Just as “the sun never sets on the British Empire”, France also had its own colonialist tendencies. At various points in history, the French had conquered lands stretching from Quebec and New Orleans, to Algeria, and to Indochine (Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia) and more.
Today that “Empire” may be diminished, but there are still many territories outside of what we call Mainland France. But not to worry, I won’t quiz you on them since even born-and-raised Frenchies will struggle to remember it all.
I. The French Nation
The territory of France consists of mainland France, as well as several overseas territories. There are:
1. Regions in Mainland France
In 1982, there were 22 regions in France. Gradually, these have been amalgamated and combined. Effective 1 January 2016, there are 12 regions that are in the Mainland:
- Centre-Val de Loire
- Grand Est
- Pays de la Loire
- Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur
There is an additional territory that is an island just off of the mainland.
- 1 territorial collectivity: Corsica.
These regions are subdivided into 96 departments, which are further divided into 332 arrondissements, which are further divided into over 35,000 communes.
2. Overseas Regions, Collectivities and Territories
As I mentioned before, French history involved sailors like Jacques Cartier setting off from Saint Malo to explore the world. Behind him went the soldiers, ready to conquer vast territories from Quebec in Canada to Haiti in the Caribbean, and Algeria in Africa.
Much like the English Empire, the French Empire has also shrunk today, compared to what it was in the past. There are nevertheless quite a few overseas islands and territories that are still considered part of France.
- Five overseas regions (régions d’outre-mer):
- French Guiana
- Four overseas collectivities (collectivités d’outre-mer):
- Saint-Pierre and Miquelon
- Saint Barthélemy
- Saint Martin,
- Wallis and Futuna.
- One overseas “country” (pays d’outre-mer): French Polynesia.
- One sui generis collectivity (collectivité sui generis): New Caledonia
- One overseas territory (territoire d’outre-mer, or TOM): French Southern and Antarctic Lands divided into 5 districts:
- Kerguelen Islands
- Crozet Islands
- Île Amsterdam & Île Saint-Paul
- Adélie Land
- Scattered islands
- One uninhabited island in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Mexico: Clipperton.
3. Border Countries
Mainland France sits on the Atlantic Ocean and English channel on one side, with land borders with several European countries.
On the North, there are:
- Belgium 385 miles (620 km)
- Luxembourg 45miles (73 km)
On the East:
- Switzerland 356 miles (573 km)
- Germany 280 miles (451 km)
On the South:
- Spain 387 miles (623 km)
- Italy 303 miles (488 km)
- Andorra 35 miles (56 km)
- Monaco 2.5 miles(4 km)
There ar 5 main rivers in France:
- the Seine (which flows through Paris)
- the Rhône (South of France near Marseille)
- the Loire (through the Loire Valley)
- the Garonne (near the Pyrenees mountains and Spain)
- the Rhine (in Alsace and Germany)
France has two large mountain ranges on its territory, the Pyrenées in the South, on the border with Spain, and the Alps on the eastern border with Switzerland.
It is home to Mont Blanc, the 2nd highest mountain in Europe , after Mount Elbrus in Russia. It rises to over 4808m above sea level.
The mountain ranges are believed to have been created during collision between the continental tectonic plates of Africa and Europe over 65 million years ago.
6. Departments, communes, and arrondissements
The regions in mainland France are subdivided into 96 departments. The departments are further divided into over 35,000 communes (meaning towns).
Some towns have as little as 20 people in them, but still have their own communal government and mayor. As a comparison, France has 40% of all the communes in Europe. Neighboring Germany which is similar in size and population, has only around 11,000 communes, while Italy and Spain have around 8000 communes.
There has been some debate about reducing the number of communes, but the mille feuille continues!
7. Cities and arrondissements
In addition, some of the larger cities like Paris, Marseille and Lyon are further divided into 332 arrondissements, each of which also has its own layer of government. For instance, Paris is divided into 20 arrondissements, and each arrondissement has its own town hall and mayor.
As of 2021, France has a population of around 67 million, with around 80% of the population living in large urban centers. The largest is the Greater Paris area, which includes 2 million in the city of Paris, and 10 million in the surrounding area.
So with all that being said, let’s get to the fun stuff. Can you identify these famous attractions and monuments in France?
1. What are the Calanques?
- a) A series of cliffs near Marseille.
- b) A main dish featuring boiled salmon and broccoli.
- c) A type of farmers’ market in Normandy.
- d) A series of Châteaux in the Loire Valley.
2. Which city in France is the furtherest South?
- a) Annecy
- b) Lille
- c) Montpellier
- d) Nantes
3. In the 13th century, Catholic Popes lived in France. Where did they live?
- a) Avignon
- b) Aix-en-Provence
- c) Arles
- d) Montpellier
4. What is the nickname of inland France?
- a) Pentagon
- b) Hexagon
- c) Octagon
- d) Decagon
5. Which French city has a very famous annual brocante (flea market)?
- a) Tours
- b) Toulouse
- c) Rennes
- d) Lille
6. Where is Mont Saint Michel located?
- a) Normandy
- b) Brittany
- c) Provence
- d) Alsace
7. Which one of these is not a river in France?
- a) Seine
- b) Rhône
- c) Rhine
- d) Danube
8. Which country does France not have a border with?
- a) Spain
- b) Italy
- c) Germany
- d) Netherlands
9. Which one of these French regions does not produce wine?
- a) Alsace
- b) Bourgogne
- c) Bretagne
- d) Savoie
10. The border city of Metz is near which country?
- a) Switzerland
- b) Germany
- c) Luxembourg
- d) Belgium
For more fun, don’t forget to check out our other quizzes. A bientôt!
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