Handout 1:  Geography

Paris,Seine              The Alps             Brittany village      Chateau Chambord,Loire    Collioure, Languedoc    Etretat, Normandy

Homework for this topic:

1-View:MAP of regions /   Maps  , clickable map: http://www.crwflags.com/FOTW/flags/fr(.html#map

2- Power point on the French Regions

3- Read article below.

4- Discover the French regions:

5- Wine regions


Reference: (discovering France) http://ambafrance-us.org/spip.php?rubrique92


Questionnaire:  You need to be able to:


1- Identify on a map mountains, rivers, main cities, rural/wine areas, touristic areas, neighbouring countries and seas.

2- Identify the regions and their main cities  

3- Give 3 details about one region (main city, historical fact, other fact)



Article- GEOGRAPHY OF FRANCE by Armand Frémont


Armand Frémont, a former Chief Education Officer, chairs the Scientific

Council of DATAR, France's town and country planning and regional

development agency. The views expressed in this article are those of the author.


France is the largest country in Western Europe, with a surface area of 551,500 square kilometers. She had 58,416,300 inhabitants at the 1999 census, not including the overseas departments and territories, and 60,081,800 if these are included, which makes her population the second-largest in the European Union, behind Germany, and approximately the same size as those of the United Kingdom and Italy.

However, France's surface area is in no way comparable with those of the giants of the other continents, e.g. the United States, Russia, India and China.


1-      Metropolitan France

2-      A European crossroads

3-      Diversity, unity and centralism

4-      Three faces of France

5-      Map of France


 1-Metropolitan France


 In French, metropolitan France is sometimes referred to as the Hexagon because of its six-sided shape. Starting in the middle Ages, it took over a thousand years and the stubborn determination of her kings, and then of the Republic, to unify her. She has three sea and three land frontiers and her present territorial boundaries were shaped by the outcomes of the Franco-German wars of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In the south, the Pyrenees, rising to the 3,404 meters high Pic Aneto (in Spain), form the frontier with Spain and, to the east, the Alps and Jura those with Italy and Switzerland, whilst the middle reaches of the Rhine separate France from Germany. These are "natural" frontiers, long impenetrable, and there are still serious problems crossing them through passes, bridges, road and rail tunnels given the increase in European traffic. The Pyrenees, Alps and Jura give France mountainous areas shared with her neighbors. The French Alps to the north form the most extensive ski slopes in Europe and most mountain sports originated there. Mont Blanc, Europe's highest mountain, rises to 4,807 metres. In the north, by contrast, the border with Germany, Luxembourg and Belgium is much more open. It cuts across the ancient massif of the Ardennes at fairly low altitudes, and across the great north European plain. It was for a long time the most threatened border, that of conflicts, battles and invasions. Now, at many points, it sees intense cross-border activity between the Lille region and Belgium, between Lorraine, Luxembourg and the Saar. But, boosted by European agreements, other transborder regions are taking shape elsewhere, around the middle reaches of the Rhine between Alsace and Baden Württemberg, in the areas around Basle-Mulhouse and Geneva, in the Nice region, in Catalonia and the Basque country. France has the exceptional privilege of having three seaboards, if not four. To the south lies the Mediterranean, with a very sunny coast, sheer cliffs and picturesque shores in Provence and on the Côte d'Azur, and long sandy beaches in the Languedoc. South-western France borders the Atlantic, with a more humid but mild and sunny climate and many sandy beaches rimmed by marshes and dunes. In the north-west, France faces the Channel and the North Sea, the world's busiest stretch of water, linking the Atlantic and the great Belgian, Dutch, British, and German North Sea ports. France has two port complexes of European standing: Le Havre/Rouen on the Seine, serving Paris and the surrounding area, and Marseille on the Mediterranean at the mouth of the Rhône. She has, however, never been - and this is even more the case today - the great maritime power she could have been. The main activity of France's coastal regions is now tourism, which has developed everywhere, from the North Sea to the Mediterranean. The quality of her coastline helps make France, with her mountains, countryside and historic towns, the leading tourist destination in Europe and indeed the world.


 2-A European crossroads


 France is situated on the rather rounded isthmus which, in Western Europe, separates the Mediterranean from the Channel and the Atlantic, and links the Iberian Peninsula to the rest of the continent. Consequently, throughout history, the Paris basin has played - and still plays - a critically important role because of the ease of communications and its size, high- quality agricultural land and two great rivers, the Seine and the Loire. Here is the cradle of the French nation, the domain of the kings, the nucleus to which the other provinces were added, the Republic's foremost region. It is dominated by Paris, one of the greatest cities and most important urban regions of Europe and the world: 2,116,000 people live in Paris and 10,925,000 in the Ile de France region. There are also a whole host of towns on the basin's periphery including Caen, Rouen, Le Havre, Amiens, Rheims, Orléans and Tours. National traffic between all these towns, dominated by Paris, is increased by the heavy European traffic travelling through the region between the United Kingdom, Benelux, Germany and, further south, Italy and the Iberian Peninsula. Moreover, France has two major trade routes which make her one of the most important crossroads in Western Europe, at all events the most extensive one and the least easy for international traffic to bypass. To the east, lie the cities of Metz, Nancy, Strasbourg, Lyon, Grenoble, Saint-Etienne and Marseille, and the great north-south axis formed by the valleys of the Rhine and Moselle, and Saône and Rhône - all now well connected by motorways and high-speed trains (TGV) railway lines. Similarly, to the south, the Mediterranean coast, together with the Garonne valley and Aquitaine basin, link such cities as Nice, Marseille, Montpellier, Toulouse and Bordeaux. It is now in these towns and metropolises, and the Paris region, that the bulk of the population and industry and tertiary activities are concentrated, rather than in the former industrial basins founded on coal, steel and textiles, such as Lorraine and Nord-Pas de Calais. Three great conurbations each have around a million inhabitants: Lille-Roubaix-Tourcoing, within reach of Belgium and Britain; Lyon, the most important communications crossroads and economic center after Paris, close to Switzerland and Italy; and Aix-Marseille, the gate to the Mediterranean. To the west of the country, on the Armorican massif and its fringes, and above all in central France, in the Massif Central and the area immediately surrounding it, there is greater isolation and there are fewer large towns: Rennes, Brest, Poitiers, Nantes, Limoges and Clermont-Ferrand. Here the rural influence is strongest and the area is dotted with small and medium-sized towns.


 3-Diversity, unity and centralism


 All in all, therefore, France is a country of an astonishing diversity and the French make the most of it. Others take pleasure in making fun of them, but they are envied for the variety of their cheeses, wines and culinary customs.... They also remain much attached to their communes [smallest administrative subdivision in France] which, with the departments and regions, form the three tiers of the Republic's local government system. France's 36,000 communes are unique in Europe and the world because of their number and often very small size. Although of a more reasonable one, the 22 regions and 100 departments of metropolitan France are nevertheless generally smaller than their foreign equivalents. France, at the crossroads of history and geography, enjoys almost unparalleled variety in so many other spheres too: her climates, ranging from Mediterranean to oceanic, and from maritime to continental; her topography, ranging from the great plains of the centre of the Paris basin to the Alpine and Pyrenean peaks, and from the high rolling hills of the Massif Central and the Vosges to the great valleys of the Rhône and the Loire; the territories brought under French jurisdiction, starting with the Île de France, the heart of the country since the first Capetian kings, and including Savoie, the earldom of Nice, and Alsace and Lorraine, fought over until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; native tongues, dialects and customs; towns, most of them with very ancient histories; and regions. This geographical mosaic symbolizes what France long was: rural, agricultural, rooted in centuries-old traditions, with rich (or poor) farmers still concentrating primarily on cereal production - particularly high yields in the Paris basin - an enduring tradition of stock farming in the West and Massif Central, and a Mediterranean-type agriculture based on wine-growing, fruit and vegetables. Hence the diversity and beauty of the countryside: plains, pasture lands, forests, scrubland, hillside vineyards and irrigated areas. Hence a leading European agricultural country, especially for cereals, beef, dairy products, wine, fruit and vegetables. For good measure, the islands of the Caribbean, Indian Ocean and Pacific add a tropical touch. The paradox - or is it a complementarity? - is that this mosaic gave birth to Europe's most centralized State, and one of the most centralized in the world. The State affirms the unity of the Republic through its representatives (préfets) at department and commune level, through the public services and particularly the education system. France's industrial expansion of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, transport network, universities and higher education facilities, which had initially focused heavily on Paris, together with the establishment of an often State-sponsored capitalism and the large national companies all helped fashion a highly centralized country in which Paris stood apart from the provinces, which included both very dynamic regions such as Rhône-Alpes and other much less favored ones, such as Auvergne and Limousin. This situation was reflected in the transport network in which the star shape of the main nineteenth-century rail routes corresponded to that of the old royal roads, and now the air and TGV routes correspond to those of the old railways. Everything goes to Paris. Everything comes from Paris. Certainly, since the Second World War a very determined proactive town and country planning policy has counteracted this trend, as did the 1982 decentralization legislation. France remains, however, highly centralized, not - as before - in the spheres of industrial production and the major services, but Paris is still the place where some of the most important decisions are made and the capital of fashion, art, and culture.


 4-Three faces of France


 France's average population density of 100 inhabitants per square kilometer - considerably lower than that of any of her neighbours - conceals wide disparities according to the areas concerned. Indeed, since the economic crisis which hit the agricultural and industrial regions hard, France may be divided into three. Paris and Île de France are a still unique genus. They form an ever-growing vast urban region spilling over the bounds of Île de France and which in Europe is comparable only to Greater London. Over 10 million people live and work there. It is still - and by far - the leading French region in practically every respect. Despite government efforts to counteract this, the most substantial public investments still have to go to Paris. A prestigious capital, Paris is a city with worldwide influence in every sphere, but this, admittedly, is greater on the political front and for tourism, the arts and culture than in the economic sphere. The population of Paris and Île de France has almost stopped growing, but the outskirts of Paris now extend into the neighboring regions. Paris and its suburbs are France's largest "melting pot" with an immigrant population of some 1,300,000. It is France's urban areas, found in almost region, which are currently seeing the greatest population growth, commensurate with their economic dynamism. Some regions are still very scarred by the industrial crisis of the 1970s and 1980s, such as Lorraine, Nord-Pas de Calais, and Haute-Normandie. Old industrial centers like Saint-Etienne, Le Havre and Montbéliard have declining populations. These tend to be the exceptions. Almost everywhere, the expansion of services and some industrial successes are bringing urban growth. New developments are appearing on the outskirts of towns and adjacent country areas are being revitalized. Almost every region of France is being affected by this urban sprawl, both in the vicinity of conurbations of 200,000 inhabitants in the west such as Caen, Le Mans and Angers, and in that of the larger metropolises of eastern and southern France, such as Grenoble, Montpellier or Bordeaux. The sharpest increases are seen where metropolises are buoyed by the greatest economic successes, for example the economic hub formed by Nantes and Saint-Nazaire on the Loire estuary (approximately 680,000 inhabitants), western France's principal industrial and services metropolis, and Toulouse, the European aerospace capital (760,000 inhabitants). In between these urban areas, a purely rural France survives, animated only by small, often charming towns. Agriculture, in family farms with low yields, is increasingly giving way to waste land, set-aside and reforestation. The population is shrinking both because of the fall in the birth rate and of emigration, with almost all of those willing to leave having done so. Population densities are down to below 20 inhabitants per square kilometer. Following deindustrialization and the large number of farmers who have given up farming, the public services hang in the balance. Tourism, weekend or summer season is becoming the main economic activity. To some extent, all France's regions are suffering from this flight from the countryside, but it is those in the center, from southern Lorraine to the Pyrenees, including the Auvergne and Limousin, which are particularly affected. This is the "empty" swathe of France, but also an inestimable treasure-trove of history, nature and culture, a living and still captivating heritage, a place of remembrance and of silence. The extreme diversity of France's regions reflects that of Europe, but is even more marked. "An old country", as General de Gaulle wrote, with its millennium-long history, layers of customs and traditions, and an ageing population. Nevertheless, France's population is not ageing as fast as that of the rest of Europe. Likewise, the reduction of the excess of births over deaths is not so marked. France is also a land of welcome, as she has been throughout her history, absorbing successive waves of great invasions and immigration from southern and Eastern Europe, and now from the Maghreb, Africa and tropical islands. Today, France has some 3,263,000 immigrants, but relatively few have come over the past decade. The France of the great metropolises has now replaced the France of old rural areas and small towns. Over three quarters of her population now live in towns and even more in their suburbs and outskirts - it is here that the New France profonde (broad mass of French people) is to be found. Today France can be summed up as a firmly united nation, with a highly disparate population living in a country with a wealth of different landscapes.


 5- Source: Images de la France (SIG) Embassy of France in US - 12 June 2001