Thursday, November 10, 2016
It's one of the most sprawling palaces in France. It's beginnings were humble, however. This amazing place was a medieval hunting lodge before King Louis IX started to improve it. Over the years, every king, queen, and emperor got a hold of it. Emperor Napoleon III even added to it in the 1800's. It's 50 years older than the Louvre. It has five acres of rooftop, 230 acres of gardens and grounds, and 1500 rooms. From the fountains to the gardens to the grand staircase and even to the theater, the place at Fontainebleau is positively amazing.
Fontainebleau sits a mere 50 kilometers outside of Paris. It's a great side trip when in town. So, after you've seen the rest, come see the best in country homes from bygone eras. Marie Antoinette used to enjoy visiting there to get away from it all. It is a vast country estate that used to be for hunting. The elegance of this residence is astounding. Even Napoleon made it his main address. There are so many things to see that you should plan your trip before you go. This is not the kind of place that you want to just show up at. You need a plan because you can't see it all in one day. It's great if you're planning a significant amount of time to investigate this particular destination, but if it's a day trip while in Paris for you, decide what you want to see most.
There are different tours that focus on different eras and different parts of the palace. You may want to see Marie Antoinette's Turkish Boudoir. You may want to see Napoleon's throne. You may want to see the Theater of Napoleon III. There are a host of tours available. Book in advance. Tours cost about $12, but if you choose to wander aimlessly on your own it's free.
One of the great things about this palace is the gardens. They cover 230 acres and they are manicured and designed in different sections. There are the flower gardens, the ponds, the orchards, and even fountains. There are a lot of different fountains, but most of them only operate on the weekends. If you really are intent on seeing the fountains, make sure that they are operating when you go. During the winter and on the weekdays, they probably aren't. The grounds are open during daylight hours year round.
Just in case you're bringing one of those adrenaline junkies that don't appreciate reveling in the lush lives of kings past, there is also a forest at Fontainebleau and the rock climbing there is extraordinary. There are guides and tours for this as well. Prices vary. There are also hiking trails and many things to see in the forest, but it is great for rock climbers in particular.
This is a grand palace, and it's kind of on the side. It's not Versailles, and you don't hear about it all the time. It is a forgotten treasure on this side of the pond. It is a favorite of Parisians however. You won't find the crowds here in the off seasons of spring and fall like you still will in Paris. The history here is the incredible thing. From hunting to kings to emperors and beyond; this place has endured it all. It was used by Hitler's men in WWII. It's survived it all. Whether you go to see the inside or the gardens or the grand staircase or whatever. It has some of the most incredible scenery and history on the outskirts of Paris. This is the place that you can visit on a day trip so that you can still fly pretty cheap into Paris, but see something that's not all about Paris.
This is part of my Napoleon Trail and part of my off the beaten path of France. We'll call this a two fer. If you love history, this is a great spot that's just brimming with it. It was built up by the Louis' and some of it was torn down by Napoleon. It's endured the ages in many different forms, to become one of the most beautiful and exceptional examples of French royalty and all the gilding that went with them. It was a playground for members of the royal court and a getaway for the actual royalty. It was the place where Napoleon became emperor and the residence of the last emperor, Napoleon III. It's living history, living beauty, and a breath of fresh air just outside of Paris. So, come and experience the elegance, the glamor, the intrigue, the excess, beauty and the history of Fontainebleau. Enjoy!
Monday, November 7, 2016
We've all heard of Martinique. It's that Lesser Antilles French island in the Caribbean that most cruise lines stop at. It has all the usual stuff going for it from beautiful beaches to resort hotels. It has it all from local Carnival traditions to great shopping to helicopter tours and beyond. It's a great fun in the sun stop on any cruise with water, flowers, sand and booze galore. What I didn't know about this fabulous little French island was that it was the birthplace of the Empress Josephine. That's right, there's a historical connection for people like me who study Napoleonic history. It's Josephine's childhood home.
Our journey probably starts in Miami, Florida. Let's be honest. Most of us take a cruise to go to a place like Martinique. Fort de France is the spot where you would probably turn up on a cruise. They have a large port and many cruise ships stop there. They have beautiful beaches and great hotels. They have amazing restaurants and a bunch of activities that cater to cruise people. So, while in Fort de France you can swim in the water, boat on it, shop for souvenirs, stay in a fancy hotel, fly over it, lay on the beach and party. It's a great place. It also is about the same as most other cruise stops in the French part of the Caribbean.
Now, don't get me wrong. The view along the shore is amazing. It's worth the stop just for that. The hotels are amazing and it's worth a stay just for that. But, as usual, I implore you to look for the unique, the historic, the native, the special. Run away from the beaten path. And in the case of Martinique, there are lots of places to run. The locals have special traditions when it comes to their Carnival celebrations. They are tailored to meet that cross rep of Carib and Catholic traditions. You throw in the Caribbean flair for partying and you will have one great time whether it be mud covered or what. There's some great hiking in the area with mountains and waterfalls. Can't miss that. You can go and see the volcano...that's right Mount Pelee wiped out a whole town not long ago. There are churches, and museums and many many factory and distillery tours. You can learn how it's made and then drink it or buy it or buy it and drink it. There are many ways to learn about actual life on Martinique.
But, if you have the time, toddle off to Trois Ilets. This is a colorful and smaller coastal town where you have a chance to see a little more of real life. It's still beautiful and they have beaches, but it's just a little different. There are artist colonies there and the whole town just exudes it's own flavor. And when you're done with that, move on to history.
The Domaine de la Pagerie is the plantation where the Empress Josephine lived as a child. She was born in Trois Ilets. You would think that after she went away and lived an amazing life as the wife of Napoleon and beyond that she would be all but forgotten on this tiny island so far from France. No. Her childhood home was destroyed by weather, and has been rebuilt and turned into a museum in her honor. A bust of her stands in the beautifully maintained gardens on the grounds. All these years later, she is still honored by the French in the Caribbean. Isn't that something?
So, there it is. That little something that you probably didn't know about Martinique. So, take that cruise and get off the boat to learn about the locals. Celebrate Carnival Martinique style. Check out the beaches, factories, distilleries and the shopping. But remember, there is more of Josephine's history on Martinique than that statue in Fort de France of her after decapitation. There is a history of her family and childhood right up the coast in Trois Ilets. So, get off that cruise beaten path and go study some history. And if you study Napoleon, this is the next stop on my tour for you. Enjoy!