The Land & Cities
France is the largest country in Western Europe. It is divided into two regions. Biarritz in the southwest
and Luxembourg is in the northeast.The north is mostly plains while the south is surrounded by hills and
high mountains, including Mont Blanc (4,807 m/15,771 ft), the highest point in France and in Europe.
Between the two types of terrain are several wide valleys and gaps, including the BELFORT GAP, the
Saone valley, the upper Rhone valley, the combined Rhone-Saone corridor south of LYON, and the gaps at
CARCASSONNE and TOULOUSE.
France has three major types of land forms–sedimentary bowls and lowlands, older worn down mountains
and younger more pointed mountains. The principal sedimentary basin is the Paris region. It is composed
of alternating layers of hard and soft rocks. Other lowlands include several long narrow plains that run
north to south, including the Alsace Plain west of the Rhine. The basins and plains have fertile soils which
are good for farming.
The Hercynian mountains are ancient mountains formed millions of years ago and subsequently worn down
before being uplifted during (65 to 2 million years ago). The Armorican Massif, located in northwestern
France, is composed mainly of low plateaus. The Massif Central is located in south-central France between
the Rhone-Saone corridor and the Aquitaine Basin, and consists of plateaus that rise to more than 1,000
meters. The Auvergne Mountains were made from volcanoes and rise from the plateaus. The Vosges are
located in eastern France between the Paris Basin and the Alsace Plain and reach more than 1,200 meters..
The soils in all the Hercynian uplands are usually thin and developed on granite and crystalline rocks.
The two main mountain chains in France are the PYRENEES, which form the border with Spain, and the
ALPS which form most of the border with Switzerland and Italy. The Pyrenees are difficult to cross
because of their high altitude and the absence of low passes. The French Alps are also high and rugged,
with elevations of 3,500 meters. Unlike the Pyrenees the Alps are broken by several river valleys including
the Rhone, Isere, and Durance which provide easy access to Switzerland and Italy. The JURA, a mountain
range on the Swiss border, are lower and less rugged components of the Alpine chain.
France’s coastline is 3,427 km long, including 644 km on Corsica. The character of the coastline ranges
from sandy and straight, as in LANGUEDOC on the Mediterranean, to deeply indented capes and bays,
as in BRITTANY, the COTE D’AZUR , and Corsica.