Searching for spectacular day trip ideas from the sophisticated French capital? If you’re keen to drive out of Paris and be surrounded by some gloriously untouched landscapes in under an hour, consider a road trip to the enchanting Fontainebleau Forest.
What’s so special about the Fontainebleau Forest?
Situated 40 miles (70km) away from the heart of Paris, the protected Fontainebleau Forest is the city’s largest green lung and a gorgeous spot for a walk. It’s the second largest forest in the whole of France and has formed part of the royal parkland surrounding the grand Fontainebleau Chateau since the 10th century.
The forest hasn’t always been called the Fontainebleau, though. The ancient woodland was named Bière for centuries before the new name was adopted in the 17th century. It’s also actually made up of two major forests – Fontainebleau and Trois Pignons – which are both fit to bursting with thousands of varieties of flora and fauna, huge deciduous trees and numerous spectacular sandstone rock formations.
Things to see and do in the Fontainebleau Forest
If exploring the lush landscapes of the Fontainebleau Forest while the sun shines down on you sounds like the perfect day, why not fill your time by:
Hiking through woods and down dramatic gorges
With over 800 miles (1400km) of picturesque pathways and marked walking trails, the Fontainebleau Forest is a prime spot for those keen to stretch their legs. Breathe in some fresh air on a leisurely stroll, follow the blue Denecourt-Colinet trail signs from Fontainebleau for a slightly longer walk, or map out a much more strenuous route in advance if you’re an experienced trekker.
Key walking areas include the Gorges de Franchard and the Massif des Trois Pignons. If you’d rather keep your feet above the ground though, why not navigate the forest’s leafy pathways by bike or even on horseback instead?
Touring the fairy tale Fontainebleau Chateau
France is positively bursting with beautiful chateaus, some of which date back hundreds of years and were previously occupied by royalty. While the huge Fontainebleau Chateau may not be as famous as Versailles 40 minutes to the north, it’s just as impressive (there’s a whopping 1500+ rooms!) and has an equally regal history.
Built in the 12th century, the UNESCO World Heritage site served as one of the main residences of numerous French monarchs and presidents – including Catherine de Medici, Louis XVI and Napoleon Bonaparte – before it became a museum in 1927.
You’ll find the chateau on the eastern fringes of the forest in the town of Fontainebleau. Must-sees within it include the grand Ballroom, the opulent Turkish boudoir of Marie-Antoinette and Emperor Napoleon’s apartments (including his stately throne room).
Going bouldering or rock climbing
Want to test out your strength? The Fontainebleau Forest is actually one of the top sites in the world for mountain climbing. Whether you’re a complete beginner or have clambered up cliffs, crags and peaks all over the globe, you’ll be able to have a go at dedicated centres around the forest.
Bouldering has also been popular in the area since the 19th century when alpine explorers would practice their climbing skills on the sandstone cliffs before heading to the French Alps in the east. If you’re keen to try out either sport for yourself, le Bas-Cuvier and les Gorges d’Apremont are two of the best spots in the forest and situated just a few kilometres from Fontainebleau.
Taking a traditional carriage ride through the forest
To explore the forest like they did way back when, this is your best option. Sit back in an old-fashioned horse drawn carriage and let the wind whip through your hair as you glide beneath the trees.
Run by the Attelages de la Fôret, you can hire out a carriage with a driver for twenty minutes or enjoy a forty minute guided tour from Porte Doree (the main entrance to Fontainebleau Chateau) or Allée de Maintenon. Prices start at just €6 for adults and €4 for kids.
Journeying through the trees by dog sled
To learn a new skill during your Fontainebleau Forest road trip, dog sledding is a surprisingly popular activity. As snow is a rarity except in winter, the dogs in Fontainebleau instead pull karts or scooters with wheels attached to them which are specifically designed to tackle the rough forested terrain.
In addition to just enjoying a ride on a dog kart in the shadow of the trees, you can also have a lesson in how to control and lead the dogs yourself. Prefer to keep your feet firmly on the forest floor? Try going on a guided trek where a dog is attached to you to help pull you up steeper hills and paths. The activities are all run by Evasion Canine (experts in dog sledding), with prices beginning at €30.
Getting to the Fontainebleau Forest
Sold on the idea of a Fontainebleau Forest day trip? To get there by car from Paris, head south along the E5. Keep left and merge on to the A6. After about 20 miles (34km), you’ll take the N37/N7 exit towards Fontainebleau (approximately 15 minutes away).
The best place to begin your explorations is in the town of Fontainebleau. From there, you can spend a couple of hours touring the chateau before you get back to nature in the forest itself.
Searching for another day trip idea from romantic Paris? Satisfy your sweet tooth with a culinary road trip to sample some of the top French patisseries and cakes outside of the capital.