Europe’s largest country, France borders the English Channel to the north, Belgium and Luxembourg in the north east, Germany, Switzerland and Italy in the east, the Mediterranean to the south, Spain to the southwest and finally the Atlantic Ocean to the west.
France enjoys a temperate climate in the north, with the north east having a more continental climate with warm summers and cold winters. The mountains are cooler with heavy snow in winter. The Atlantic influences the weather in the west, where the weather is mild and summers can be very hot and sunny. Rainfall is distributed throughout the year.
Facts and Figures
543,965 sq km (210,025 sq miles).
Paris- population 2,219,297 (2011)
French is the official language, but there are many regional dialects. Basque is spoken as a first language by some people in the southwest, and Breton by some in Brittany. Many people, particularly those connected with tourism in the major areas, will speak at least some English.
France’s capital, Paris, has too many famous landmarks to count – highlights include the Notre Dame Cathedral, the majestic Arc de Triomphe, the Sacre Coeur in the bohemian Montmatre borough, the Louvre, home to the famous Mona Lisa, and the charming Tuileries gardens facing it, and last but not least, there is of course the Eiffel Tower. Outside Paris, take a tour of the beautiful royal Palace of Versailles, go cycling in the Loire Valley, with its gentle hills and stunning Chateau de Chambord, or hiking on the rugged Mediterranean island of Corsica. Stroll through a world-famous vineyard in Bordeaux or Bourgogne and sip robust reds. Hike the sublime Alps in the summer or ski them in the winter, and spend a sobering afternoon taking a tour of the battlefields at Somme.
France is the most visited country in the world, receiving 82 million foreign tourists annually – this is no surprise really, since it has almost anything you can imagine on offer. Whether it is high fashion and haute cuisine in Paris, powder snow and towering peaks in the Alps, medieval chateaux and rolling hills, sparkling seas and a good dose of sunshine on Cote d’Azure you’re after, France will tick the box.
World class vintages, freshly baked crusty bread and delicate pastries, quite literally hundreds of different cheese and famously rich sauces, French cuisine has an outstanding reputation the world over, and this alone is reason enough to visit.
Before the French Revolution in 1789, France was a monarchy under the infamously extravagant and colourful royals of the Ancien Regime. The revolution shifted power from the church and nobility to the state, restructuing the entire nation.
The Napoleonic era heralded the expansion of the French Empire, before defeat at Waterloo in 1815 brought about the restoration of the monarchy.
King Louis-Philippe’s abdication in 1848 saw the formation of the Second Republic; the country has since been ruled by different heads of state.
In the 20th century France played an important role in both world wars (their surrender to Nazi Germany in 1940 resulted in the temporary Vichy Regime) but Charles de Gaulle’s post-war presidency restored stability.
In modern times, Jacques Chirac’s reign as French president ended in 2007 with the ruling party’s Nicolas Sarkozy winning a decisive victory in the second round of the presidential election with 53% of the vote, finishing six points ahead of Socialist rival, Ségolène Royal. Measures taken by his government tried to boost growth by reducing taxes.
France is a founding member of the United Nations, and one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. It is also a founding and leading member state of the European Union and the largest one by area. High unemployment and the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis remain important problems for the country.
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