The Palace of Louis XIV, the Sun King, this is one of the most popular tourist attractions in France.
Originally Louis XIII’s hunting lodge, construction began in 1664 and continued until Louis XIV’s death in 1715. Work stopped until Louis XV’s arrival in 1722 and the royal family remained there until the French Revolution in 1789 when an angry mob entered the palace to demand bread.
Restoration began between the First and Second World Wars and, in 1962, there was a decree ordering all items belonging to the palace to be returned. In 1979, the importance of the palace was recognized when UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site.
Despite the enormity of the palace, only a relatively small part can be visited - the State Apartments and Hall of Mirrors. Choose whether to self-guide or in the company of a guide.
Allow plenty of time to visit the formal gardens, admire the many fountains and explore the park – on foot, by bike or using the shuttle train. There are also boats for hire on the Grand Canal.
To complete your visit, stroll into elegant Versailles town.
Enjoy the beautiful landscape on the edge of the Fontainebleau forest and plain of Angelus which seduced nineteenth century landscape artists who flocked to the pretty village of Barbizon to paint.
These pre-impressionist painters became known as the Barbizan School. They worked outdoors using scenes from peasant life influenced by the realism begun by Courbet and and the English John Constable.
Jean Francois Millet’s house and studio is now a museum (open daily except Tuesdays) as is the home of Theodore Rousseau. The ‘Ganne-Musee Inn of the Barbizon School’ was originally an inn where the owner accepted decorations by the Barbizon painters - including decorating his furniture - instead of payment.
Also open daily except Tuesdays. Today Barbizon is a favourite with holidaying Parisians.
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, this Italianate palace is set within the 25,000 hectare Fontainebleau Forest. It began life as a medieval royal hunting lodge. Later, Francois I (1494 to 1547) was so inspired by its setting that he transformed it into a Renaissance masterpiece. This is particularly evident in the Francois I Gallery noted for its wonderful frescos and panelling, as well as the ballroom and St Saturini Chapel.
Francois I’s son, Henri II and Catherine de Medici continued the work and additions, enhancements and re-decoration continued right up to the reign of Louis XVI who enlarged the royal apartments and doubled the size of the Francois I Gallery.
After the Revolution, Napoleon refurnished the palace in readiness to receive the Pope. Fontainebleau became one of his favourite homes and you can visit his bedroom, study, bathroom and drawing room where he signed his abdication in 1814.
Outside, visitors can see the courtyards and gardens, there are horse-drawn carriage rides, boating on the carp pond and you can have a go at real tennis.
The magnificent Basilica of St-Denis the patron saint of France, in a northern suburb of Paris, is where almost all of the French kings are buried. (French coronations were held in the Cathedral of Reims).Their tombs and effigies are a history lesson in themselves - look for the huge Renaissance memorial to Francis I and for Clovis, king of the Franks in 500 AD, and the founder of France with its capital Paris.
Originally, a mausoleum was created here for the saint, believed to be the first bishop of Paris, and an abbey founded in the seventh century. The cathedral was begun in the twelfth century and is one of the first examples of Gothic style architecture in Europe. It displays many style developments such as the choir and includes the first rose window.
Open to the public daily, Monday to Saturday and Sunday afternoons from May to September with shorter opening hours in the winter. The suburb of St-Denis has a market 3 times a week and its ‘Stad de France’ is a popular venue for concerts and matches.
Beautifully restored Cistercian abbey with large cloister founded in 1228 by Louis IX, later Saint Louis. Located 35km north of Paris in Asnieres-sur-Oise.
The abbey and grounds (criss-crossed with canals) are in the care of the Royaumont Foundation, renowned for its work in the arts:
· Vocal, contemporary, improvised and medieval music
· Contemporary dance
· Multidisciplinary arts across word, image, gesture and sound
The abbey is open to visitors every day with guided tours on Saturdays and Sunday. The Foundation shares its work with the public through regular concerts, exhibitions, lectures and in particular its summer music festival. Plus its Poetry and Translation Centre with 18,000 volumes can be visited by appointment. There is also a large bookshop on site.
Hands-on science for children 3-12 years at ’la Cite des Sciences et de l’Industrie’, Porte de la Vaillette northeast of Paris, one of the world’s largest and most popular science museums.
The park and gardens surrounded by the Ourcq Canal are a great day out for leisure and culture. Travel through the human body in ‘Explora’ and try a simulator used to train pilots.
The ‘Geode’ is one of the world’s geodesic domes - see it reflecting the clouds. The site also has childrens’ playgrounds, exhibition hall and shows. Get there by metro or, alternatively, by boat from the Musee d’Orsay.