Finding Fontainebleau

March comes in like a lion and goes out like a clam, or so my son says. Yesterday, which marked the halfway point between the big cat and the shellfish, was positively springlike (clamlike?) and we celebrated by escaping the city for the trees and giant boulders of Fontainebleau.

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Fontainebleau is one of the best places — if not the best — for outdoor activities (hiking, bouldering, mountain biking) in the Paris area. Although little was in bloom, our first stop revealed thousands of cricket nymphs (and quite a few preying spiders) emerging from the cover of oak leaves on the forest floor. They made an almost inaudible click-click-click-click-click as they hopped from leaf to leaf. A perfect day to shed the winter coats, picnic in the sun, and climb giant rocks!

Where to go in Fontainebleau: That’s really the main problem with any visit — there are a lot of choices. Besides stating the obvious (getting a topo map from the tourist office or FNAC) I can vouch for the sentiers Denecourts, the oldest trails in the park, marked with blue blazes. Yesterday we did half of the Sentier Denecourt 11; supposedly you can do the entire trail in a lazy four hours (if you aren’t exploring with children) taking in several viewpoints and two small hills along the way.

How to get there:  Take the A6a south from Porte d’Orléans (Paris) to the town of Fontainebleau (about 45 minutes). The Sentier Denecourt 11 is off the D58 south of the town. It’s a loop and there doesn’t seem to be any real trailhead, but a good place to start is at the picnic area next to the Maison Forestière de la Grande Vallée, just before reaching the village of Bourron-Marlotte.