Travel Spotlight: Bouldering Mecca Fontainebleau
Located only forty miles from Paris, the Forest of Fontainebleau is commonly regarded as the world’s best bouldering destination. With grades ranging from 1 (much easier than V0) to 8C+ (V16), it is the perfect venue for any boulderer, from absolute beginner to elite athlete.
Although scores of climbers from around the globe visit Fontainebleau solely for its rock, the area is easily accessible from Paris, making it a popular day trip destination for walkers, bikers and horse riders.
In addition to the stunning royal palace in the town of Fontainebleau itself, charming villages are dotted around the forest, luring visitors with the smell of incredible French bread and pastries.
Before the area became popular for its climbing, it served as a hunting ground for the French kings and gentry, and later as an inspiration for some of the world’s most famous painters.
Aspiring alpinists discovered the forest’s excellent sandstone in the 19th century. Using it as a training ground, they scrambled on small rocks, enchaining their accents into long circuits to mimic the challenges of alpine climbing. It was only in the second half of the last century that bouldering gained its status as a standalone discipline, valued for its powerful, gymnastic movements.
The longest of Fontainebleau circuits was devised in 1953 and comprises more than two hundred bouldering problems, all of them very easy by modern standards. Nearly all of the most popular areas have at least one color coded circuit with little numbers painted on the rock.
Interestingly, the most difficult black circuit at Cuisiniere had never been completed in one day, until last year and Finnish climber Nalle Hukkataival documented his accomplishment in a short movie.
Fontainebleau sandstone is famous for spitting off even the best of climbers. This is known among boulderers as “spanking:” failing on grades that in theory should be very easy. Even Adam Ondra, the world’s best rock climber, fell off one of the area’s most famous boulders, La Marie Rose! Graded 6A (V2/3), it should be a walk in the park not only for Ondra but for any intermediate boulderer. For gym-bred climbers, visiting Fontainebleau is a true lesson in technique and humility.
How to Get There
The train journey from Paris to Fontainebleau takes under an hour but as many of the best climbing areas are not in walking distance, renting a car makes for a much better experience. With several crash pad rentals in the area, the only equipment you need to bring is a pair of climbing shoes. (Although climber Charles Albert proves that even that isn’t necessary.)
Unlike many of the world’s best bouldering destinations, the forest spreads over a very flat area making it accessible for families with small children. (Buggy friendly paths and circuits designed especially for toddlers are detailed in the Funbloc guidebook.)
Friction on soft sandstone is highly weather dependent, so for hard bouldering the best time to visit the forest is late autumn or early spring. In dry weather, climbing in Fontainebleau is possible year round. In summer, the usually quiet forest is buzzing with people, giving it a leisurely holiday vibe suitable for a major tourist destination attracting over 13 million visits per year.