Fontainebleau Forest and Château

October 18, 2005By Heidi EllisonDaytrips From Paris

Leaf Peeping in France

The Fontainebleau Forest is a rock climber’s paradise.

What better time to take a walk in the Fontainebleau Forest than in the fall, when the air is scented with the earthy smell of wild mushrooms (notably deliciously meaty cèpes) and the trees glow in shades of orangey red.

The largest wooded area in the Paris area, the forest is famous for its fantastic rock formations, some of them as holey as Swiss cheeses, with descriptive names like l’Eléphant, Le Cul de Chien (dog’s butt) and Gargantua. An attraction for both serious rock climbers (Alpine climbers train in the forest) and just-plain nature lovers, they were sculpted by the sands of an ancient sea that once covered the region. Its sandy floor is now the forest floor, and out of it grow over 5,000 plants species, half of them varieties of mushrooms, and oak, pine, beech and silver birch trees.

As you make your way through the forest, you may run into some of the 6,600 animal species that live there, as well as souvenirs left behind by 19th-century visitors: fountains and melancholy poems inscribed on plaques in little grottoes in the middle of the forest. Unfortunately, the hundreds of kilometers of hiking trails sometimes cross heavily traveled roads, guaranteed to interrupt a nature reverie.

The forest is easily reached by train or car from the city. Take a suburban (banlieue) train from the Gare de Lyon to Fontainebleau-Avon. Trains run about every hour and a half during the day, and the ride takes 45 minutes. When you leave the station, turn right, go past its café and take the stairs up to a busy road. You will see the forest on the other side, beyond the outdoor swimming pool (a good place for a dip on a hot summer day). Paths are marked with colored paint on trees and rocks. A double line indicates a change of direction and a curved arrow a bend in the path. An “x” means “don’t take this path.” The duration of various walks is posted.

For a more cultural experience, the Château de Fontainebleau can be reached by bus from the train station. The château was originally a hunting lodge for the kings of France in the 12th century. François I built the current palace in the 16th century and imported great Renaissance artists from Italy to decorate it. From then on, nearly every French ruler (and their consorts) left his mark on the palace, renovating and redecorating to suit their personal tastes and the fashions of the day. Napoleon I made it his principal residence to avoid association with the Sun King at Versailles.

Don’t miss the famous Fer à Cheval (horseshoe) stairway, where Napoleon stood to bid farewell to his Imperial Guard, assembled before him in the Cour des Adieux, before leaving for exile in Elba. Frescoes by Italian artists can be admired in the Galerie François I, the Escalier d’Honneur and the beautifully restored ballroom. The queen’s apartment boasts Gobelin tapestries, and Napoleon’s throne room and apartments can also be visited, as can the gardens and park, with their fountains, carp pond, canal and imported trees.

Heidi Ellison

Château de Fontainebleau: 77300 Fontainebleau. Tel.: 01 60 71 50 70. Open October-May, 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.; June-September, 9:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Closed Tuesday. 15-minute bus ride from Fontainebleau-Avon train station (a combined train-bus-château ticket can be purchased at the Gare de Lyon station in Paris). By car: Autoroute A6.

More outings.

© 2005 Paris Update

Reader Reaction

Click here to respond to this article (your response may be published on this page and is subject to editing).


What do you think? Send a comment:

Your comment is subject to editing. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe for free!

The Paris Update newsletter will arrive in your inbox every Wednesday, full of the latest Paris news, reviews and insider tips.