Located 60 kilometers southeast of Paris, the large forest of Fontainebleau is one of the best and most well-documented bouldering areas in Europe.
Simply known as the “Font” to foreigners and “Bleau” (pronounced bloh) to locals, it was originally a training ground for aspiring alpinists at the end of the nineteenth century.
However, since then there’s been a bit of a bouldering revolution and the area is now one of the world’s top destinations for the sport.
The area boasts a myriad of sandstone boulders providing more than 20,000 problems (or the sequence of moves necessary for a climber to perform in order to complete the climb), which range from PD (easy) to ED+ (very advanced).
Many of these problems are numbered and color-coded (on-circuit), but many of the more difficult ones are not (off-circuit). Hiring a guide is highly recommended in order to make the most of all the options available to you here.
Ivan Houppertz is a rock climbing instructor certified in Climbing in Natural Environments (DEJEPS) and a bit of a bouldering expert in the Fontainebleau. He recently took some time out from scrambling to tell Explore & Share a bit more about bouldering here.
What Makes Fontainebleau a World-Class Bouldering Destination
Photo courtesy of Kivik François.
Fontainebleau and its famous forest are full of wonderment for climbers and outdoor adventurers to discover. The forest is renowned for its bizarrely shaped rocks, which look like elephants, tortoises and crocodiles. You certainly won’t want to miss these when you come here.
Getting up above the tree line also gives you great views out over the forest. It is no wonder so many Parisians come here on the weekends in order to escape the city for awhile.
“Fontainebleau is a wonderful destination for bouldering,” Ivan said. “During the climbing sessions, you’ll enjoy a fantastic place, especially when you get on top of the hills that constitute the massif, with nice views out over dozens of kilometers.”
Plenty of variety
The boulders in Fontainebleau come in all shapes and sizes, so there are plenty of different challenges to undertake. You could even make multiple different ascents up the same boulder.
“The diversity of the rocks is huge,” Ivan said. “Not only can you change the level at which you are climbing but also vary the skills you are using to get on top. Take both of these into account and no climb is boring.”
Also, for those who are up for arduous mountain hikes, “the treks you can do to climb the hills one after the other are a good training”, he added and recommended the “Circuit des 25 Bosses” in Fontainebleau.
Short distance from Paris
Fontainebleau is only at a 1.5 h drive from Paris. If you fly into the Paris-Orly airport, you can be there in just 40 minutes. Its strategic location makes it perfect for a short getaway from the French capital.
Where to Go in Fontainebleau, Difficulty Level & Required Skills
Photo courtesy of Kivik François.
In Fontainebleau, there is more bouldering than you could possibly do in a lifetime. The choices are nearly endless!
However, Ivan has a few favorites that he recommends to climbers of just about every level.
“Some of the most popular climbing areas are Trois-Pignons (1 on the map below) near the town of Milly-la-Forêt; Apremont (2) near Fontainebleau; or spots like Larchant (3) close from Nemours,” he said. “There are a lot of places to explore within the 20,000 hectares of the forest.”
Larchant is home to the famous elephant-shaped rock as well as Mont Simonet, which has several quite difficult routes for experienced climbers. Apremont alone boasts more than 500 boulders ranging in difficulty from PD to ED+.
With a wide range of mixed difficulty levels, Fontainebleau is the perfect spot for first-time outdoor climbers (with previous rock climbing experience) as well as seasoned pros. There are even some unsolved problems awaiting those daring enough to take them on.
“The difficulties are mixed in the different spots and areas so you can enjoy bouldering being a group with mixed skills,” Ivan said. “On the same rock, there’s often a simple and a very hard problem.”
First steps into bouldering with a guide. Photo courtesy of Ivan Houppertz.
This means that many of the necessary skills for bouldering can be taught on site. The only thing you will need to come with in order to enjoy your time out on the rocks is a pretty good level of physical fitness.
Both technical and mental abilities can be developed out on the rocks with the help of guides such as Ivan!
How to get to Fontainebleau?
Since Fontainebleau is only 60 kilometers southeast of Paris, the bouldering hotspot is pretty easily accessed by car, rail or bus.
If you are arriving internationally, you will likely fly into Paris’ Charles de Gaulle International Airport (CDG).
From here, or the center of Paris, it is pretty easy to take the Transilien Paris–Lyon rail line to either Fontainebleau–Avon or Thomery. However, once you have arrived in Fontainebleau, it is pretty difficult to get around without renting a car.
As you’ve seen, the best bouldering spots are quite spread out. Renting a car, which can easily be done in Paris or at CDG (directions are shown on map above), gives you the freedom to head to all of these spots over the course of a few days and take in al the bouldering that you can.
However, be sure not to leave any valuables in the car and try to park in busy areas as break-ins are unfortunately more common than they should be.
If you need some recommendations of where to stay in Fontainebleau, here are a few options:
Gîte Au Jardin des Arts Barbizon – Charming cottage & lovely tenant!
Fontainebl Hostel – Simple dormitory, private rooms & camping in the garden
What’s the Best Time to Go to Fontainebleau?
Photo courtesy of Kivik François.
While bouldering may be done year-round in Fontainebleau, Ivan recommends coming in either the spring or autumn, when the temperatures are not too high or low, there is the least precipitation and the humidity is also not too high.
“We could climb all year round, but I enjoy spring and autumn the most as these seasons have the best conditions for bouldering,” he said. “There is less rain and not too much heat.”
BONUS: Indoor Climbing in Paris
If you like the sound of bouldering and climbing in the outdoors, but you’ve never climbed before then starting out in a gym is the best way to prepare.
According to Ivan,
“Taking an indoor climbing course is a good first step in order to get outside later. It’s a good alternative to a classical gym workout, and at the same time a friendly and convivial sport that also trains your brain, muscles, coordination and flexibility, all the while, preparing you for outdoor climbing.”
Indoor climbing provides you with all the basics that you will later apply to bouldering. You will learn the correct techniques and safety protocols for bouldering, while improving posture and training all the muscles that are used in climbing, but not in very many other daily activities.
Climbing in the gym is both a great workout and a great way to train for your next bouldering adventure. Photo courtesy of Ivan Houppertz.
So what are you waiting for? Book your next bouldering trip to lovely Fontainebleau now and get ready for a vacation that rocks!
Read this blog post in French.