France has always been a popular destination for Australians with the capital city, Paris, one of the 'must visit' cities on most itineraries. As beautiful as Paris is, though, the country also offers many more outstanding towns and villages to visit. From the stunning Atlantic coast to the Alps, and from canals and Chateaux to wineries, France offers something for every visitor. Updated: 7 January, 2016
Capital City: Paris
Population: 60,750,000 (approx.)
EU Country code: F
Update: As of January 2016, France officially reduced its number of administrative regions from 22 to 13 to simplify bureaucracy and to reduce costs. The reduction in regions was achieved by combining adjoining regions in a number of instances. As many travellers will still be familiar with the names of the long-standing regions, I have kept the list of 22 regions below in its original state. At the bottom of the article you will find a list of the 13 new regions and a map.
With Paris at its heart, the Ile-de-France extends beyond the city’s bustling suburbs into the beautiful French countryside. The magnificent Chateau de Versailles, Chateau de Vaux-le-Vicomte and Chateau de Fontainebleau can all be found in the region. All offer visitors a glimpse into the grandeur and excesses of French royalty and aristocracy in centuries gone by. Also on a large scale is Disneyland Resort Paris* – it covers 200 ha (500 acres) and incorporates two theme parks, seven hotels, shopping and dining facilities.
The other regions are:
Alsace is often referred to as being at ‘the crossroads of Europe’ due to its location on the German border. It is renowned for its picture postcard villages complete with geranium-filled window boxes, the medieval capital of Strasbourg, and its excellent white wines. Alsace also produces most of France’s beer. Nestled between the mighty Rhine and the Vosges mountains, picturesque Alsace is fiercely French in its social and political attitudes, but ever so slightly German in its tastes and appetites.
Well known for its wine and Armagnac, Aquitaine is the region to the south west of France bordering both Spain and the Atlantic Ocean. Its capital, Bordeaux, is the country’s fourth largest city. The region boasts everything from beaches to mountains, vineyards to Chateaux.
Situated in the centre of France, Auvergne can thank volcanic eruptions that took place millions of years ago for its rich supply of thermal and mineral springs. The spectacular landscape of the region consists of mountain ranges and vast gorges and is a haven for those seeking outdoor adventure.
On France’s north west coast, Brittany has long been a popular destination for a seaside holiday. Fiercely protective of its Celtic past, the native language, Breton, is still spoken today. With a rocky coastline, some impressive cathedrals and the prehistoric sites of Carnac, Brittany is an ideal destination for the holidaymaker.
Burgundy is often referred to as France’s richest province and is well known for its fine wines and mustard, however it is equally famous for its Norman abbeys and the distinctive glazed tiles that feature on many of the regions’ medieval buildings. Burgundy has it all – art, architecture, delightful food and wine, and gorgeous natural scenery.
Home to the Loire Valley, Centre is, as its name suggests, right in the centre of France. With its impressive chateaux, such as the famous Chateau de Villandry, the region attracts tourists from all over the world. The regional capital, Orleans, is renowned as the place where Joan of Arc led the French to victory over the English in 1429.
It goes without saying that the world’s most festive wine, champagne, originated in this region. With so much to see in the area, including rolling countryside, medieval churches, castles and villages along winding waterways, you’ll be pleased to toast your sightseeing with a glass of the local bubbly!
The birth place of Napolean, this mountainous island is often referred to as ‘The Island of Beauty’ due to its wildly beautiful landscape of mountains, forests and mile after mile of sandy beaches. Corsica is just 110 miles (176 km) off the Southeastern coast of France and 50 miles (80 km) from the shores of Italy and is a popular holiday destination.
Nestled between the Vosges and the Jura mountains, and bordering Switzerland, the Franche-Comte region is one of immense natural beauty. Around 40% of the region is made up of unspoilt pine forests and the mountains are also the source for many spectacular rivers and cascading waterfalls. This is a nature lover’s paradise!
Stretching from the foothills of the Pyrenees on the Spanish border to the mouth of the Rhone, Languedoc-Roussillon is home to all the Mediterranean resorts from Aigues-Mortes to Perpignan. With miles of fine, sandy beaches, Languedoc-Roussillon is a land of sun-drenched charm. The ancient university town of Montpellier, has the oldest botanical gardens in France. Carcassonne is the quintessential old fortress towns of the middle ages, whilst the city of Nîmes dates back to Roman times.
On the western slopes of the Massif Central, is largely an unspoiled country paradise. This rural region is home to some of the most beautiful villages of France as well as a number of rivers, lakes and forests to explore. Good hearty cooking, delicious local wines, every imaginable outdoor pursuit, and hundreds of churches, chateaux and museums to visit, mean there is something for everyone in Limousin.
Proud of its strategic position at the border of Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany, Lorraine has experienced a long, colorful and often turbulent history, but is largely undiscovered by the modern tourist. The home of the quiche, the Mirabelle plum is another specialty of the region. Places to visit include the military cemetery at Verdun, a poignant reminder of the Battle of Verdun during WWI in which one million men lost their lives, the historic capital of Nancy, and the unspoiled countryside.
The Midi-Pyrénées is made up of eight departments and is the largest region in France. Set in the heart of southwestern France, the region has an enormous range of natural sites to visit as well as some of France’s finest medieval architecture. The sleepy villages will appeal to those who like to enjoy life at a slower pace, whilst Toulouse is a major university and industrial town. The villages of Rocamadour, Sarlat and Cahors, as well as the prehistoric caves at Lascaux, are all popular places to visit.
Bordering Belgium and with its close proximity to Britain via the Channel Tunnel, the region is often the first landing point for many visitors to France. Located just 36 km from the south east coast of England, Calais is where the Channel Tunnel, and indeed many of the England-France ferries, meet French soil. Many will be familiar with the role the beaches of Dunkerque and Calais played in WWII, and there are many reminders of this dark time, however the regional capital, Lille, has re-invented itself from an industrial city into a modern, high tech one. Its historic centre, with narrow streets and cobblestone squares, is the place to shop and be seen!
The imposing site of Mont-St-Michel is one of France’s most recognized buildings, and Normandy is where you will find this impressive abbey dating back to the 11th century. Rouen, where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in 1431, and Monet’s garden at Giverny, are also deservedly famous sights. Bayeux, the first town to be liberated by the Allies in 1944, now houses the famous Bayeux Tapestry, a 70 metre long embroidered wall hanging depicting William the Conqueror’s invasion of England some 1000 years ago. The Norman coastline is home to numerous war cemeteries and memorials to those involved in the D-Day landings which took place here on June 6, 1944. They are a poignant reminder to visitors to not take peace for granted. There are two Norman regions - Basse-Normandy and Haute-Normandy.
Pays de la Loire
The western part of the Loire Valley area is known as Pays de la Loire and it stretches from the centre of France across to the Atlantic Ocean. The main city of the region is Nantes, home to the most important gallery of paintings in France outside of the Louvre. The region is extremely popular with families as there are a huge number of campsites along the coast, as well as many interesting sights to see. Pays de la Loire is home to a number of chateaux and medieval buildings, and Saumur, with its fairytale chateau and Military Cavalry School, is well worth a visit. Whilst perhaps not as popular with holiday makers as neighbouring Brittany (of which it was a part until 1941), Pays de la Loire offers something for everyone.
The name of the Somme needs no introduction to most Australians as it is synonymous with the terrible slaughter that took place in WWI, however the region of Picardy (home of the Somme) nowadays is a much more appealing destination. The main city, Amiens, is home to the magnificent Cathedrale Notre Dame, which was started in 1220 and finished in under fifty years. This amazing Gothic structure was restored in the 1800’s and survived two World Wars and still impresses visitors today and remains the largest cathedral in France. Boating is popular on the River Somme, and children (and adults!) will enjoy a visit to Parc Asterix, a theme park dedicated to cartoon characters Asterix, Obelix and friends.
Blessed with a beautiful coastline, the Poitou region is popular with holiday makers keen for a beachside break and to indulge in two of the region’s products – oysters and cognac. With the obligatory medieval buildings and quaint villages to explore, as well as the Atlantic islands Ile-D’Oleron, Ile de Re and Ile d’Aix, visitors to Poitou-Charentes will find plenty to do. Just outside the main city of Poitiers (itself worth a visit for its 12th Century buildings) is Futuroscope, a technology theme park that is home to the biggest cinema screen in Europe.
From its famous lavender fields to the glitz of Monaco, this is possibly one of France’s most diverse regions. Provence conjures up romantic images of villagers shopping at the local market, their baskets laden with the region’s freshest produce, and heading home to a relaxed, country lifestyle. Steeped in history, fortified ruins abound with some of the more popular being the Palais des Papes, Chateauneuf-du-Pape and the hillside village of Gordes. Sun-worshippers, and those wishing to be seen, head to the glistening Cote D’Azur and towns like St-Tropez, Cannes, Nice, Cap Ferrat and Monaco – where they bask in the sun, laze onboard their luxury yachts or enjoy a stroll along the promenade.
Extending from Lake Geneva (Lac Leman in French) to Provence, the region is also home to the magnificent French Alps and France’s second city, Lyon. Annecy is known as the ‘Venice of France’ and its medieval quarter is built around a number of canals and cobbled streets, a great place for a relaxing stroll amongst the flower-decked window boxes. Briancon, the highest town in Europe, has been important since pre-Roman towns, as it guards the road to the Col de Montgenevre, one of the oldest passes into Italy. The heart of Lyon is ideally built between two rivers, the Saone and Rhone, and this is where you will find many of the most important buildings in the city, including the Musee des Beaux Arts. The Rhone-Alpes region also offers a wide array of outdoor pursuits including canoeing and climbing.
New regions of France as of January 2016
Newly combined regions
- Alsace, Champagne-Ardenne and Lorraine
- Aquitaine, Limousin and Poitou-Charentes
- Auvergne and Rhône-Alpes
- Bourgogne (Burgundy) and Franche Comté
- Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrénées
- Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Picardie (Picardy)
- Basse-Normandie and Haute-Normandie
- Bretagne (Brittany)
- Corse (Corsica)
- Pays de la Loire
- Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur
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