Geography of France (#2)
 Facts & Figures about France    

 Basic facts French kids know - or should know - about their country

  • The 5 mountain ranges : the Alps, on the border with Italy with the hightest mountain in Europe (Mont-Blanc 4,810 meters i .e. 15,781 ft.), the Pyrénées, on the border with Spain with several summits above 10,000 ft., the Massif Central a spectacular chain of extinct volcanoes (see an unexpected picture), in the very center of the country, the Jura along the Swiss border and the Vosges not far from the German border

  • The 5 main rivers : the Loire (the longest : 1,012 kilometers i.e. 629 mi.), the Rhine (the Franco-German border), the Rhône (coming from Switzerland through the Lake of Geneva), the Seine (crossing Paris) and the Garonne in the South-West

  • The four seas : the Mediterranean, the North Sea, the Manche (British Channel) and the Atlantic Ocean. Being both continental and open to the ocean explains the historical hesitation of the French policy between a purely European and a global policy.

  • The climate is mild (monthly averages between 3°C i.e. 38°F and 19°C i.e. 66°F), often changing with clouds and rain coming from the Atlantic Ocean, except in the Center and the East where it can be relatively cold (but temperatures as cold as ­-10°C i.e. 10°F or +40°C i.e. 104°F are considered unusually cold or hot)

  • Population 66 million including 2 million in overseas territories; France is among the 4 most populated European countries (with Germany in the 80s, UK and Italy in the 60s) ; with its 550,000 square kilometers (i.e. 212,000 sq. mi.), it is one of the least dense countries in Europe.

  • The 8 neighbors (clockwise from SW to North) : Spain (including small Franco-Spanish Andorra), tiny Monaco, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Luxembourg and Belgium (+ the neighbors in overseas territories : Brazil, Surinam and Netherlands : guess where!)

  • Natural resources are quite scarce (very little gas and oil, no more coal and iron) but the agriculture is rich and productive. But the best of her natural resources are her landscape (very varied), her history (present everywhere) and her traditions (including food, due to the quality of farming products).




The Chateau de la Bretesche (Brittany)


  • The main cities are Paris (10,5 million), Lyon (1,6 m), Marseille (1,4 m), Lille (1,1 m), Toulouse and Bordeaux (0,9 m), Nantes and Strasbourg (0,7 m), Nice and Grenoble (0,6 m)

  • Administratively, the country is divided into 22 regions (13 after the 2015 reform) composed of 95 " Départements " (including more than 32,500 " Communes ", local authorities) + (overseas) 4 regions and 6 territories. More about French administrative organization.

  • Thanks to its overseas territories, France has the second largest maritime economic area in the world.

  • More to come
DID YOU KNOW THAT.....? You may be surprised to observe that the French "départements" (the equivalent of a large US county) have mysterious names, which are the names of (sometimes) unknown rivers for most of them (like "Dordogne") and mountains for a few. Why don't they bear the names of well-known regions which have been around since the Middle Ages (like "Perigord", almost the same area as Dordogne)? The reason is that in 1790, the revolutionary law-makers wanted to destroy everything that could revive the former regime (names of regions, languages, specific laws, ...) to build a new an united country. A perfect illustration of "Jacobinisme" : they were designed so you could go to the Préfecture, where the "governor" appointed by the State resides in less than a day).
DID YOU KNOW THAT....? Wherever you are in France (except in Paris), do you know who is the most popular, the most powerful and the most respected person ? Answer : the mayor, far ahead of the senator, the deputy, the bishop and other local officials. Deeply rooted in history, he/she is considered the only person with power and who is close to the people. This is why for Paris, city of many revolutions, the kings and now the republic are afraid of the mayor becoming too powerful and they have developed all sorts of legal exceptions to weaken the power of the mayor of Paris (for example, he/she has no power over the police which reports directly to the government, etc). So, here is my advice : if you buy a property in a village in France, your very first visit must be to the mayor ! (more about mayors)  

DID YOU KNOW THAT.....? In 2011, a cable-stayed bridge was built between France and Brazil. You think I'm bragging and you don't believe me? You should : it is not across the Atlantic but across the Oyapock river, between Brazil and French Guyana !


To related pages : more about provinces (#1), the French society, etc...

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Harriet Welty Rochefort writes articles and books about France and the French. Order her books :

  • "Joie de Vivre", Secrets of Wining, Dining and Romancing like the French, St.Martin's Press, New York, 2012
  • "French Toast, An American in Paris Celebrates The Maddening Mysteries of the French", St.Martin's Press, New York, 1999
  • "French Fried, The Culinary Capers of An American in Paris", St.Martin's Press, New York, 2001

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