Geography of France

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A topographic map of the Republic, excluding all the overseas departments and territories

The geography of France consists of a terrain that is mostly flat plains or gently rolling hills in the north and west and mountainous in the south (including the Pyrenees) and the east (the highest points being in the Alps).

Physical geography of Metropolitan France

Land use in Metropolitan France, with urban areas shown in red, 2006.
Natural resources of France. Metals are in blue (Al — aluminium ore, Fe — iron ore, W — tungsten, Au — gold, U — uranium). Fossil fuels are in red (C — coal, L — lignite, P — petroleum, G — natural gas). Non-metallic minerals are in green (F — fluorite, K — potash, T — talc).
  • Metropolitan France: 551,695 km2
    • (Metropolitan - i.e. European - France only, French National Geographic Institute data?[citation needed]
  • Metropolitan France: 543,965 km2
    • (Metropolitan - i.e. European - France only, French Land Register data, which exclude lakes, ponds, glaciers larger than 1 km2
      , and estuaries)[citation needed]

Elevation extremes:

  • Lowest point: Rhône river delta -2
  • Arable land: 33.40%
  • Permanent crops: 1.83%
  • Other: 64.77% (2007)

Irrigated land: 26,420 km² (2007)

Total renewable water resources: 211 km3 (2011)

Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural): 31.62 km3/yr (19%/71%/10%) (512.1 m3/yr per capita) (2009)

Natural resources

Coal, iron ore, bauxite, zinc, uranium, antimony, arsenic, potash, feldspar, fluorspar, gypsum, timber, fish, gold

Natural hazards

Flooding, avalanches, midwinter windstorms, drought, forest fires in the south near the Mediterranean


The region that now comprises France consisted of open grassland during the Pleistocene Ice Age. France gradually became forested as the glaciers retreated starting in 10,000 BC, but clearing of these primeval forests began in Neolithic times. These forests were still fairly extensive until the medieval era.

In prehistoric times, France was home to large predatory animals such as wolves and brown bears, as well as herbivores such as elk. The larger fauna have disappeared outside the Pyrenees Mountains where bears live as a protected species. Smaller animals include martens, wild pigs, foxes, weasels, bats, rodents, rabbits, and assorted birds.

By the 15th century, France had largely been denuded of its forests and was forced to rely on Scandinavia and their North American colonies for lumber. Significant remaining forested areas are in the Gascony region and north in the Alsace-Ardennes area. The Ardennes Forest was the scene of extensive fighting in both world wars.

The upper central part of this region is dominated by the Paris Basin, which consists of a layered sequence of sedimentary rocks. Fertile soils over much of the area make good agricultural land. The Normandy coast to the upper left is characterized by high, chalk cliffs, while the Brittany coast (the peninsula to the left) is highly indented where deep valleys were drowned by the sea, and the Biscay coast to the southwest is marked by flat, sandy beaches.

Political geography

Internal divisions

Regions and departments of Metropolitan France in 2016.

France has several levels of internal divisions. The first-level administrative division of Integral France is regions. Besides this the French Republic has sovereignty over several other territories, with various administrative levels.

  • Metropolitan (i.e. European) France is divided into 12 régions and 1 territorial collectivity, Corsica. However, Corsica is referred to as a region in common speech. These regions are subdivided into 96 départements, which are further divided into 329 arrondissements, which are further divided into 3,879 cantons, which are further divided into 36,568 communes (as of 1/1/2004).
The lands making up the French Republic, shown at the same geographic scale.
  • Five overseas regions (régions d'outre-mer, or ROM): Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Martinique, Mayotte, and Réunion, with identical status to metropolitan regions. Each of these overseas regions also being an overseas département (département d'outre-mer, or DOM), with the same status as a département of metropolitan France. This double structure (région/département) is new, due to the recent extension of the regional scheme to the overseas départements, and may soon transform into a single structure, with the merger of the regional and departmental assemblies. Another proposed change is that new départements are created such as in the case of Réunion, where it has been proposed to create a second département in the south of the island, with the région of Réunion above these two départements.


  • Land boundaries:
    • Total: 3,966.2 kilometres (2,464.5 mi)
    • 2,751 kilometres (1,709 mi) (metropolitan), 1,205 kilometres (749 mi) (French Guiana) 10.2 kilometres (6.3 mi) (Saint Martin)
  • Border countries:
    • Andorra 55 kilometres (34 mi), Belgium 556 kilometres (345 mi), Germany 418 kilometres (260 mi), Italy 476 kilometres (296 mi), Luxembourg 69 kilometres (43 mi), Monaco 6 kilometres (3.7 mi), Spain 646 kilometres (401 mi), Switzerland 525 kilometres (326 mi) (metropolitan)
    • Brazil 649 kilometres (403 mi), Suriname 556 kilometres (345 mi), 1,183 kilometres (735 mi) (French Guiana)
    • Sint Maarten 10.2 kilometres (6.3 mi) (Saint Martin)
  • Coastline: 3,427 kilometres (2,129 mi) (metropolitan), 378 kilometres (235 mi) (French Guiana), 306 kilometres (190 mi) (Guadeloupe), 350 kilometres (220 mi) (Martinique), 207 kilometres (129 mi) (Réunion)
  • Maritime claims:
    • Territorial sea: 12 nmi (22.2 km; 13.8 mi)
    • Contiguous zone: 24 nmi (44.4 km; 27.6 mi)
    • Exclusive economic zone: 200 nmi (370.4 km; 230.2 mi); does not apply to the Mediterranean
    • Continental shelf: 200 metres (660 ft) depth or to the depth of exploitation

Extreme points

This is a list of the extreme points of France; the points that are farther north, south, east or west than any other location.

France (mainland Europe)

France (metropolitan)

France (including départements d'outre mer)

France (territory of the French Republic, including collectivités territoriales and pays et territoires d'outre-mer)


The land hemisphere—the half of the Earth with the most land—is centred on Nantes. Thus the antipodes of France are in the middle of the water hemisphere in the South Pacific. The only significant land mass antipodal to metropolitan France is the Chatham Islands of New Zealand, corresponding to an area north of Montpellier including much of the Cévennes National Park, though the antipodes of the uninhabited Bounty Islands are between Tours, Orléans, and Le Mans, and those of the likewise uninhabited Antipodes Islands are in Normandy, near Saint-Saëns outside Rouen.

However, French overseas possessions are widespread enough that Clipperton Island and Tromelin Island are passably close to being antipodal to each other, and several are antipodal to other countries. The Indonesian island of Buru, for example, finds its antipodes within French Guiana, as do a few smaller islands. The French Antarctic territory of Kerguelen is opposite the border between the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan and the US state of Montana. New Caledonia and the Loyalty Islands overlap Mauritania and southern Western Sahara, with the Mauritanian town of Zoueratte corresponding to the Isle of Pines. Wallis and Futuna are antipodal to Niger north of Niamey (spec. Féfandou near Ouallam).

In French Polynesia, the Marquesas are opposite central Ethiopia; the Society Islands of northern Sudan, with Tahiti close to antipodal with Al Dabbah on the Nile. The Austral Islands cover southern Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The Tuamotus cover a broad swath of Sudan, northern Eritrea, the Red Sea, and Saudi Arabia, with Khartoum antipodal to Rangiroa and Jeddah close to Tematangi. The Gambier Islands overlap Arabia, with Mangareva between Riyadh and Mecca.

See also




External links

  • (in French) GéoPortail - Geography portal of France, high altitude imagery, maps ...
  • A detailed map of France showing all régions and numbered départements, including their préfectures.
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