French Corner: Discover ?le de France! (September 2016)

This September, your monthly rendez-vous, the French Corner, is taking you on a trip around the ?le de France region. Please look at our beautiful pictures below, and don’t miss out our next post about reinventing Paris and the Grand Paris!

?le de France: History and Geography

Some geography

?le de France is a region in northern France divided in 8 departments, including France’s capital Paris. Although it is one of the smallest regions in France, it is also the most populated, as 18.8% of the population in metropolitan France live there. The region is dominated by Paris, which represents 24% of its surface, with more than 88% of its population. As the capital, Paris is the economic, political, cultural and academic center of France.

Located in the Parisian basin, where sedimentary soils are particularly fertile, ?le de France is also an agricultural region characterized by cereal crops. The river Seine flows through Ile de France from East to West, and 23% of the region’s surface is covered with woods.

Paris, being the capital, is the center of the French transport network. The capital is thus linked with important French ports like Toulon or Le Havre, as well as big cities like Lyon. Trains leaving Paris are also connected with other European countries, particularly England via the Channel Tunnel. Charles de Gaulle International Airport is the 2nd busiest airport in Europe and the 8th busiest in the world in terms of passengers, with more than 65 million in 2015.

A bit of History

A royal domain since the 10th century, the region has always been the center of the state power. Throughout its history, Ile de France has had a constant influence on the rest of the country, with Paris concentrating political, economic, and cultural institutions. The Louvre Palace in Paris and the Versailles Palace in the Yvelines, two huge, luxurious castles, reflect the influence of royal families on the region, where cathedrals, universities and museums added to the leadership of ?le de France in the country. It is also a symbol of the construction of democracy, as the French Revolution took place in Paris between 1789 and 1799.

The industrial era produced the iconic Eiffel Tower, built in 1889 for the World’s Fair, and the Paris Metro, known for its architecture influenced by Art Nouveau, which opened in 1900. Many industries settled in the region at this time, increasing its economic impact upon the rest of France.

The actual limits of ?le de France were defined in 1956. Later, in 1965, Paul Louvrier shared his vision for a modernized region, constructing a regional railway network (known as RER) and creating new cities.

Today, the region is driving the French economy, in particular the commercial sector. A symbol of French culture, it is a major touristic destination, hosting 30 million visitors each year.

A capital city with more than 10 million residents in France’s breadbasket


Given its immense popularity, Paris has plenty of tourist attractions. Everyone has heard of the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre Museum. People come from all over the world to shop on the Avenue des Champs-Elysées, or see Notre-Dame de Paris or visit the palace of Versailles. While these are amazing sites to see, there are even more places to explore in Paris. Here are some tips to explore the Parisian lifestyle.

Spend some time in a café.

This is where Parisians meet. Of course, you can sit inside on comfortable red seats, but if there is any sunshine at all, everyone will be sitting outside. Cafés are always crowded: people go to read the newspaper in the morning, to have lunch in the afternoon, or to meet friends and professionals. You can find students in cafes having an espresso while reading or working. People also go to cafes after work to have a drink with friends and hang out at the end of the day. For breakfast, make sure to get a croissant with your espresso.

Enjoy the peaceful scenery in the core of the city at the Parc des Buttes Chaumont.

Located in northeastern Paris, in the 19th arrondissement, this 61 acre park is a charming place to walk with friends and relatives and enjoy sunny Paris afternoons. Designed as an imaginary landscape, the park is comprised of little woods, lawns, a suspension bridge, and even a miniature version of the Roman temple of Vesta in Tivoli (Italy) on top of a promontory. The heart of the park is an artificial lake surrounding the temple. A stairway of 173 steps leads from the top of the belvedere to a grotto with waterfalls.

Follow the romantic Canal St Martin across a vibrant and dynamic neighborhood.

The Canal Saint-Martin, famous for Arletty’s movie Hotel du Nord, is a 4.5 km long canal in Paris. It connects the Canal de l’Ourcq to the River Seine and runs partly underground. You can follow the water by foot or by bike from the Place de la République to the Parc de la Villette, which includes the City of Science and Industry along with other cultural venues. The Canal crosses through a charming and peaceful neighborhood filled with cafés and little restaurants.


Outside the Parisian region, most of ?le de France is devoted to agriculture, or covered with old woods like the forest of Fontainebleau or the forest of Rambouillet, which was used by French kings as a hunting ground. As a part of Beauce, France’s breadbasket, ?le de France specializes in cereal-growing. Farmland covers 583,000 hectares (50% of the region’s surface area) and the agribusiness activity represents 30 000 jobs.


?le de France has been a major destination for artists during the 19th century. Notably, it has inspired many French impressionist painters, who spent a lot of time west of Paris in the countryside. Small villages like Bougival or Chatou were popular destinations. Monet and Renoir have both captured the happy atmosphere of a floating-café, La Grenouillière, when Sisley painted the flooding of Port Marly. Camille Pissaro, another impressionist painter, also created paintings depicting Parisian lifestyle as well as countryside landscapes of working farmers in the fields.

Visiting this region is therefore a journey into the past, on the tracks of best 19th century’s artists, who loved the tremendous Parisian life as well as the bucolic landscapes of the banks of the River Seine.

Discovering Paris and its region is also a trip to the future, as you will see in our next post:
Reinventing Paris and le Grand Paris! Stay tune!!

Last modified on 07/09/2016

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