The Invention of Hiking

The magic of the forest revealed itself slowly. Strange-looking boulders adorned the landscape “in the most diverse and bizarre forms,” wrote one observer, “like herds of monsters grazing at the bottom of a valley.” When the sun burst through winter clouds, stripes of sunlight penetrated the oaks and beeches and Scots pines, turning grayish grass an iridescent green. Tree trunks were bathed in an orange glow, and fields of dried ferns lit up in pale yellow.

For the French, the name of this forest, Fontainebleau, evokes the elaborate 1,500-room chateau at its heart. From the 12th century on, the kings of France used the site, rich in deer and wild boar and close to Paris, as a hunting ground. In the 17th century, Louis XIV launched a grand initiative to expand the forest, which was followed much later by large-scale plantings of oaks, beeches and pines. Enlarged again in 1983, the forest now covers more than 50,000 acres, an area roughly three times the size of Manhattan.

But the story of the forest’s real magician is little known. Claude-François Denecourt was a career soldier in the French Army, but was dismissed from his post as concierge of a Fontainebleau barracks in 1832 because of his supposed liberal views. He took to wandering in the forest to combat his depression and there discovered the essential pleasures of traipsing through nature. From then on, he devoted himself to developing and promoting the Fontainebleau forest for the general public. Today he should be recognized and appreciated as both a clever entrepreneur and a pioneer—if not the inventor—of nature tourism.

Read full story…


The following are paid links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.