We had a busy day scheduled today as we were not only to ride around 40 km but also to visit the Château de Fontainebleau, one of the largest palaces in France and now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Our route out of Moret-sur-Loing was through some lovely forested areas. As we approached Fontainebleu, we were able to ride up the grand Allée Davon which, together with a grand canal and Jardin Français at the back of the château, was designed by Louis XIV’s principal gardener André Le Nôtre (who also designed the gardens at Versailles).
We had a few hours available to visit the château, which now houses an incredible museum showcasing the outrageous lifestyle of the French rulers, from Louis VII to Napoleon III. Only a small proportion of rooms in this massive palace have been restored for the museum, but there are dozens of them and many are so over-the-top in their ostentatious decadence that they take your breath away.
There is a section showcasing the reign of Napoleon and his successors, and the rooms that he used during his infrequent stays have been restored for display. It was here that he abdicated the first time and tried to commit suicide before being sent into exile on Elba. There are many other rooms showing where other royalty, such as Francis I and Marie-Antoinette, stayed, all very ornate and grand. Really, it is not surprising at all that the people revolted against such lavish decadence.
We had a simple lunch of soup and salad at a café near the château before joining the rest of the group for the next stage of our ride. This led us through more lovely forested areas to Barbizon, which is where the famous school of artists (in particular led by Jean-François Millet, known for his painting The Gleaners and others) were based from the 1850s.
The town is very pretty, and the main street is lined with many art galleries that attract numerous tourists. Unfortunately, as we found to be often the case in France, every single gallery was closed! Now, we had become used to this, especially if we tried to visit places on Mondays or during lunchtime, but in this case, it was a Thursday and around 2:30 pm. The signs on the doors said that the galleries would be open from 2-5pm, so it was inexplicable as to why they were all closed! We have been struggling to understand how France remains the second largest economy in Europe and the ninth largest in the world, as everywhere we have been, we have been plagued by the ubiquity of services being closed. Even our barge has been affected, as the canal locks all close at 7pm and often even at lunch (compared to the 24-hour locks in other European countries), making the Elodie’s progress so much slower in France. Strange …
Anyway, our final leg today was through another lovely forested area, the paths of which were rougher and much less well marked. Nina had to do some sleuthing to determine which direction to go at some points, as the paths sometimes become overgrown.
We were on our final run out of the forest when we came to a screeching halt. Before us were several men in fluoro vests, armed with guns and horns, with several dogs running around sniffing the ground madly. Yes, we were face-to-face with wild boar hunters, intent on their hunt. The forest system in France marks out specific hunting areas, although only during the season, so in the off season these areas are open to the public. Clearly the season had started, but a bit early according to Nina. Anyway, the hunters told us to turn back and ride along the nearby (busy) highway, but Nina was able to convince them to let us through if we cycled “très vite”! We took off in a flash, past the other hunters, and did not stop until we got to the main road. A couple of gun shots rang out behind us as we flew off down the path so we were very relieved to get away safely! (Although we suspect the shots were a bit of a joke by the hunters.) We had a good laugh about it, that’s for sure!
On a more sober note though is that a few days later, a British cyclist was accidentally shot dead by a wild boar hunter in the French Alps, so we now feel a bit luckier that our encounter was harmless and relatively good-natured.
We arrived intact in Melun, but had to walk our bikes along some busy roads. Melun is quite a large city and of course we are getting closer to Paris, so our idyllic country scenery is rapidly disappearing.
Dinner tonight was a spicy tomato soup, pork with sauerkraut and roast potatoes, and an almond cake. Lan watched the third part of the Napoleon documentary with the rest of the group after dinner and it was interesting to see them featuring some shots of Fontainebleau that we had seen earlier in the day.