Thursday, April 1, 2010

Another Day. Another Chateau

Fountainbleau, 2006

While we’re on the subject of French chateaux—I was thinking about Chambord yesterday and just last night finished a book about ad man David Ogilvy and his French chateau, Toufou—I thought it might be fun to describe our trip to Fountainbleau.

This is another one of those grand chateaux I’d first seen in a French language textbook and wanted to visit ever since. But just like our visit to Chambord, our visit to Fountainbleau also turned out to be a bit of a challenge.

We’d fetched up with a tour company in central Paris. Our expectations weren’t high; the price of the tour didn’t exactly promise a first-class experience. We were mostly just looking for a way to avoid the nasty Parisian traffic.

We showed up at the tour office after lunch and were invited to have a seat in the waiting area. There were just a few other people there. As the time passed and the scheduled departure time approached, no more people arrived. Nor did a bus.

Eventually, they took our tickets, gave us receipts and sent us around the corner to one of the other big tour companies; they combine tours on slow days. We waited in the second company’s lounge for almost an hour before finally boarding a bus and heading out of town. A young woman jumped onto the bus at the last minute and introduced herself as the guide.

The traffic was heavy. I was happy not to have been driving. We met another American couple on the bus and talked most of the way out to Fountainbleau.

At Chambord, we had to deal with a façade cloaked in dark shadow. At Fountainbleau it was rain. Oh, and that literally as we walked in the front door we overheard an announcement that Fountainbleau would be closing in 30 minutes. That’s not what you want to hear when the castle you’re visiting has hundreds of rooms and dozens of acres of gardens to explore. Our tour guide told us to ignore the warning and set out on a casual amble through Fountainbleau and its grounds.

Fountainbleau really is impressive, though I would suggest that if you go it’s worth investing in a better tour guide. We didn’t see all of Fountainbleau’s hundreds of rooms. But I’ll go so far as to say that after you’ve seen one or two opulent royal bedrooms, the rest are just overkill. The rain came and went. We got some outdoor time between showers.

The bonus for this trip turned out to be the other American couple. Now an engineer in America, the husband was actually Egyptian by birth. He was also a deserter from the Egyptian army. In 1967, just as the Six Days War was starting, he had he stowed away on a ship bound for Canada with less than $10 in his pocket. Relatives later told him that all of the other members of his army unit were killed in the first day of battle with the Israelis.


  1. I find that most people have much better stories than me.
    Beautiful pictures. The fish eye is a great way to make these pictures different and fun.

  2. That IS a story. Really beautiful photos of Fontainebleau. Your photos and stories are also reminding me that some of those chateaux had such spectacular formal gardens, too.