Parisians looking for a breath of fresh air hop on the train and head to Fontainebleau. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the chateau and park at Fontainebleau offer a dose of royal grandeur without the crowds that mob Versailles every day of the year. On a recent trip, we found the palace’s grand chambers—filled with tapestries, frescoed ceilings, and gilded furnishings—to be remarkably empty. Originally built as a hunting lodge in the 12th century (as one of the largest forests in the region is just adjacent), the property was transformed by François I in the 16th century into an Italianate palace. Napoleon spruced it up again in the early 19th century, and it was in the Palace courtyard where he said goodbye to his troops and went into exile in 1814. Fittingly, there are many relics from the Napoleon years on display in the palace. Tickets to the chateau costs 10 euros.
Access: Tickets can be purchased at the Gare de Lyon station in Paris for 17.30 euros roundtrip. After a 50-minute ride, you’ll arrive at the Fontainebleau-Avon station, where the bus ride into town is about 10 minutes. Insider tip: Walk from the station through the Fontainebleau park and arrive at the palace the back way. The parkland is immense, sprawling across 80 hectares lined by a canal, and is free to roam (no tickets required). Alternatively, rent a car and take the A6 motorway out of Paris (warning: avoid rush hour!)