The verdant hills of the Île-de-France have served one of Europe’s most important political and economic centers since the early Middle Ages. Dominated by the city of Paris, the surrounding region did not develop in step and today remains one of pastoral idyll. Full of palaces, castles, and bucolic charm, it can be worth a trip outside Paris’s urban jungle. Let us follow in the footsteps of the French Kings and uncover some beautiful destinations often overlooked by tourists.

Select a Region to Explore in Detail

Translated as the “Isle of France,” it refers to either the physical island in the city of Paris where the Frankish kings built their castle or the “island” region surrounded by the Seine, Marne, Oisne, and Beuvronne rivers. The French crown controlled these lands directly, even before a central state authority emerged. As such, they have served as the capital province of France for its entire history.

Pan-Regional Guides

Facade of Fontainbleau Palace

Palaces of Paris and Île-de-France

This map outlines the major palaces of the Île-de-France region that are open to the public. I have sorted them roughly by the primary architectural style they represent. Some Palaces,…

Regions of Île-de-France

Paris on the Seine with Historicist Architecture


Visiting Paris may feel like a daunting proposition. Its size, popularity, and the long list of possibilities can be intimidating. Rather than a complete guide to the city, I will focus on the Paris of the Ancien Regime. Paris was the reluctant capital of a wealthy medieval kingdom and later a global empire. However, little of this ancient city has survived to the present. The beautiful streets of the Belle Epoch that we see today mask remnants of a much different city, which I hope to highlight here.
Rose window in Saint Denis showing stained glass of the Gothic period

Pays de France

Walking out through the gates of Paris once revealed a landscape of rolling farmland dotted with monasteries and villages. Today, the city has transformed this landscape into an urban wilderness. The living city expands, reaching ever further afield with vines of suburban developments and towerblocks. As a place where ordinary people live, there is little reason for tourists to venture out here, but some worthwhile surprises remain.
Versailles Palace Courtyard


The great French King Louis XIV styled himself as the “Sun King” around which the entire universe orbited. As he immensely disliked Paris, he moved the official administrative capital of the French Kingdom to the Palace of Versailles. For the duration of his reign, Versailles was the center of Europe, not just the city but the entire region, which swelled with palaces and noble estates.
County of Vexin

County of Vexin

Vexin is a rural region known for its woodlands, pastoral landscapes, and sweeping vistas of the Seine and Oisne Valleys. Its urban heritage suffered greatly in the World Wars, and the best reason to visit the region lies in its cultural landscapes along the Seine. Full of castles, palaces, and romantic villages, it offers a glimpse into the world of Early-Modern France.
Laon skyline

County of Valois

Alongside Paris, the cities and towns in this region defined the earliest period of the nascent French Kingdom. Travel to one after the other, and you will soon find yourself following the narrative of early French history. Start in Noyon and the coronation of Charlemagne as King of the Franks, and you can end in Laon, where the Gothic style emerges as a symbol of French authority. In between, you can visit many of the best palaces that France offers to visitors.
Facade of Fontainbleau Palace


Different dynasties favored different regions for their summer retreats. The Capet and Valois dynasties favored the region north of Paris, especially Compiègne. The Bourbon dynasty preferred the forests to the est and the south, and Fontainbleau, in particular, would become the residence of choice for almost every French king. Several former royal castles adorn the region, such as Montargis and the archeological museum in Guedelon.
Château de Vaux le Vicomte an example of the early baroque in France


Underneath the soil in the lands of Brie lies a bedrock of limestone, which lets surface water drain away quickly. Without an accessible water source, agriculture in this region was historically quite limited, but it was well suited for livestock and vineyards. These cows and grapes give us the two things that make Brie famous: cheese and Champagne.

Return to the Historical Regions of Europe

Historical Regions

Explore Europe from the perspective of ages past