If you’ve already been there or heard the word “Bleau” thousands of times from your friends, unfortunately nothing in this post will be new to you. But, if you’ve just started bouldering, have fun reading (and planning your next bouldering holiday), keep reading! You’ll want to leave straight away!
The bouldering mecca
Most of us are familiar with the scene’s more famous bouldering spots, such as the Rocklands in South Africa, Hueco Tanks, Bishop or Joe’s Valley in the US, Magic Wood in Switzerland or Hampi in India (to name a few). But, there are so many other smaller areas as well, many of which have grown in popularity in recent years. Not to mention, the new routes that are constantly being set.
However, today we’re going to talk about a destination that assumes a very special position among bouldering spots, namely Fontainebleau. Fontainebleau has become so popular that the magazine NEON even sent one of their editors there last year. Of course, whether or not that’s desirable is an entirely different question.
So, why Fontainebleau? Well, this is where everything began! Well, at least all things bouldering. Whilst everybody else was still climbing mountains with boots studded with cleats and hobnails or rejoicing because they were able to free climb a route, the French were bouldering in this small forest not too far from the beautiful city of Paris. In fact, they were even bouldering long before the sport climbing scene started doing it as a form of winter training.
What or where is Bleau?
When people refer to the bouldering area Bleau, they actually mean the forest near Fontainebleau, which is not too far away from Paris. This forest itself is full of countless sandstone boulders, which make up the bouldering area of Fontainebleau or “Bleau”.
So, if you go bouldering in Bleau, you’re bouldering in one of the many subareas there, such as Franchard, Apremont or Cuvier-Chatillon (just to name a few). These areas are then divided up further into sites. I know, it sounds confusing, but if they didn’t do this, bouldering guides would be a dreadful mess! After all, there are so many boulders in Bleau!
Where to spend the night
There are campsites, holiday flats, which range from being dirt cheap to ridiculously expensive, as well as designated bivouac sites. These are free of charge, equipped with a water supply and outdoor toilets and can be found in the bouldering guides.
Many boulderers even bivouac or camp right in front of the bouldering areas. As you can probably imagine, the park employees don’t like this one bit, since the bouldering guides explicitly state that you should use the designated sleeping areas.
This may not have been a big deal back in the day, but now that so many people travel to Bleau every year, it’s probably best that we all follow the rules. Otherwise, the car parks will turn into camping sites soon, too! Besides, a ten minute drive won’t kill you, right?
What’s the bouldering like?
Very traditional and technical. Bleau is where you learn to stand on your own two feet. Something you should probably considered before heading out is your shoes. You probably won’t be too happy with shoes with a lot of heel tension. I would recommend wearing softer, straighter shoes.
If you’re looking for a bouldering destination to stroke your own ego, Bleau is not for you. “Bleau teaches you humility”, as my co-worker would say.
Beautiful sandstone! This rock is much easier on your fingers, but also happens to be much more susceptible to external factors. So if the blocks are damp or even wet, don’t climb them, and always wipe off your shoes before starting.
What about when it rains?
So many people claim that the idyllic little town of Fontainebleau has nothing to offer. That couldn’t be any further from the truth! There’s a cinema that has English movies playing several times a week. Plus, there’s a very big park behind the castle and a fabulous farmer’s market that sells regional organic produce three times a week! Oh, and there are excellent pastry shops as well. Nothing to offer, ha!
What else is there to know?
Well, Bleau is a pretty busy place. After Easter at the very latest is when it really starts to get full. There are boulderers from all over the world. Last year (long before Easter), I met people from jolly old England, the Netherlands, lots of Scandinavians, Germans, Spaniards, Irishmen…I think that’s it!
Unfortunately, the famous bouldering sites in Bleau are quite the attraction for petty thieves as well. So, try not to leave any of your valuables in the car. The police patrol the area regularly, but it’s always better to err on the side of caution.
What’s else is there to say?
If you’re a boulderer and have a chance to go to Bleau, you have to do it! The same goes for Tessin, Magic Wood, Val di Mello … etc. Getting acquainted with other bouldering areas will not only expand your horizon but also improve your performance! Plus, you’ll gain a lot of valuable experience in Bleau, even if your ego suffers as a result.