Départements: Essonne, Hauts-de-Seine, Paris, Seine-et-Marne, Seine-Saint-Denis, Val-de-Marne, Val-d’Oise, Yvelines
Principal cities: Paris, Chartres, Versailles
In the 5th century, the small kingdom of the Francs was encircled by the Seine, the Marne and other rivers—an “island” of sorts. Today Ile-de-France forms an irregular circle around Paris—a study in contrasts, with an inner ring of wealthy bedroom communities alternating with housing projects that often give the word banlieue, or suburbs, the same negative connotation as inner city.
Even more of a contrast, the outer ring of fields and forests was once a royal playground. Rich farmland and the pristine forests that were once the king’s hunting preserves still surround the region’s renowned cathedrals—Chartres and Senlis—and grand châteaux—Chantilly, Compiègne, Ecouen, Fontainebleau, Malmaison, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Vaux-le-Vicomte, Versailles.
Other attractions include the Air and Space Museum at Le Bourget airport; the Auberge Ravoux, the last home of Vincent Van Gogh, at Auvers-sur-Oise; the Maison Fournaise in Chatou, the riverside café-restaurant of the Impressionists; the Château de Monte-Cristo, the home of author Alexandre Dumas in Port-Marly; and for children, Disneyland at Marne-la-Vallée, the Parc Astérix near Ermenonville and a big safari park at the Château de Thoiry.