France is the largest European country west of the Soviet Union. It is bordered by Belgium and Luxembourg on the north; Germany, Switzerland, and Italy on the east; the Mediterranean Sea on the south; Spain on the southwest; the Atlantic Ocean on the west; and the English Channel on the northwest. It is 605 miles wide and 590 miles long.
The name of France was taken from an early people called Franks, who came from northeastern Europe.
“Ile de France” means “isle of France,” and although France is not an island, that name was given to the region around Paris that is bounded by five rivers. During the dark period of medieval history, French kings ruled only this small area.
The French flag of red, white, and blue is called the tricolor, and King Louis XVI first used these three colors in 1789.
Paris is the capital of France. It is known as the world capital of art and learning. Despite its inland location, it is one of the leading ports of France. The boulevards of Paris are famous for their sidewalk cafes under the trees. The Cathedral of Notre Dame, the Champs Elysees, the Arc de Triomphe (Arch of Triumph), artists, women’s fashions, and secondhand bookstores are all found in Paris. The Louvre is a famous art gallery that exhibits nearly 250,000 works of art. The castle of Versailles, twelve miles from Paris, is now a museum and is famous for its fountains and gardens. The beautiful palace of Fontainebleau, situated in a 42,200-acre forest outside of Paris, was built by Francis I and later in history was much loved by Napoleon. The Eiffel Tower was built in 1889 for the Paris Universal Exposition.
The Seine River is well suited to navigation. It flows through Paris and on into the Atlantic Ocean at the port city of Le Havre. The Garonne River rises in the Pyrenees on the border of France and Spain and flows into the Atlantic at Bordeaux. The Rhone River begins in Switzerland, leaves Lake Geneva, and enters France. There it is eventually joined by the river Saone at Lyons, an important railroad and highway center.
From Lyons the Rhone continues south and empties into the Mediterranean Sea at Marseilles, a leading port and the second largest city in France. The Rhone is too swift and turbulent for navigation, so its energy has been harnessed for hydroelectric power. A network of canals connects these main rivers, and more than ten thousand ships and barges travel them.
A famous cold wind, the mistral, sometimes blows from the north in the winter, bringing unusually cold weather to the southern part of France. Nice is the capital of the sunny resort district of the French Riviera. Arles is noted for the native costumes worn by the people and for the whitewashed and thatch-roofed farmsteads along poplar-lined roads.
Aix-en-Provence has the most fountains of any city of comparable size. Every street begins or ends with a fountain.
In southern France, Roquefort cheese is made from ewe milk. France is well known for delectable food. French recipes for salads, sauces, and soups are copied by cooks all over the world. Truffles, snails, sausages, omelets, and pressed duck are some of the specialties.
In the Alps, Mont Blanc (15,781 feet) is the highest point in Western Europe. In 1965, the world’s longest highway tunnel (7 1/4 miles) was built through it to connect France with Italy.
The Jura Mountains form a boundary between France and Switzerland. These mountains are lower and less rugged than other parts of the Alps. Mountain pastures above the tree line provide excellent grazing for dairy cattle.
The Loire River travels through the central area of France and empties into the Atlantic at Nantes. The peaceful, wooded Loire Valley in the center of France has many famous historic chateaus (castles).
A rich agricultural region is found north of Orleans, and wheat and sugar beets are grown here. Cattle and sheep are kept in barns and are not allowed to graze as they do in many other places in France.
Colorful apple orchards, dairy farms, and vineyards are found throughout the French countryside. On market day French farmers bring their fruits and vegetables to the busy public squares of cities and towns.
The irregular coast of Brittany in the north provides many small harbors that are well suited to fishing ports and good fishing waters.
The most popular sport in France is soccer. Frenchmen also enjoy hiking and skiing. The bicycle race Tour de France is the most famous national sporting event. Children in France enjoy many of the same games that you play. One is called cache-cache and is similar to hide and seek.