Posted on January 20 2015
Situated a convenient hour south of Paris, Fontainebleau is the undisputed home of bouldering. People have been clambering about on these sandstone playgrounds since 1874 and the area has remained at the forefront of the sports development ever since (its home to the world first grade 4,5,6 and 7!). ‘Font’ as its called by the English (through a combination of convenience and no-one knowing how to pronounce ‘bleau’) is actually a fair sized, picturesque town in a pine forest just off the A6. The bouldering is quite spread out, with 30 distinct (or not so distinct!) areas dissipating well outside the forests boundary. Aside from its picturesque setting and the sheer volume of climbing here, its the quality of the problems that have ensured its popularity for the last 140 years.
There are several choices open to you if you fancy making the pilgrimage over the channel. Probably the cheapest is to drive with a car full of mats and mates. If you want to be more environmentally friendly it is possible to get the train or bus (http://www.boulderbus.co.uk) direct from London and even hire bikes from the station. Your other option is to fly to Paris and either get the train or hire a car to get down to the forest.
Where to stay?:
Font is a full of large holiday houses called ‘Gites’ owned by well-to-do Parisians which can accommodate large numbers of people at relatively low costs (http://maisonbleau.com). This is often a good idea if there are more than a few of you and might work out cheaper than the good but expensive campsite, La Musardiere at Milly la Foret, 91490 (+33(0)164989191). Car camping cannot be advised but may be possible during quiet periods. The police have been known to fine and move people on (its also probably best to avoid Bas Cuvier car park at night unless dogging is your thing!). The cheapest hotel option is Formula 1 in town.
Given the spread out nature of the bouldering at Font there is little doubt that a car will improve your experience. If this is an impossibility then you can get the train to Rocher Canon or Rocher St. Germain where you’ll find enough there to keep you entertained only 30 minutes walk from the station.
One thing you will notice as you walk amongst the boulders is the painted arrows and numbers on some of the rocks. At first this is quite shocking to see given the generally accepted concerns around minimising our impact on the environment. This practice originated a long time ago to mark circuits which were used as as training for alpine exploits and whilst frowned on by some there is little doubt that navigating the forest without them would prove much more challenging.
Fontainebleau is a large and complex area which guidebook writers have understandably struggled with in the past. The level and volume of profanities in the forest has been significantly reduced recently with the publication of some of the newer guides so its probably worth the investment especially if its your first visit.
To Pof or not to Pof?:
A hangover from a by-gone age that some ‘Bleausard’s’ still hold dear is the use of Pof. This is a pine resin which is placed in a cloth bag and hit onto holds to improve the friction. There is huge controversy over whether its more or less damaging to the sandstone boulders than chalk but the one thing that’s for certain is that you may be killed for using it anywhere other than Font.
Food and Gear:
In typical French style things open late and close for a long lunch before reopening (unless its sunday when everything shut). It is therefore necessary to be a little organised as you wont simply be able to find what you want when you want it. Almost all the little villages have a small shop, bakery and chemist but the Centre Commercial Carrefour at Villiers-en-Biere near Bas Cuvier has more convenient opening times and variety. There’s also a Decathlon for all your climbing needs if http://www.soescalade.com is closed.
pic. Andy ‘The Blade’ Hall crushing font 5+ along with his tongue