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Regions and Cities for Expats in France

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: December 2013

Physically, France contains quite a wide range of terrain types. The north and west are generally low-lying, while the southern and eastern parts graduate from rolling hills to mountain ranges, the Pyrenees and Alps.

France is politically divided into 22 regions. These regions are further divided into 96 administrative départements, chiefly named after the rivers or mountain ranges they contain. These divisions can be composed into seven broader areas, each of which has its own, or several cuisines; most have their own wines as well:


Area (km2)

Population (2008 est.)

Density (per km2)

Largest City











Great West





Ile de France




















Île de France is the area immediately around Paris, which is of course France’s capital. Paris is France’s largest city by some distance and the second most economically important city in Europe. Culturally, Paris is one of the most important cities in the world, and its influence on the rest of France can hardly be overstated.

Cinemas, theatres and opera houses abound in Paris, and the city world famous for its culture. The Parisians have a reputation for being rude. In fact, they just have high standards of politeness and etiquette, and as long as you abide by their rules, you should in fact find them to be very polite.

The other areas of France are also culturally distinctive. The Great West includes Brittany, an area once colonised by Celts from Wales and Cornwall. Many locals still speak Breton, a Celtic language. The area contains evidence of other elements of Celtic culture, such as megaliths, festivals and traditional costume.

Northern France, especially Nord-Pas-de-Calais, is a major industrial area, although industry has declined in recent decades. Damaged as it was during the World Wars, this area still contains some splendid Gothic architecture, for example the Rouen and Amiens Cathedrals and, on the coast of Normandy, Mont St Michel, which is France’s most popular tourist destination outside Paris.

North-eastern France contains Champagne, a region world-famous for its exclusive sparkling wine. In Alsace, there is a distinct German flavour to the culture. The locals consider themselves Alsatian rather than French and many speak a dialect of German. The north-east’s largest city, Strasbourg, on the German border, is home to several important EU organisations.

Central France contains the Massif Central mountain range and a great deal of countryside; it is sparsely populated. This area is known as la France profonde (‘Deep France’). Life here has continued with little change for decades and the area is little visited by tourists. It is a largely agricultural area with a particular emphasis on beef cattle.

The South-west is another predominantly rural area. Apart from its beaches, it is not particularly popular with tourists, despite its many monuments and historical buildings. The Southwest stretches from the plains around the Garonne to the Pyrenees on the Spanish border. On the Garonne is the largest city, Bordeaux, famous for its variety of wine and home to the largest university in France with more than 60,000 students. The other large city, Toulouse, is a major European centre in the aeronautics industry.

The economy of the South-east is dominated by tourism. The area contains the sunny beaches of the French Riviera, which is very popular with tourists and the retired. To the north-east are the French Alps, popular with skiers. The largest city here is the highly multicultural Marseille, France’s chief Mediterranean port and second largest city. On the Rhône in the north of this area is Lyon, slightly smaller than Marseille and an important industrial centre. In terms of the reputation of its cuisine, Lyon rivals Paris.

Overseas Departments & Territories

In addition to France in Europe, or metropolitan France, there are overseas departments and territories which are politically considered part of France. In the Americas, there are the touristic islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique in the Caribbean Sea and the well-forested territory of French Guiana in mainland South America. In the Indian Ocean are Réunion and Mayotte, islands both some way off the coast of Madagascar. In the Pacific Ocean lie French Polynesia and New Caledonia, which contains one of the world’s best-formed lagoons.



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