Fontainebleau is the most historic château in France. It has been a home to the monarchs for almost a thousand years, but it was in the 16th century that it began to rise to its pinnacle of elegance. Napoleon, in exile on St Helena, said "Voilà la vraie demeure des rois, la maison des siècles" (There's the true home of the kings, the house of centuries).

The name is obviously fountain plus something. Bleau? It's not in my French dictionary. It could be from belle eau or from a personal name Bliaut: legends differ. But it began as a hunting-lodge in 1247 in the middle of the great Forest of Fontainebleau. At least, I think it did. I'm reading French websites on the fly for this background, and won't guarantee my translations are 100%.

François I was the king who began bringing it up to its current artistic magnificence, starting in the 1520s. Subsequent kings and emperors kept adding in a variety of styles.

The Forest of Fontainebleau has an area of 25 000 ha, one of the largest in France.