Le Château de Fontainebleau

The château at Fontainebleau dates back to the 12th century, when the original building was commissioned by King Louis VII. Every subsequent ruler of France added to and expanded the château, with some of the most significant changes being commissioned by King François I, who is also credited for bringing Leonardo Da Vinci’s Gioconda to the Louvre.

The château de Fontainebleau is very different to Versailles, in that it was intended and mostly operated as the residence of the royals of France, whereas Versailles was never a home and only ever served as a showpiece for Louis XIV to enact his role as the roy soleil who ruled by divine prerogative.

Today, the château is open to the public. An adult ticket costs EUR13 and can be purchased either on location or online. Figuring there might be queues, I opted to get the ticket online. Although I needn’t have bothered because the place was far from crowded while I was there.

On the ground floor there is also a very nice café that serves an excellent lunch that I can highly recommend.

If you’re close to Paris and have a few days to spare, I can highly recommend a visit to Fontainebleau. I think it’s worthwhile to stay in the town of Fontainebleau for a few days, because it’s really quite charming. Also, the grounds of the château are mostly open to the public. Walking through the park in the evenings is lovely, with the golden light of the setting sun seeping in between the trees.

Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace

Introduction

The Musé de l’air et de l’espace is housed in what used to be the terminal building of Le Bourget airport, located to the North of Paris. Le Bourget served as the only airport of Paris for a long time. With the opening of Orly airport in the South and Charles de Gaulle airport close to Le Bourget, there was no longer any need for the facility. And so, in 1977 the airport was closed for international airline operations, and then in 1980 also for domestic flights. Today, Le Bourget only sees Business Jet traffic. If you’re flying in to Charles de Gaulle airport approaching from the West, you fly past Le Bourget at a fairly low altitude.

Getting to the museum

Le Bourget is located on the RER B suburban train line that connects the centre of Paris to Charles de Gaulle airport. From Le Bourget station you then need to catch the bus line 152, which takes another 15 minutes.

Otherwise, if, like me, you’re travelling from Charles de Gaulle airport, you can also catch the bus line 350 from Roissypole, which runs straight to the museum. The journey time is indicated in google maps as being 37 minutes, but in reality it’s more like 57 minutes.

Entry fees

A single entry ticket to the museum costs EUR16 for an adult and gives you full access to all the exhibit halls, as well the aircraft standing outside on the old ramp. Access to the interior of the two Concordes in the Concorde hall and to the Boeing B 747-200 is also included.

The interior

Your visits to the museum starts with a short tour through what used to be departures area, which takes visitors through the beginnings of aviation, from the Mongolfiers to Blériot. The building’s interior is beautifully restored to its original Art Deco splendor. I just find the building very romantic, it harks back to the good old days of travel that seem so impossible today.

By the way, the museum also has an excellent souvenir shop with a lot of interesting books published by the museum on various topics of aviation.

The Dassault Mercure

For me as an airline geek, the outdoor exhibits were certainly the most interesting. Just as you exit onto the the ramp, to your left there is the ill-fated and horribly unsuccessful French-built Dassault Mercure. Air Inter was the only airline ever to operate the Mercure, and I can actually still remember seeing them at Basel airport when I was a kid.

The Airbus A 380

Also on display is one of the Airbus A 380 prototypes. I’ve flown on the A 380 several times now, and although I still think the plane is ugly as sin, one simply cannot argue that it still is an engineering marvel. In Le Bourget you can walk around the aircraft freely. You get a good sense for the dimensions of the A 380 when you’re walking around it at ground level. Moreover, distances can be deceiving and it’s not until you try to take photos of the aircraft that you become aware of just how far away you have to stand to get it in one frame.

Boeing B 747-200

And then there is the old Boeing B 747-200 that used to operate for Air France. You can go inside this aircraft and have a look around.

Parts of the galleys and cabin have been restored to give visitors a glimps of what air travel used to be like in the early days of the wide-body jets.

And that includes access to the old First Class lounge on the upper deck.

The Concorde hall

The centre piece of the museum is certainly the Concorde hall, which houses one of the original prototypes as well as one Concorde that previously flew with Air France.

Both aircraft are accessible to the public, and if you’re interested in the history of Concorde, it’s quite fascinating to see the differences between the prototype and the production variants of the aircraft.

Conclusion

The Musé de l’air et de l’espace is a bit out of the way for a visit if you’re staying in Paris. Even so, if you’re interested in aviation in general and geek out when you see an airliner like I do, then I definitely think it’s worth a visit, despite the long schlepp to get there. I really enjoyed my visit, because it felt a lot like taking a step back in time.

Le Palais de Versailles

Introduction

Shortly before his death in 1643, King Louis XIII expressed in his testament that a council should be put in place to rule on behalf of his underage son, who would later become Louis XIV. However, upon his death, his newly widowed wife, Queen Anne, had the testament annulled. She had most of her husband’s former ministers sacked or exiled, declared herself her son’s regent and appointed the mercenary Cardinal Mazarin as her minister to oversee the affairs of the state.

Queen Anne successfully expanded the range of the crown’s power with the help of Mazarin. She appears to have held the unwavering belief that the crown’s entitlement to rule was divine providence, and in her view that meant that the monarch was destined to reign supreme. In as much, a lot of the decisions she took as regent were aimed to secure her son’s reign by increasing his powers.

Eventually, Louis XIV assumed control of the government upon the death of Cardinal Mazarin in 1661, at the age of 23. It had been expected that he would appoint a minister to oversee the government of the state, similar to the way his mother had with Cardinal Mazarin and his father before that had with the ruthless Cardinal Richelieu. But Louis XIV was his mother’s son, and believed that it was his duty to shoulder the divine burden of ruling the country by himself. And so the young Louis proclaimed to his astonished parliament that ‘l’état, c’est moi ‘-‘I am the state’, and assumed control of all affairs of the state.

Louis XIV went on to rule the French monarchy for 72 year. His reign saw the rise of absolutism in France and in Europe, which firmly placed the monarch at the very heart of political power.

I mention this all here, because the château de Versailles played an important role in fostering the image of the King who ruled by divine appoinment. The building is imposing, to say the least, and its dimensions are difficult to grasp, even from close quarters. Clearly, its main purpose had been to impress and to indimidate, to make sure the Roi de Soleil’s claim to power went uncontested.

My visit in July 2021

Today, the palace and its grounds are open to the public and are one of France’s major tourist attractions. The palace sits on a vast domain of land that sprawls over an area of more than 800 hectares. My plan had been to visit the palace during the Covid pandemic, in the hope of avoiding the worst of the notorious crowds that are usually lining up to enter the building and its grounds. And I think I managed that rather well. I purchased a ticket in advance with a jump the queue option. And indeed, I was able to enter without delay. There still were quite a few people. Nonetheless, it was still possible to amble through the palace and enjoy it at my own pace.

Where to stay

I stayed at the MGallery The Louis in Versailles itself. MGallery is one of the many brands of the Accor group of hotels. Usually, I rather like their properties. But sadly, The Louis is not one of them. The infrastructure is a bit dated and the staff could really do much better. However, what The Louis has going for it, is its excellent location only 200 metres away from the main entrance to the Palais de Versailles.

Conclusion

Below I have added some pictures taken during my visit. However, I am painfully aware of the fact that they do not really do the place justice. I also don’t think I would be able to fully describe the grandeur of the place in words. So I’ll just say that I’m glad I visited the Palais de Versailles. Not just because I wanted to tick it off the bucket list, but because it really is a truly very impressive sight to behold that is so closely linked and so prominent in the history of Europe.

The Salon des Glaces