The natural heritage of the Ile-de-France region includes 50 state-owned forests, covering 75,000 hectares of land. The forest trails are popular with everyone – from families enjoying a day out to hikers, cyclists, climbers, poets and artists. There are 148 cultural attractions within the region’s forests, which host many cultural events. Some sites feature on Unesco’s World Heritage List, like the Château de Fontainebleau.
Forêt de Rambouillet
Located merely 60 kilometres from the capital, the magnificent Rambouillet National Forest attracts visitors from all over France with its wealth of hiking trails and extraordinary diversity of fauna and flora. Its 14,000-hectare expanse is managed by the National Forests Office, which preserves and sustainably manages the unique environment of the forest to ensure people have an enjoyable visit in harmony with their natural surroundings. The forest is criss-crossed by 92 km of hiking trails and 60 km of cycle trails, and draws families, groups of friends, sport lovers, photographers and cyclists.
Espace Rambouillet, a wildlife haven deep inside the forest, is a popular day out for families and groups of friends. Red deer, roe deer, fallow deer and wild boar can be observed here, living free in their natural environment. An instructive half-day visit with a guide is available on request. There are five horse riding trails for riders of all levels, and some stunning ponds for people who enjoy fishing.
Getting there: Take a Transilien Line N train from Paris-Montparnasse station and get off at Rambouillet station.
Details on the Rambouillet tourist office website
Forêt de Fontainebleau
Besides its famous chateau, the Fontainebleau forest has all manner of treasures for people of all ages: sport lovers, historians, artists or just casual visitors on a day out. Landscape and travel photographers have immortalized its sweeping landscapes and astonishingly varied flora: no fewer than 5,685 plant species. Its 25,000-hectare expanse makes it the largest national forest in the Ile-de-France, and it is a firm favourite with inhabitants of the region, who come to explore its cultural and natural heritage. The forest is famed for its rocky gorges, which draw climbers from around the world keen to test their skills in this picturesque setting.
Though it is mainly known as a must-do for climbers, the Fontainebleau forest offers other unusual activities. Thrill-seeking children will enjoy the chance to have a ride in a kart drawn by sled dogs, an activity usually associated with snowy places. And of course a visit to the Château de Fontainebleau is highly recommended. Built between the 16th and 18th centuries, it is a French heritage treasure only a short distance from the capital.
Getting there: At Paris Gare de Lyon station, take Line R going to Montargis and get off at either Bois Le Roi (to enter the forest from the northern end) or Montigny le Loing (to explore the southern part of the forest).
Other forests in the Paris region
Forêt de Meudon
Ile-de-France is a ‘green lung’ filled with forests. This wonderful natural heritage enables the inhabitants of Paris and Ile-de-France to enjoy offbeat leisure activities, or simply to escape from the hectic pace of life in the city for a few hours. The Meudon forest is the one nearest Paris, and the largest in the Hauts-de-Seine département. There are 16.5 km of hiking trails. Amateur painters and people out for a casual stroll enjoy contemplating the plant and animal life: reeds and water lilies; herons, cormorants and coypu rodents. The Meudon forest also has some remnants of the late Stone Age, notably the ‘Pierre aux Moines’ menhir.
Forêt domaniale de Montmorency
There are 30 km of walking trails in the Montmorency National Forest, and much to be discovered during a walk, particularly the Château de la Chasse deep inside this beautiful woodland. Now a listed monument, the castle once hosted visits by many French kings, who enjoyed hunting in the forest. It is still rich in wildlife. The ‘Chemin du Philosophe’, a specially designed trail, will appeal to deep thinkers. Each station along the route features a subject of philosophical meditation to get people to engage in reflection.
The Armainvilliers forest in Seine-et-Marne is blessed with deep, fertile soil benefiting the growth of sessile oak. The oaks and other tree species lining the trails seem to go on forever, and a hike or cycle ride through the forest takes on a dream-like feel. A wonderful place to really get away from it all.
Forêt de Marly
A favourite with joggers, the Marly forest also has some unique heritage features open to the public all year round: a Chappe telegraph tower station, a swing bridge and the Fort du Trou d’Enfer, part of Paris’s 19th-century fortifications. French and European Impressionist painters such as Corot, Sisley and Pissarro drew inspiration from the tranquillity of the forest and its abundance of flowering plants to create some of their most beautiful works. The National Forests Office has set up the ‘École de la campagne et de la forêt’ (country and forest school), with fun workshops open to people of all ages as a way to increase public awareness of woodland biodiversity.