Fontainebleau, a palace in a huge (40,000-acre/16,000-hectare) forest, has been rebuilt several times in an assemblage of contrasting styles—with charming results.

Over the years it has been home to Catherine de Medici, Marie Antoinette and Napoleon. (Napoleon's apartment has little steps leading up to his bed and chair.) In fact, Fontainebleau is the only royal and imperial chateau to have been continuously inhabited for more than seven centuries. It offers a unique view of French history, art and architecture as each of the residents (kings, queens, emperors and empresses) have strived to add their own improvements to the chateau over the centuries.

It has spectacular gardens: the English Garden (with the Blaud Fountain, Carp Pool and Cascades) and the courtyards and Garden of Diana. The gardens can be a challenging hike, so take comfortable shoes.

Fontainebleau is usually seen as a side trip from Paris, which is about 35 mi/55 km north, either in half a day by itself or on a full-day trip that also includes Vaux-le-Vicomte Chateau.

Nearby, on the edge of Fontainebleau Forest, is the tranquil hamlet of Barbizon, famed both for the 19th-century artists who developed a distinctive style of landscape painting there, and as the home of writer Robert Louis Stevenson.

Also nearby is Moret-sur-Loing, from which many artists (including Diaz, Daumier, Millet and Rousseau) drew inspiration. Try to visit the homes of Millet and Rousseau.

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