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near Barbizon, Île-de-France (France)
This brisk hike takes in a lot of highlights of the Fontainebleau Forest, roughly between Fontainebleau and Barbizon. It includes among others the Gorges de Franchard, the Elephant rock, the Gorges d’Apremont, the Tour Denecourt, the Croix du Calvaire, the park and gardens of Fontainebleau Castle, Mont Aigu, an endless series of particularly shaped sandstone rocks, little fountains and natural ponds, and varied forest types (pine, oak, beech). The hike is largely on forest tracks and trails. The ridges of sandstone hills with peculiar rocks require continuous climbing and descent on uneven trails. Many trails I chose are well signposted with blue arrows and paint dots, part of one of many Denecourt-Colinet trails, named after the guides who developed these trails in the nineteenth century (Colinet being the successor of Denecourt). The sandstone rocks have peculiar shapes like an elephant and a crocodile, and are also used for rock climbing (bouldering). The gardens and courtyards within the Fontainebleau castle grounds are free and open between 9 am and 5 to 7 pm, depending on the season (see https://www.chateaudefontainebleau.fr/Opening-Hours?lang=en). Only in Fontainebleau/Avon and at the start of the Cavalière des Brigands, you will find something to eat or drink.
The hike starts at the free parking at the entrance of the Gorges de Franchard. I started at sunrise, and there was a deer on the Route de l’Ermitage next to the parking. From the parking you walk past the building of the Ermitage and then you follow the blue signs on the Sentier des Gorges de Franchard. The route directly takes you on a sandstone ridge with boulders and pine trees. The winding trail takes you past several viewpoints (although it was a bit misty on my trip) to the viewpoint Point de Vue de Saint-Mégrin. Soon after you descend from the ridge and go north, passing de Butte de Franchard, and the D409 road, towards the Gorges d’Apremont. You follow the ridge on a small trail towards the famous Elephant rock. From here you go east towards the start of the Cavalière des Brigands trail, where there is also a restaurant. The trail takes you up on another sandstone ridge with peculiar boulders. You pass by the Caverne des Brigands, a little cave, and walk on past the Mare aux Biches, a natural pond. You walk through a flatter piece before you get to another hill with another pond, the Mare aux Sangliers. Shortly after, you come across some small sand drifts (the area is also called Désert d’Apremont, and then cross the busy four-lane D607: watch out for fast traffic! On a forest road you to the D142 where there is the Belle Croix at a parking. Here starts another trail through another hilly area with a fountain, a cave and more boulders. At the end of the trail you come to a large grassy area (Cabaret Masson). You cross the D606 and follow other small trails in the Rocher Cassepot area, including viewpoint. After crossing the D116 it is another trail with rocks until you get to the Tour Denecour, a tower with viewpoint. From here you follow fores tracks with viewpoints, fountains and the Sponge Stone towards the Croix du Calvaire. Here, you have a good view across Fontainebleau. You descend to Avon, the town grown together with Fontainebleau, and walk to the castle park. You cross it towards the Canal Grande, and then to the entrance of the castle garden and courtyards (not open early in the morning, and in the evening). You get a good view of the castle before you end up on the square in front of the castle, where there are some bars and restaurants. From here you walk west towards the forest. Along a long and pretty straight forest road through dry forest you get to the start of the trail that takes you up the Mont Aigu, with sandstone rock formations and a view. After descending the hill, you walk west back towards the start, on the way crossing another area with sandstone hills. After crossing the D301 you pass by the natural pond Mare aux Pigeons. From there, it is not far back to the starting point.
The Allée Napoléon takes you straight from the park entrance towards the castle. There is a source of a stream about halfway.
The path steeply rises the last few meters to the top of the hill Butte de Franchard
Grassy plain near the hippodrome and near a parking lot on the D606
Trail across a sandstone ridge with lots of peculiar rocks, a cave, and natural ponds. There are wooden steps in places. At the start is a restaurant.
Castle. You walk through the courtyards, which are free to enter, and open every day, but not all day. See https://www.chateaudefontainebleau.fr/Opening-Hours?lang=en for more information.The castle itself can also be visited for a fee.
Courtyard bordering on the Étang des Carpres, a little lake with carps
Front courtyard of the castle.
Large cross at a viewpoint across Fontainebleau. From here you descend to the town.
Road crossing at a bifurcation.
Here you have to cross a four-lane road where traffic is either approaching a roundabout, or accelerating from it. You have to cross all four lanes at once.
Small sand drifts in a dry area called Désert d'Apremont.
Here you enter the gardens of Fontainebleau Palace. The gardens and courtyards are free to visit every day of the year, but not all day. See https://www.chateaudefontainebleau.fr/Opening-Hours?lang=en for more information.
Cave with gates in front of it
Long and straight canal in the center of the Fontainebleau castle park
Hill with viewpoint and peculiar sandstone rocks
Building at the start of the Gorges de Franchard. Also called the Ermitage.
Viewpoint to the north of Franchard ridge
Viewpoint of the Gorges d'Apremont
Straight sandy road towards the Mont Aigu
Forest track between D607 and D142. At the end is an old cobblestone road.
Track named Sentier Bleu. There are some natural ponds along this track as well.
Trail taking you from the Tour Denecourt towards the Croix the Calvaire
Trail taking you from Cabaret Masson through the Rocher Cassepot area
Trail taking you through the hilly sandstone area between the Belle Croix parking lot and Cabaret Masson
Track taking you from the Mont Aigu area towards the Gorges de Franchard
Track of the Gorges de Franchard
Stone tower with viewing platform, named after the 19th century guide to the Fontainebleau Forest
Track to Tour Denecourt from D116 along a ridge with sandstone rocks
Trail along the Gorges d'Apremont
Viewpoint at the Gorges de Franchard
Viewpoint in the Rocher Cassepot area
Rock resembling an elephant.