Composed of eight departments centered on Paris, the Île-de-France contains the magnificent Château de Fontainebleau, situated 42 miles southeast of the capital. A castle has been here since circa 1137, and the current structure dates to 1528, during the reign of Francis I. The celebrated André Le Nôtre planned the gardens. About 10 miles west of Paris stands the immense Château de Versailles; its Galerie des Glaces, the historic Hall of Mirrors, is one of the iconic sights of France. Visit near closing time to avoid the densest crowds.
The Caillebotte Mansion
Two technological innovations turned the Île-de-France and Normandy into a vast open-air studio during the 19th century: the expansion of the French rail network and the invention of oil paints in tubes, which made it feasible to paint outdoors for prolonged periods. (Previously, the concern was that your paints would dry up.)
Fans of the French impressionist painter Gustave Caillebotte — his famous “Paris Street; Rainy Day” hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago — might enjoy a trip to his mansion in Yerres, a 20-minute train ride from the Gare de Lyon. Caillebotte was born into a wealthy family and, despite a busy life in the city, was able to spend much of his time in this bucolic setting.
Hidden Gems at Versailles
The major draw of this region is the Château de Versailles. This historic monument and UNESCO World Heritage site was France’s principal royal residence from the early 1680s to the beginning of the French Revolution. Of the 2,300 rooms within the palace, the Hall of Mirrors, designed by architect Louis Le Vau, is the most famous, but the King’s Private Apartments and the Coronation Room are also quite impressive.
Count in enough time to visit the Petit Trianon, a separate residence on the estate that Louis XVI gifted Marie in 1774. She transformed the botanical gardens into Anglo-Oriental gardens, fully redecorated the interiors and converted the arboretum into what became known as the Hameau de la Reine. This was a collection of rustic-style buildings where the Queen and her courtiers could play at being peasants.
The most recent development is the debut of Le Grand Contrôle, a hotel of 14 rooms and apartments complemented by an Alain Ducasse restaurant housed just outside the gates of Versailles, planned for 2021.