The village of Barbizon, 30 miles from Paris on the road to the castle of Fontainebleau, was a favorite retreat for 19th-Century French artists and painters, and it is a favorite of mine. These earlier visitor-residents were lured by the beauty of the nearby old royal forest, which remains the primary attraction for today's hikers and Sunday painters.
French painters Theodore Rousseau and Jean Francois Millet founded what became known as the Barbizon School of Painting there, a movement that influenced the extraordinary work of several 19th-Century American landscape painters.
There are numerous hiking trails in the forest, and I often spend weekends scampering over the enormous boulders that lead to a site from which you can see the great castle of Fontainebleau six miles away and the enormous forest surrounding it.
Guidebooks proclaim the wonders of Le Bas-Breau, a fine old hotel with one of the most highly rated restaurants in France. But my favorite hotel and my favorite restaurant are more rustic and less expensive--perhaps fitting more into the image of old Barbizon. I usually stay at the Hostellerie de la Cle d'Or--the oldest inn in town--and have at least one meal at La Flambee. The hostelry has some new, motel-style rooms, but I ask for one of the old, original upstairs rooms with wonderful wood beams.