INSEAD is all about opportunities. For students but also for partners this year can be a very rich experience, on campus and off. One thing is clear, Fonty is not Paris, but for what it lacks in cultural and culinary opportunities it more than makes up for in terms of its rich natural offerings. With all the hard work and equally hard socializing, sometimes it is good just to get out into the nature around here.

The town is literally an island in the middle of the 25 000 hectares forest so you go in any direction and you cannot avoid it. And now that summer is finally here the trees make a huge green, leafy blanket for the countryside. In fact only a few minutes behind the campus you can already access the nearby part to go for a walk or a run.

The whole area was the bed of the Stampian sea millions of years ago and therefore now you find sometimes quite magical & extensive areas of pure white sand on the forest floor, and huge rounded boulders strewn around and piled together. Just a few minutes behind campus there are the ‘Franchard Gorges’ and a little further away is the ‘Foret de Trois Pignons’ which are both really worth a visit. Be careful though to take a detailed map or a GPS as it is easy to get lost and a 2 hour stroll can turn into a 5 hour hike and a battle to get back before dark falls. There is a real labyrinth of trails designed for hiking, biking or horseriding, although I have not tried the latter.

Wild Life :
Most INSEADers living in the surrounding villages cross the forest by car and at night are quite likely to come into contact with wild boar. So beware when driving at night – I know someone who wrote her car off a few months ago after such an unwanted encounter.

If out for a hike on one of the numerous marked trails then go quietly and you may also come across grazing deer, a magical experience we had the very first time we ventured into the forest. Going back to the 12th century, Fontainebleau Forest was already a royal hunting park and in hunting season you will still need to be careful not to be shot at, I guess!
Last weekend I had some friends staying over who are biologists and who have become hobby mushroom specialists over the years – now I also know that there are about 1700 species of mushrooms in the forest too and many of them edible.

World Climbing Centre :
Seriously, people come from far away just to experience the climbing here in Fonty. Known as bouldering, it is unique in that there are no ropes involved. Supposedly, you are never that far from the ground to need them – instead you see bands of climbers disappearing into the greenery with enormous mattresses strapped to their backs. I thought they must be going camping the first time I saw them, but no, these mats are landing mats often used to cover dangerous sections of the ground below a chosen climbing route.

So, being in such a world climbing centre, we had to have a go! There are climbing circuits for all levels: yellow, orange, blue, red and black – (from easy to extremely difficult). When inspecting some of the rocks more closely, you begin to see little arrow markings – literally “this way up” or “this way down” instructions to climbers. At weekends in spring and summer you can hire a kit from the back of vans parked at the Welcome Centre, but we invested in cheap end gear (shoes and mat) from Decathlon just next to the big Carrefour so now can just pitch up when we want. It is a bit scary to start with, but you soon get the hang of it, even though it really helps to have someone on the ground guiding you to the next handhold or foothold. Getting to the top, and sometimes managing to come down again, feels like a real achievement and a real escape from campus life.

So make the most of all your opportunities when you get to Fonty and be sure to commune with nature in the great outdoors. That is if it stops raining for long enough – it’s been a tough year for the wet stuff so far…