris you don't need a car to get out here. There's an excellent train service to and from – the journey takes about 40 minutes and the chateau entrance is walkable from the town centre.

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