A few weeks ago, I spent, not one but two weekends in Fontainebleau. I was fortunate to receive an invitation by relatives of my French Family to get better acquainted with their area. I’ve always wanted to see the forest and the chateau, but being hosted brought my adventure to a whole other level! Allow me to explain.
What I didn’t realize until I got there was that my hosts actually live IN the Chateau. What appeared to have been an entrance to the servant quarters during royal occupancy, the wooden staircase leading to the 3rd and last floor was narrow, and very smooth after years of use and bowed from having endured millions of steps. Upon entering the apartment which was unlocked by a thick and heavy skeleton key, the corridor was long, lined with multiple rooms on each side. I quickly settled into one of the spare rooms and then it was time to go explore!
Our first stop was passing through an ‘artist’ town called Barbizon. We passed charming shops and admired the many small art galleries as we slowly made our way into the woods where a map and painted coloured lines on the rocks would ensure, well, attempt to ensure that we would not get lost in the vast 17,000 hectares playground.
Immediately, I was enchanted by with rays of sun piercing through the tall trees comprised of: (oak (44%), Scots pine (40%), and European beech (10%). There was an overall feeling of being in a ‘jungle gym’ as we concentrated our time around the “Rochers”. The rock formations were very close together creating an unpredictable pathway where your footing had to be deliberate and creative. The green of the trees and the white sand beneath my feet created a juxtaposition and peaked my curiosity. The reason for the sandy path way is that this forest was originally the home of the Stampian sea. Fast forward some years to now and voila – not a sea!
After a solid hike in the forest for about 3 hours, we made our way back ‘home’ (a.k.a their castle). We enjoyed a lovely meal and lively discussion about the different regions in France which helped grow my already bountiful travel destination list. It was then that I was issued an invitation to attend the ‘Open Air’ opera production of “Don Giovanni”. They had an extra ticket for the 1st night the following weekend at the Chateau as a VIP guest and all that goes with that. And that is when my perma-Cheshire cat grin began! (More on that later, not my grin, the Opera).
The next morning it was time to visit the Chateau. I had been so anxious to go inside!. As my host has been a manager at the Chateau for over 20 years, he was an encyclopaedia of facts and information. Because our discourse was all in French I didn’t quite catch every detail, but the gist of it is that Chateau Fontainebleau’s history is complex, from architecture to tenants!
The 1200 rooms inside are not all on display, but of it was obvious that some its previous tenants did not spare any expense in decorating and building on to the original structure for more space. A notable moment during the visit was when my host called security to have them turn off the alarm to a special room. My curiosity was peaked. It was the: off-limits, multi-million Euro project, newly restored, open to private tours only, intimate… Theatre. Very a propos for me! I was swept away by its beauty so much so that my camera stayed in my bag. I was on the Mezzanine level, behind the chairs of where the Kings, Queens and others like, Napoleon would have sat. I tried to imagine seeing the back of their wigs and what it would have been like to sit in one of those chairs – quite forbidden of course, but the little kid in me did toi with the idea.
Visiting the unending rooms along with vast memorabilia could have taken all day and then some however, after a few hours, it was time to see the castle from the outside and walk the grounds. Soon it was time to step out of my enchanted weekend story book and return to the ‘to-do’s’ of a Sunday evening back at my home.
The following week I returned to Fontainebleau to use my VIP ticket to see the production of Don Giovanni. I was given an ‘Access Card’ as well as an engraved fleece blanket, and a gorgeous program. When we arrived, we could hear the singers warming up inside the castle, the sound travelling far into the audience. Some of the cast would cross our paths here and there on route wherever they needed to be, a new intimate experience as a spectator.
The show began at 9:00 pm just as the sun went down. My seat, 5th row from the front in the center aisle was surprisingly steady on the cobble stones.The tiered stage was set in one of the courtyards, the castle the official backdrop of the stage. The air was still warm, initially. Most of the singing happened on ground level where the conductor looked as though she were a time traveller positioned between two worlds. The staging and lighting was beautifully done – especially since they could use real torches (the big ones!). As the evening progressed, the temperature decreased, largely because there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Just after the first act ended, the lighting crew shut off every light for a moment and I quickly looked up at the sky to admire all the stars. It was incredible! During intermission, as part of the VIP treatment, we were allowed in the Room of Columns inside the castle for a warm beverage. I asked the walking encyclopaedia, “why so many columns?”. At some point in history, the ballroom above was on the verge of collapsing and in order to preserve the ballroom, columns were erected to preserve the floor. Transported back by the bell to summon us back to our chairs, it was time for the final act and then the quickest commute ever! What a night!
The following week, I was at a comedy show called: “How to become Parisian In One Hour”. It’s a very successful show here in Paris that invokes steady laughter after several cliches are explained and the room educated in appropriate Parisian behaviour, dress and some non PG language (in French)! It was the 901th time that Olivier Giraud, the creator, had performed this one-man show. I’m not sure he sold me on becoming a full-fledged Parisian but I have naturally amended certain North American behaviours since moving here. I won’t self-deprecate myself – a Parisian would never! Check out this 5-minute clip where he explains ‘customer service’ when shopping in Paris. Follow this link to view: YouTube. Enjoy! (disclaimer: some coarse language)
Two days later, I had the honour and privilege to attend an invite-only fashion show here in Paris, during Paris Fashion Week. Paolo Corona is a very gifted and talented designer where, and I don’t say this lightly, I truly love his style. He also designs exquisite wedding dresses. Check out his website here: Paolo Corona. His fashion show was at the Hotel St. James Albany on rue Rivoli very close to the Louvre. Across the lobby area and through a lovely courtyard, the show was in the Marie Antoinette room (love it!) where it was mostly standing room, but the champagne was a flowin’. Watching his Spring/Summer 2015 line come down the run-way, I can only attempt to imagine all the blood, sweat and tears that went into bringing his art to life. I can’t wait to see what’s coming next!
It’s Canadian Thanksgiving this weekend, and I’m thinking about my family and country, celebrating with the trimmings of tradition. Wednesday I leave for a quick trip to see my Italian family (it’s been a while!) where I’ve been promised a pumpkin pie – Italian Style!
I am so grateful and thankful for all the amazing people, friends and family in my world who continue to love and support me unconditionally. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you! I am so very blessed!
Sending lots of light and love, and until next time, bisous!