Just about an hour outside the city of Paris lies the sleepy, little town of Barbizon. A lot of the great Impressionist painters used to live and work here in Barbizon, and this little village has never forgotten that. Main street is crammed full on either side with art galleries and small museums. Every so often, tucked in between them, you will find an adorable gift boutique or ice cream shoppe. There are also charming restaurants and beautiful homes draped with ivy. But this town is really all about two things: art…and the forest. We’ll get to the forest later, but first things first.
We started off our day by strolling along the main drag, wandering from one little gallery or museum to the next. Sculptures here…paintings there…the home of a brilliant painter across the street. Everywhere we went was uniquely beautiful. Even the homes we bumbled across looked like something from a fairy tale.
We ate lunch at a stone cottage-turned café called La Boheme. The name should tell you all you need to know about the love of the arts that this town demonstrates at every turn. The beautiful restaurant simply dripped character: clay roof, stone facade and gobs and gobs of wisteria crawling all over it.
The restaurant had a homey feel to it, complete with original oil paintings that decorated every buttery-yellow wall. Our quiet table in the corner was right next to a big picture window with a view of the back-garden dining room. It was simply bursting with flowers of every color: violet, indigo, bright yellow, orange, red, pink and of course, a myriad of greens from the ivy and plantings all along the way.
The waitress set down an assortment of nibbles: olives, french bread and butter, and several tamponades. And that was just to say “hello.” The food was very French, of course: duck, lamb, filet du boeuf and salmon. For dessert, we ordered a couple of almond-cherry tarts and the classically French dessert of profiteroles (cream puffs swimming in dark chocolate and covered with vanilla ice cream). A little while later, after a few more stories and a lot more laughs, came the cappuccinos and espressos.
Cappuccinos, by the way, are drunk only by Americans; the French wouldn’t be caught dead drinking anything but an espresso to finish off a meal. (I’ve long since given up trying to fit in on the coffee front. Cappuccinos are a vice I can’t do without.) After our lovely lunch, we were ready for our hike through the forest.
Barbizon’s fairy tale park is called the Fôret de Fountainbleu. It is filled with hundreds of slender, sky-reaching pines and birch trees. There are two trails to choose from (the blue or the yellow) depending on how long and how difficult you want your hike to be. We chose the yellow trail which meandered by the local landmark, “Elephant Rock.” A gigantic boulder, shaped exactly like an elephant -with his trunk lowered to the ground. Of course, my husband, Leon, couldn’t resist, and I have the photos to prove it.
We wandered through the forest for almost two hours.The weather was gorgeous, the temperature was perfect, and the company could not have been better.
Barbizon is a village perfectly located for a day trip from Paris. It’s artsy, it’s elegant, it’s laid back and it’s fun. I can’t wait to go back. Next time, who knows…I might climb “Elephant Rock” myself.