A day trip to Fontainbleau Forest & Barbizon

When you live in a concrete jungle, even one as beautiful as Paris, you need to get away from it all every now and then. Paris, just like London, is very well located in that aspect and is surrounded by gorgeous villages and countryside which can be reached within a few hours. An added incentive for us is that most of these villages are surrounded by forests and that makes for a great day trip for Mia as well!

Fontainbleau is located about 60 kilometers from Paris. It’s best known for its Château, one of the largest among the French royal châteaux. The medieval castle and palace served as a residence for the French monarchs from Louis VII to Napoleon III. Because it’s less well known that Versailles, the place is not usually crowded and makes for a very pleasant visit.

However, as grand as it might be, the Château was not the reason we selected Fontainbleau for a day trip. That’s because dogs are not allowed there. The Château, however, is located in the heart of a vast forest in the Seine-et-Marne region and that was the main attraction for us.

After reaching the Chateau and admiring it from the outside – it is gorgeous to look at – we drove to another village called Barbizon, a mere 15 minutes drive away. Also known as the Painters’ village, Barbizon became the centre of the naturalist movement in landscape painting between 1830 and 1870. Artists from different backgrounds gathered together in the environs of Barbizon and the surrounding forests, united by their passion for painting en plein air and their desire to elevate landscape painting to a subject in its own right. Some of the most well-known leaders of the Barbican school were Théodore RousseauJean-François Millet, and Charles-François Daubigny.

Forest of Fontainebleau, Cluster of Tall Trees Overlooking the Plain of Clair-Bois
Théodore Rousseau (French, 1812 – 1867)

Woman with a Rake
Jean-François Millet 

Despite the fact that hundreds of art lovers throng Barbizon every year, the place continues to retain its village atmosphere. A long main street lined with old studios converted into museums, art galleries, hotels and restaurants form the key attraction.

Whilst walking down the main street, we spotted Creperie Barjole where the tables were laid out in the courtyard, as opposed to the street. It looked very cozy and we were quite famished by then, so we decided to have lunch there before heading out to the forest.

The foret de Fontainbleau is the second largest national forest in France. In addition to hiking, horse-riding and cycling, this forest is also renowned for rock-climbing. Scattered with thousands of sandstone boulders of all shape and sizes, these rocky areas extend across a large area of the forest. One such area is close to the commune of Milly-la-Foret.

We spent the rest of the afternoon just walking in the forest and climbing some of the smaller, more manageable boulders. After a hearty meal, this was all the exercise we needed. Mia was her usual happy self, glad to get off the lead for a couple of hours.

Soon it was time to head back to Paris – the drive back always longer and less exciting than the drive out.

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