There are some places I could visit over and over again. And Paris is definitely one of them. Something in that city inspires me and gives me a feeling of belonging. I love everything there: art, architecture, lifestyle and people! So, when I got a chance to attend a conference in the Ile-de-France region a few weeks ago, I made a nice trip to Paris and its surroundings out of it. So, here it is, my travel diary from Paris, Fontainebleau and Moret-sur-Loing.
Ile-de-France travel diary: Paris, Fontainebleau & Moret-sur-Loing
The reason for this trip to the Ile-de-France region was the conference organised by the Cultural Routes of the Council of Europe with the theme of cultural tourism. It was organised in the lovely town of Fontainebleau, some 55 kilometres (35 miles) southeast of Paris.
I spent the first few days of my trip in the Seine-et-Marne area, famous for its Fontainebleau Forest and villages like Barbizon and Moret-sur-Loing. They were popular among 19th-century painters who captured them in numerous artworks. Because of its beauty and serenity, it’s still popular among Parisians and travellers from all over Europe.
I met my colleague at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. We rented a car there and drew around one hour to our destination. We stayed at a lovely Mercure Château de Fontainebleau Demeures de Campagne hotel, which I really liked and recommend. As a massive fan of the French cosmetics brands, I was thrilled to discover the Nuxe toiletries in my bathroom.
⤷ TIP: Getting from CDG Airport to Fontainebleau could be tricky, and renting a car is the best way to get there. You can travel by train, too. However, you’ll need to change it a few times, and it will require a bit more time to get there.
Fontainebleau is a charming French town filled with beautiful stone houses, lovely restaurants, and cheese and wine shops. Its historical setting comes to life with a large population of students attending a prestigious INSEAD business school there.
However, the highlight of this small town is the Fontainebleau Palace. It was the second home to the Kings of France for centuries. The chateau is a beautiful example of French Royal architecture. But also a place where the Renaissance style first appeared in France. It’s evident in the Gallery of Francis I, where famous Italian artists like Rosso Fiorentino created some of their masterpieces.
Ile-de-France region feels like countryside just outside the busy capital of Paris. So, I was very excited to visit one of its most famous sites – the Fontainebleau Forest. It’s a beautiful area with high trees and some unusual huge rocks. They reminded me a bit of trolls from the ‘Frozen’ movie. I almost expected they’ll start rolling around.
Fontainebleau is one of those ancient forests in which you feel it inspired numerous stories about the fairies and some other fantastic creatures. It is no surprise it also influenced painters during the 19th century to take a trip from Paris and come there. In 1849, the railway connected Paris with Fontainebleau, making it even easier for them to travel. They came with their tube paints and easels and started a revolution in art – Plein air painting.
A walk around this magical forest felt like a combination of meditation and experiencing nature with all my senses. I finally understood why all those Impressionist painters came there searching for light, colours and inspiration.
A walk through the Fontainebleau Forest led me to another famous village among art lovers – Barbizon. It’s a place that gave the name to the ‘Barbizon School’ of art, with painters Theodore Rousseau and Jean-Francois Millet being its leaders. Those artists mainly made realistic landscape paintings. After walking through the forest next to it, I could understand why.
I didn’t have a chance to explore the village much because I attended a nice dinner organised for the conference participants there. However, it left an impression of a quiet, charming village worth exploring more.
This area is filled with history and numerous cultural routes crossing it. It is where writer Robert Louis Stevenson lived and worked. During our walk through the forest, our guide read some of his writing. The European Route d’Artagnan is also passing there. So, during our dinner, we were visited by some of Alexandre Dumas’ famous characters.
Moret-sur-Loing was my favourite place I visited in the Ile-de-France region. It’s a fortified medieval town filled with lovely houses, small shops and restaurants, and a beautiful river passing through it. That lovely place is filled with history. It was a royal town located on a border between the Kingdom of France and the Duchy of Burgundy.
Once I entered the town through its monumental medieval Gate of Samois, I felt like I had stepped back in history. And I could see remains of that history already on the gates. Still stuck in it is a cannonball from the Napoleonic wars.
While walking through the town, I spotted many old Renaissance houses. However, one which is this town’s highlights is the Francis I facade (you can see it on the bottom right photo). Built in 1527, it was initially designed to connect two houses. It’s decorated with statues and carvings, often bearing a symbolic meaning. But, the exciting thing about this building is that it was moved twice. It was dismantled and rebuilt in Paris at the beginning of the 19th century. And then brought back home to Moret in 1955.
I ended my walk next to the Loing River, which is passing through the town, giving it an even more serene look. The sites next to it often influenced the Impressionist painters’ artworks. One of them, the famous artist Alfred Sisley lived there and created numerous paintings showing his adopted home of Moret on his paintings.
⤷ TIP: I explored the lovely town of Moret-sur-Loing on a guided tour. If you’d like to do the same, contact the local tourist office to book your tour.
After a few days in the Fontainebleau area, it was time to return to Paris. I have a tradition of spending a weekend abroad each year with my brother. This was the second time we had decided to meet in Paris. My favourite way of spending time in Paris is by just wandering around the city, enjoying its fantastic cafes and restaurants and visiting museums.
Since I spent the last few days following the Impressionist painters’ footsteps and visiting locations around Paris linked to art, I also wanted to see some of their artworks in Paris’ museums.
We first checked in at our hotel, conveniently located just a few steps away from the Trocadero and Eiffel Tower. We stayed at Hotel Gavarni and were very happy to be upgraded to the Versailles room (yes, it was a room with a name instead of a number) from which we had a beautiful view of the Eiffel Tower.
After a short break, we walked to Trocadero, where we had a coffee and cake in one of my favourite places in Paris – La Carrete. I love sitting at their terrace with the Eiffel Tower view while enjoying some fantastic cookies and one of the best coffees in Paris.
We then strolled to the Arc de Triomphe and walked along the famous Champs Elysees. It’s a great feeling when you know someplace, almost as if you’re living there. I feel that now I don’t need to go to all the tourist places in Paris anymore. But instead, enjoy the city as a local while strolling around it and enjoying its spirit.
⤷ Read more: Locations linked to Vincent van Gogh in Paris
We started the next day with a visit to one of the local markets, where we were just amazed by the quality and diversity of food. It’s no surprise French are so good with their food.
The day was reserved for museums. So, after already a traditional long stroll next to the Seine River, we went to the Musée de l’Orangerie. It’s one of the first museums I ever visited in Paris. So, whenever I have a chance, I revisit it. Standing in a middle of a room surrounded by Monet’s The Water Lilies is one of my favourite museum experiences. I also saw it with a new pair of eyes after spending some time in Fontainebleau Forest and next to the Loing River. I observed its light and colours in a new way.
⤷ Read more: The best museums in Paris
However, the experience was a bit ruined by the crowded museum. After visiting Paris numerous times already, I concluded it’s best to visit museums in Paris during the off-season. I remember being in some of the most famous museums in Paris in early January, and I was the only person there. I could enjoy all the artworks in peace and quiet.
⤷ TIP: So, my advice is to visit Paris in June to wander around the city and in January to explore the museums.
After the Musée de l’Orangerie, we had lunch at one of my favourite restaurants in Paris – Les Antiquaires. It’s located very close to Musée d’Orsay. The duck there is out of this world, so I always have that same dish at that restaurant.
In the afternoon, we went to another museum that is still a bit of a hidden gem. Musée Marmottan Monet is famous for its Impressionist collection, especially the paintings made by Claude Monet and Berthe Morisot. Located in the old townhouse, it almost feels like visiting someone’s private home. I love that place and visit it nearly every time I’m in Paris.
⤷ Read more: What to see in Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris
These are some of my favourite trips. Visiting familiar places while extending your trip to the areas that are still unknown to you. I loved being in a serene nature and then getting to the busy metropolitan. That combination of the rural and urban gave me an excellent overview of the beautiful Ile-de-France region.
It was a perfect weekend in Paris after a lovely week spent in the French countryside. However, the end of my trip was a bit hectic. After a nice French breakfast in front of the Luxembourg Garden, I went to the RER train to the airport. Just after we passed Gare du Nord station, there was a power outage, and we got stuck in the metro for two hours. I missed my flight and had to be rebooked to a later flight. I waited in the airport for hours and had to pay around 500 euros to get a new ticket. It wasn’t all bad because I was flying in a business class on my way back home. But, it was quite an expensive end of a great trip.
Have you been to any of these places? Which one did you like the most? Let me know in the comments below!