Escape from Paris? Yes, sometimes even the truest Parisphile needs a little break from the romance of this concrete jungle in exchange for some country air. We arose early to the sun gently warming our toes peeking out from under the duvet and knew, this was our day to escape. The marathon de Paris was about to take over the city, so it was now or ever…
But where to…?
“Somewhere less an hour away”, I say hopping around the bedroom with one shoe. I’m picturing a charming village straight off a Provençale post card, one we can reach in time for lunch and have a table for two in a sun-drenched garden with hens crowing next-door.
Too much to ask?
Hardly. When Provence is too far but Paris is too close, take out your map and find the little village near Fontainebleau known as Barbizon.
Less than an hour after leaving Paris, we roll into town and my eyes start doing that pinball machine thing again, frantically trying to scan every adorable inch of the main street. How often do things turn out just as you’d imagined them? The church bells are calling local residents, known as les Barbizonnais, a name I instantly decide I want to adopt for the day, and become an honorary Barbizonnais.
The lunch tables are not quite set so we take advantage of the late morning lull to poke around…
Barbizon is like one of those mythical artists’ villages you might see in a Renoir painting, except it’s not– as in, it’s not mythical. In fact, this very village practically gave birth to French impressionist art. In the early 1800s, then just a lumber hamlet, Barbizon became a hub for pre-impressionist artists drawing inspiration directly from nature and soon a new realist art movement had formed around the École de Barbizon and great names like Rousseau and Millet.
The French landscape became a major theme of the Barbizon painters and by the 1860s, young artists from all over the world were coming to the village and the surrounding forest of Fontainebleau to practice their form of “plein air” painting.
Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir were two such young art students working in Paris who were drawn in by the charms of Barbizon and influenced to developed their own art movement we now call Impressionism.
This artistic heritage is still deeply ingrained in Barbizon and every marked doorway that leads to an atelier or a gallery tucked away down a cobblestone path will tell you that artistry is still very much alive here.
And surely, keeping a village looking this beautiful and unspoilt is an art form in itself?
Obviously, our most difficult task of the day will be trying to choose the most charming spot for lunch.
(Having said that, do try and get an early start on your escape– anywhere this charming with sun and countryside air isn’t going to stay as empty as this all day…)
A little nod to British literature, (made in France) ↑.
Of course even the Post Office is this cute.
For any writers or artists out there in Paris this summer, in case you might want to escape the city and become an honorary Barbizonnais for more than just a day, there’s something for small budgets to all budgets ↑.
After lunch, we go into the forest, which conveniently surrounds Barbizon and begins just as the main boulevard ends…
I’m overly ecstatic to find that the path is made of sand and despite being miles from any beach, summer feels closer already.
We begin to climb the mysterious boulders that look like sleeping crocodiles.
Without travelling more than an hour from the city, we seem to have gone from Paris to Provence to Yosemite!
Paris is calling again soon enough however, and so we head back down the crocodile’s backs, into Barbizon and back on the bike.
Unable to face the concrete just yet, we take the longer scenic route along the Seine and village hop back to Paris.
Here’s a map of our route, allowing for quick tours of picturesque spots like Moret sur Loing and Saint-Mammès…
Oh, and on our way back, we found our way into an abandoned chateau …
But I’ll tell you more about that one tomorrow!