Paris (city population 2.2 million, metropolitan area 12 million) traces its known roots back to about 250 BC.
The Eiffel Tower was constructed as a temporary attraction for the 1889 World's Fair and was widely criticized at the time as an eyesore by Parisians who still benefit enormously from its contribution to tourism.
Notre Dame de Paris is the cathedral of Paris, seat of the Archbishop of Paris, and one of the first buildings in the world to use flying buttresses as structural supports.
The Seine River is the defining natural feature of the Paris landscape, and a major determinant of the character of the city. It originates in the Swiss Alps and flows through Paris as a slow-moving major river on its way to the English Channel.
Creation of the current Fontainebleau Palace was begun by King Francis I who ruled from 1515 until 1547 and is considered to be France's first Renaissance monarch. He was a major patron of the arts, attracting many of the greatest artists of the time to France, and he poured vast sums into new structures, including the chateaux at Amboise, Blois, and Chambord included on this tour. Fontainebleau was the largest of Francis's building projects and his favourite, and it introduced elements of the Italian Mannerist style to France.
In 1669 Louis XIV began the transformation of the royal hunting lodge at Versailles into one of the largest and most lavish palaces in the world and, still the most famous. From 1682, when Louis XIV moved from Paris, until the royal family was forced to return to the capital in 1789, the court of Versailles was the centre of political power in France.
The Loire Valley is noteworthy for its architectural heritage. There are more than 300 chateaux in the valley, but the castles of Amboise, Chambord, Chenonceau, and Villandry are particularly famous. The valley along the Loire River is known as the Garden of France, in part because the lush, fertile valley with its moderate climate provided ideal conditions for landscape designers surrounding the major chateaux with formal gardens.
Amboise today is a small market town (population ~11,500) on the banks of the Loire River, once home of the French Royal court.
Blois (population ~50,000) is famous for its Renaissance chateau and an 18th century stone bridge spanning the Loire River.
Orléans is the major city of the Loire Valley (~250,000) and has long used its strategically central position less than an hour from the French capital to attract businesses interested in reducing transport costs.
Tours (~145,000) is located on the lower reaches of the Loire River, between Orléans and the Atlantic coast. Tours is famous for its original medieval district, its preserved half-timbered buildings, and the open-air pubs and restaurants of la Place Plumereau.
The royal Château d'Amboise began its life in the 11th century as a stone stronghold on a promontory overlooking a strategic location on the Loire River, and was rebuilt in the late years of the 15th century introducing some Renaissance motifs.
The royal Château de Blois consists of several buildings constructed from the 13th to the 17th century around a main courtyard, and for over a century from the beginning of the 1500s the residence of several French kings.
The royal Château de Chambord was built to be a hunting lodge by King Francis I between 1519 and 1547, but is the largest castle in the Loire Valley. It is one of the most recognizable chateaux in the world because of its very distinct French Renaissance architecture.
The original Château de Chenonceau was built on the site of an old mill on the River Cher, one of tributaries of the Loire, sometime before its first mention in writing in the 11th century. It was replaced by the current chateau between 1515 and 1521, and is famous for its elegant river-spanning architecture and formal gardens, though perhaps more famous for the succession of mistresses who presided over it.
The Château de Cheverny was built between 1624 and 1630, with a major interior renovation beginning in 1768. In 1914 the owner opened the chateau to the public, one of the first to do so, and Cheverny remains popular, especially for its magnificent interiors and collections.
The Château de Cheverny is a castle-palace, consisting of a 16th century chateau constructed around a 14th century castle keep where King Philip II of France once met Richard I of England to discuss peace.
Close Lucé is a mansion in Amboise, close to the Château d'Amboise and connected to it by an underground passage. In 1516 Ling Francis I invited Leonardo da Vinci to Amboise and provided him with Close Lucé as a place to live, and Leonardo spent the last three years of his life working there.