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Sep 22, 2017

Social Climbers: Fontiennois

THE STORY:

When Pippa sits next to one of France's top gymnasts, she's excited to meet one of the best in the country. When Anthony climbs next to some of France's top rock climbers (the women's and men's national teams have worked out at his climbing gym), he's excited to be climbing near some of the best in the world. This is one of the few areas where the French really excel on the world stage.



Why are the French so into rock climbing? It's hard to say, but easy to argue that they are. Brooke Raboutou is a young girl (currently 15) who's been considered a prodigy since she started climbing at 4 or 5. Her French father, Didier Raboutou was a 3-time World Cup climbing champion. To be fair, she's half American, too, and her mother Robyn Erbesfield-Raboutou was a 4-time World Cup Champion and 5-time US champion.


Alain Robert is known as the French Spiderman or the Human Spider and widely considered one of the best climbers in the world. At his gym, Anthony's also climbed next to 3-time overall World Champion French-Canadian named Sean McColl who made Anthony feel like a sloth moving in slow motion up a tree. Here Pippa shows how it's done. She and Gigi are actually fearless climbers but too small to reach a lot of things and, I can tell you, not destined for rock-climbing greatness.


One reason for the French prowess may be that the French build tends to be lanky and lean. Another reason may simply be the access to great climbing. An article in Xtreme Sports says it perfectly:

"While new sport climbing areas regularly take the limelight as the latest ‘must visit’ destinations, seldom is the quality of routes found on the limestone crags of southern France matched. In the same way that newly publicised bouldering areas are inevitably compared to Fontainebleau, so areas in the South of France such as Céüse and Buoux are the quality benchmarks of sport climbing. It’s not uncommon to hear of newly developed crags being described lavishly – 'it’s as good as Céüse', or more modestly assessed – 'brilliant, but no Buoux'."

Indeed, on a gorgeous fall day picnic in the woods at Fontainebleau, we come across several people, of different ages and levels, bouldering. That, in turn, explains the people walking in and out carrying mattresses on their backs.


We don't have cushions, but who doesn't like climbing on rocks, anyway?


It's that instinct to climb that makes accrobranches such a popular activity in France. You can find great accrobranches, ropes courses, all around the country. And we have, literally. We have accrobranched (I know it's not a real English verb) in the Dordogne in the southwest, in Normandy in the northwest, in Burgundy in in the northeast, and in Provence in the southeast.

At the accrobranche courses, they gear you up and teach you how to stay remain safely strapped in while you navigate the course. This is not just a liability precaution but a real necessity, as sometimes you can get quite high indeed. That's fun for those of us who are somewhat daredevilish. Not so fun for those of you afraid of heights (if so, you can watch fearfully from the ground as your loved ones do the course).

 

Each accrobranche is very different, and the courses within the accrobranche -- segregated by size/age/skill level -- are also different. The fun is discovering all the wacky ways they've invented for you to get from one tree to the other.

 

It sometimes helps to be flexible.


Accrobranche is such a big deal to the French, that even French-speaking former colonies (and places which still draw in a lot of French tourists) such as Senegal have their own versions. In this case, in the baobab trees.


 

Here, they have no rocks to climb, so they put up a classic rock-climbing wall on one of the larger baobabs.

 

One of the highlights of any course (of course) is the zip-lining. Some of which can get very long, very high, and very fast. And, in our opinion, very fun.


One of the most fun that we've done is over the River Ubaye in Provence, at the Parc Aventure.




I rebound at the end and get stuck over the river for quite a while till I am rescued and so can tell you from experience, it's a beautiful view!


Besides the "usual" ropes course and awesome zip-line, this accrobranche also has a rock climbing section just perfect for a bunch of social climbers like us.

 

THE CHEESE: Fontiennois

Fontiennois is a little hockey puck of a raw goats' milk cheese produced by the GAEC (like a business corporation for farmers) de Lautin in the town of Fontienne in Provence. It's a relatively  new cheese, and a relatively new business, as the GAEC was only formed as of 2005. The name, obviously, comes from the town where the cheese is made, Fontienne. The Fontiennois are the residents of the town and also, apparently, this fine little cheese.



While it's not a hard cheese,officially, because it's such a little puck, it can get to be quite a hard cheese in practice. So, technically, it's a soft cheese that gets very hard. When good and aged (we're talking many weeks, though, not many months like a truly aged cheese), it cuts and crumbles into little shards. They are, nevertheless, quite creamy when they melt in the mouth. And don't let the little size fool you, Fontiennois has a bold taste -- a wonderful balance of salty butter and grassy notes, with a hefty dose of wet wool.

THE CONNECTION:

Fontiennois is a little rock-like cheese that comes from Fontienne, in the heart of France's rock-climbing meccas and the place where we found our favorite combo accrobranche-rock climbing adventure park: in Provence, right in the middle between Céüse and Buoux, two of the most famous rock-climbing spots in the world.

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