For those interested in visiting incredible landscapes and magnificent castles in France, the Seine-et-Marne region is an ideal choice. Located thirty-five miles southeast of Paris, Seine-et-Marne is praised as a paradise of glorious chateaus, immense forests, and wonderful parks and gardens. The region is most famous for the historic town of Fontainebleau with a beautiful chateau and forest to explore, and nearby are several other charming areas in Seine-et-Marne to visit.
France is still very far from what developed countries have done for accessibility. It is easier to travel to the USA, Canada, England, the Nordic countries, Japan, Singapore, or Australia. Getting around with a wheelchair or limited mobility in France and accessing it is often a problem.
This is why associations are created to assert the rights of the disabled. For example, “MOBILITÉ RÉDUITE,” an association which campaigns for accessibility with the mission: to fight against discrimination and exclusion towards people with disabilities and reduced mobility resulting from non-compliance with the regulations in force in terms of accessibility to buildings open to the public, collective housing, public transport, parking, on roads and public spaces. President of the association Jean-Michel Royere is in a constant legal battle with the government of France for accessibility.
Public transportation is improving but there are many constraints and it’s complicated. Disabled people have priority if they have one of the following cards: disability card or painful standing card. The SNCF “Accès Plus” service provides you with a welcome and support service to enable you to travel and move more easily in stations and trains. This free service is available at train stations in Paris, and be sure to book 48-hours in advance.
If you want to get to Fontainebleau by public transport, use the train* service called Transilien, from the Gare de Lyon Station in Paris to the Fontainebleau-Avon Station. The Fontainebleau-Avon Station is considered accessible because they have installed two elevators for disabled people, and wide gates for wheelchairs and strollers to enter through. Some trains are not adapted to the height of the platform. From this train station use the bus line #1 toward L’Etape, which is wheelchair accessible, to take you into the center of Fontainebleau.
Note: A master plan to make train stations accessible specific to the Paris region is underway. The gradual renovation includes a range of dedicated spaces with 4 places for people in wheelchairs per train and accessible toilets. The reserved seats for people with disabilities are located in first class with a second class ticket. To take advantage of an equipped seat and obtain automatic assistance in stations, you must book at least 24-hours before the train’s departure, or by phone when booking. This is a smart idea when there is too great of a distance between the train and the platform and portable ramps are not sufficient, then a special lift apparatus enables people in wheelchairs to board easily.
To stay in Fontainebleau for one week and visit the surrounding cities you will need a car. You can rent a car from Wheeliz, the most known rental website specializing in disability adapted cars for wheelchair users. The Marché underground parking lot was completely renovated in 2016, and is a great location in the town center of Fontainebleau. The parking spaces are tight but there is direct access to the market and Fontainebleau’s shopping streets with many restaurants. It is also not far from the Château.
Where to Stay
Many travelers visiting Fountainbleu prefer to stay in the small, quaint hotels or former private mansions dating from the 18th century but these hotels are not fully accessible yet. The 3-star Campanile or the Ibis are modern and clean hotels located in the center of Fountainbleu and are fully accessible with lowered beds and roll-in showers. Furthermore, the Campanile has a reservation form with a “special request” box. Make sure to mention that you need an accessible room.
The Fontainebleau Castle was one of the preferred French kings’ residences for centuries; from François 1st to Napoléon III. The Castle is famous for it’s beautiful architecture and interior decor. It was built in 1528, five-hundred years older than Versailles Palace. In 1531, Francis 1st had the vision to create a “New Rome” and constructed his royal apartments in designs that combine Italian Renaissance and French design. He commissioned famous artists from Italy such as Leanoardo da Vinci.
The castle was inhabited by royals for eight centuries and you can see Marie-Antoinette’s bed and Napoleon’s throne and much more. There are 1,500 rooms and one-hundred and thirty acres of parks and gardens. Going around you feel like you could be one of the thirty-four kings or two emperors who lived there!
The Fontainebleau Castle is fifteen euros entry for adults and free for people with disabilities and an accompanying person. The Grand Apartments upstairs are the only accessible rooms; you need to request to use them at the reception desk. The Diane and English gardens are accessible but the others gardens are not because access is too difficult due to the cobblestones. Two accessible parking spaces are available at the castle and you have the option to be dropped off by car in front of the castle entrance. Accessible toilets are located in the reception area.
Like all state forests in France, Fontainebleau Forest is managed by the National Forestry Office ONF. Making the globally famous forest of Fontainebleau more accessible to people with disabilities is a priority public issue for the National Forestry Office. The ONF offers walking routes designed and adapted to all visitors. Therefore, as part of the “Fontainebleau, Exceptional Forest” initiative, 5 walks have been specially redesigned in the Fontainebleau forest.
To reach the forest of Fontainebleau near the Fontainebleau-Avon SNCF train station requires a seven minute bus ride and worth exploring for the views over the Croix du Calvaire, the Sponge Rock, Denecourt Tower and fountains. It is a short hike on the main asphalt trail and a magnificent view of Avon and Fontainebleau. There are several viewpoints, ponds, and little known corners such as:
- The Mare aux Evées Pond is an artificial body of water in the Fontainebleau forest created from scratch by man. This part of the forest was previously a vast swamp full of wildlife. The pond’s name comes from “euvea,” a place where birds and snakes lay their eggs; you can see ducks and frogs swimming along. The first trail of this hike has been designed to be wheelchair accessible. The paths have been stabilized but not paved. The dirt road surrounding the water is accessible except for a rocky section to avoid. Man-made, the ditches are in the forms of stars and the slopes are lined with oaks, firs, spruces and cypresses. You can enjoy a picnic at the edge of the Evées pond in a quiet area.
- The Samois sur Seine Promenade is along the Seine river on the other side of Fountainbleu forest is on a dirt road that is suitable for people with limited mobility and wheelchair-users. If you park your car at Fontaine le Port which goes along the path there are some very beautiful houses and it is never far from the water.
- The Fountaibleau Market is open on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday and is located in a big, accessible open plaza alongside some cafes. The market is full of people shopping for fresh produce, cheeses, meat, seafood, bread, pastries, clothes, and crafts.
- The Grand Parquet, on the edge of the Fontainebleau forest, is an event site welcoming all types of events: equestrian competitions, trails, running races, festivals, and hosts seminars and meetings. It is only accessible from the stands. The path is difficult. This year, around fifteen equestrian competitions will take place at The Grand Parquet.
Day-Trips Near Fontainebleau
Moret Sur Loing
7.5 miles from Fontainebleau is Moret Sur Loing, a royal medieval city and a lovely place to visit to see the Renaissance facades, banks along the Loing river, the bridge, and the Notre-Dame church. From the accessible road on the edge of the Loing is a magnificent view of the town. The Grand Jardin Aquatic Center is a fully accessible center with two pools, a splash pad for children, beaches and a balneotherapy area. Handisport athletes train here.
8 miles from Fountainbleu is a town at the junction of the Seine and the Loing rivers called Saint-Mammès Village. You can go along the water of both rivers but the footbridge is not accessible. “Batellerie et forêt” (Boat and forest) is a hiking pathway created so you can discover Saint-Mammès’s unique atmosphere between the water and forest.
Domaine de Courances
6 miles from Fountainbleau, the Domaine de Courances is known worldwide by garden lovers and invites you to explore a romantic park with classical French landscaping and English gardens. A peaceful moment is to go to the tearoom and look at the adjacent Japanese Gardens. The Château de Courances in the garden is a small private castle where the family still lives, and you can see the house with a tour guide. Though the tour of the interior of the château has not been made accessible, the castle will make the visit possible by using other accesses than those reserved for the public by contacting them in advance. Let them know when you want to come and they will organize a visit. The visit to the Park alternates between paved surfaces and lawns. The Foulerie tea room and the Japanese garden are both accessible. They provide three wheelchairs at the ticket office.
Milly La Foret
12 miles from Fountainbleau, Milly La Foret is a city at the outside limit of the forest. A must see is the Maison de Jean Cocteau, and both the home and garden offer wheelchair accessible. Jean Cocteau, born July 5, 1889 was a French poet, novelist, and artist. His entourage of friends and lovers included Pablo Picasso, Yul Brynner, Marlene Dietrich, Coco Chanel, Edith Piaf, and Colette. The house has been converted into a museum exhibiting rooms as they were when Jean Cocteau lived there. Thursdays go shopping at the stunning medieval hall from the end of the Middle Ages, built in 1479. You can find there almost everything related to France; different types of cheese, fish, seafood, meats, honey, jams, pies, fruits, and vegetables, as well as local arts and crafts.
Chapelle Saint-Blaise des Simples
The Chapelle Saint-Blaise des Simples is accessible for people with reduced mobility and those who use manual wheelchairs. It is surrounded by a botanical garden with a variety of medicinal plants. It is a quiet magical place, a true joy in the spring. Jean Cocteau is also buried in the chapel where a tombstone is engraved with his name and his last boyfriend’s words, “I stay with you.”
Château de Blandy les Tours
14 miles from Fountainbleu is a village with a medieval castle, along with several restaurants with accessible terraces. The fortified castle of Château de Blandy-les-Tours is one of the last surviving examples of medieval military architecture in Île-de-France. The castle has made visits mostly wheelchair accessible. Specific visits and visit assistance systems have been set up with the aim of promoting cultural diversity. The entrance to the castle is paved. The gift shop, the audiovisual space, the exhibition room, the courtyard and the ground floor of the auditorium are wheelchair accessible. The towers are not accessible. Three picture files at the reception are available to wheelchair users to discover parts of the castle that are difficult to access or are very high up. The toilets are accessible here as well.
Maincy is 15 miles from Fontainebleau where you will find the Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte, an elaborate baroque castle. Due to its extravagance, this castle is considered a smaller predecessor of the Palace of Versailles. The family who owns the castle wants to preserve the monument and also open it to all. This is contradictory in that wheelchair access requires spaces which conflict with the preservation of the castle. They have a reduced entry price set for disabled people. Reserved parking spaces are positioned in the main parking lot. Toilets for disabled people are available at the entrance of the estate. Access to the ground floor has about 30 steps. The staff is available to provide assistance to those in manual wheelchairs. The French Formal Garden, Carriage Museum and restoration points are all accessible. Electric cars are available for rent to visit the French Formal Garden. A manual wheelchair is available at the entrance of the château to visit the ground floor only. The Carriage Museum is fully accessible and worth the visit. It is as if you are going back in time. 17th, 18th and 19th century antique carriages and their equipment are on display. In the second part of the museum you can see an exhibition on saddlers and blacksmiths. The tour ends showing all the horse equipment-harnesses, bridles etc. If you love horses this part is for you!
Ormes sur Voulzie
25 miles from Fountainbleau is an area known as Les Ormes sur Voulzie where you will find the Musée de la Vie d’Autrefois. This is an impressive museum created in 2017 that stages scenes from the past and is fully accessible. Right next door is the excellent restaurant “Chez Grand-Mère,” which is fully accessible too. It is advisable to make a reservation to enjoy the delicious food. There is free parking that can also accommodate coaches. For a guided visit, remember to book, otherwise you can use audio guides for a visit in complete autonomy. There is free parking that can also accommodate coaches. Entrance for adults is 15€ and people with disabilities pay 10€. In this museum you will see scenes from life from the city to the countryside. It’s an educational museum that will astonish you exhibiting 65,000 tools, objects and vehicles dating from the years 1800 to 1950. No washing machines, gas, or microwaves, but wood or charcoal stoves and copper pots are on display.
11 miles from Fountainbleu and more than 2,000 years old, Melun is a royal city from the 11th century and is still full of prominent monuments. The Musée de la Gendarmerie is a fully accessible museum. The space guides you through the history of one of the oldest French institutions. Exceptional pieces and unusual works from swords, to the head of a carnival officer. The visit takes you on a journey from the Middle Ages to the present day. The museum is accessible to people with disabilities regardless of the disability. The museum is equipped with a: low reception desk, sufficiently wide circulation spaces, elevator, accessible toilets, exterior access ramp, accessible stairs (steps contrasting, tactile warning).
The Musée Aéronautique Spatial presents a collection of more than one-hundred airplanes, rockets and helicopters, along with models, audiovisual displays, and a 600-seat auditorium that hosts symposiums and other events. It is fully accessible and there is free entry on Wednesday and the last Saturday of the month. They use accessibility brands or labels for different disabilities obtained by Tourisme et Handicap.
What better vacation to take than to go on a trip to discover a heavenly region of France full of castles, nature, quaint villages and history. The best known areas of the world are not necessarily the most beautiful. In Seine-et-Marne you will learn the history and discover the exquisite natural beauty of France.