A magnificent vast forest of 42.000 acres, once a royal hunting ground, surrounds the marshy terrain of the château, number two in the French royal domain stakes  after Versailles. Apart from touring the imposing palace, visitors can indulge in horseback riding, cyclin, rockclimbing, or simply walking in the forest. Only a few miles to the north lies Barbizon, famous for its mid-19th century school of landscape painters. A former hunting lodge dating from the 12th century, the château was transformed into a major royal residence by François I in the 16th century, he brought the best of Italy’s Renaissance artists and craftsmen to decorate its lofty interior and laid out the garden with lakes and canals. Le Nôtre stepped in during the mid-7th century to redesign the garden, and the palace itself underwent numerous modifications and additions over the years before being finally adopted by Napoleon as a suitably majestic base.