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Capital (and largest city): Strasbourg
Population (2011): 1,852,325
Historically a Germanophone region, much of Alsace is strongly influenced by Germany, though nowadays locals mostly speak French. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, Alsace, together with Lorraine to the west, was the subject of a border dispute between France and Germany: they belonged to France since the 17th century, then were lost to Imperial Germany in 1871. The French got them back in 1919 (after World War I), then re-annexed by Hitler in 1940 until it was reclaimed by France for good in 1945. Consequently, many Frenchmen with German-sounding surnames (e.g. Robert Schuman, architect of the predecessor institutions to the EU) and, conversely, Germans with French-sounding surnames trace their ancestry to either region. Alsace also historically had a very large and very old (dating back to at least the 11th century) Jewish community, and many Diaspora Jews hail from here (e.g. the Marx Brothers, whose father was from Mertzwiller, Bas-Rhin; his friends called him "Frenchie"). Known for food (choucroute!) and wine.
67 — Bas-Rhin (Lower Rhine) (Capital (and largest city): Strasbourg / Area: 4,755km² / Population (2011): 1,099,269) — The more populous of the two departments of Alsace, Bas-Rhin's capital, Strasbourg (which also doubles as regional capital) is home to the European Parliament, although frankly the EP isn't happy with the arrangement and spends as much time in Brussels as possible, only going to Strasbourg for the obligatory annual four-day plenary session. Also, its cathedral is the second-largest in France (after that in Rouen). Facing the German border is Ouvrage Schoenenbourg, the largest visitable fortification of the Maginot Line.
68 — Haut-Rhin (Upper Rhine) (Capital: Colmar / Largest City: Mulhouse / Area: 3,525km² / Population (2011): 753,056) — Disproportionately for its size and population, Haut-Rhin is one of the richest departments in France. Its largest city, Mulhouse, is home to a Peugeot car factory, while the formal capital, Colmar, is a pretty town with an old city center and takes pride as the "capital of Alsatian wine", and is also the home of Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, the man who sculpted the Statue of Liberty.
Capital (and largest city): Bordeaux
Population (2011): 3,254,233
Aquitaine was already considered a specific region under the Roman Empire, where it consisted of a good chunk of the south-western part of Gaul. Nowadays, it is significantly smallernote , but it is still one of the biggest regions of France.
24 — Dordogne (Capital (and largest city): Périgueux / Area: 9,060km² / Population (2011): 415,168) — Corresponding to the ancient county of Périgord, Dordogne is known for its truffles (the other "black gold"). At its eastern frontier lay the caves of Lascaux, famed for its prehistoric paintings.
33 — Gironde (Capital (and largest city): Bordeaux / Area: 10,000km² / Population (2011): 1,463,662) — The departemental (and regional) seat, Bordeaux, is considered the capital of the world's wine industry, and holds an annual wine exhibit. 60 kilometers away (and into the sea) is the Dune of Pilat, the tallest sand dune in Europe.
40 — Landes (Capital (and largest city): Mont-de-Marsan / Area: 9,243km² / Population (2011): 387,929) — Created from parts of the ancient provinces of Guyenne and Gascony, Landes is home to the largest maritime-pine forest in Europe.
47 — Lot-et-Garonne (Capital (and largest city): Agen / Area: 5,361km² / Population (2011): 330,866) — Another byproduct of the division of Guyenne and Gascony.
64 — Pyrénées-Atlantiques (Capital (and largest city): Pau / Area: 7,645km² / Population (2011): 656,608) — The western part of this department is the other half of the "Basque country" (including that in Spain, just beyond the Pyrenees), and is also the home department of such glamorous beach towns as Biarritz.
Capital (and largest city): Clermont-Ferrand
Population (2011): 1,350,682
The Massif Central covers a good part of this historical region. This chain of mountains is quite famous for its extinct volcanoes, such as the Puy de Dôme, which gave its name to one of the départements. The capital is Clermont-Ferrand ("Michelin-Town"), located in the aforementioned département.
03 — Allier (Capital: Moulins / Largest City: Montluçon / Area: 7,340km² / Population (2011): 656,608) — Comprising much of the former Duchy of Bourbonnais, Allier played a big role during World War II. The spa city of Vichy served as the capital of the Nazi-sponsored French government, while the countryside around nearby Montluçon saw much La Résistance activity led by New Zealand-born Australian agent Nancy Wake.
15 — Cantal (Capital (and largest city): Aurillac / Area: 5,726km² / Population (2011): 147,577) — One of the most sparsely populated departements in France, Cantal is also one of France's most isolated, with its capital, Aurillac, being the farthest-removed departemental capital from any major motorway. Its most famous son is probably the scholar Pope Sylvester II, who was originally Gerbert d'Aurillac.
43 — Haute-Loire (Capital (and largest city): Le Puy-en-Velay / Area: 4,977km² / Population (2011): 224,907) — Its capital, Le Puy-en-Velay, is famous for its cathedral, which served as part of the route of the Camino de Santiago (the pilgrimage to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain) as well as a pilgrimage site in its own right.
63 — Puy-de-Dôme (Capital (and largest city): Clermont-Ferrand / Area: 4,977km² / Population (2011): 224,907) — Named after the dormant volcano that towers over the departemental (and regional) capital, Clermont-Ferrand, and a tourist destination in its own right, being the site of several religious compounds, including a Roman one dedicated to Mercury. Clermont-Ferrand is also known as the home of tire-making company Michelin (the one with a rubber-man for a mascot).
Capital (and largest city): Dijon
Population (2011): 1,642,734
Historically, it is famous for siding against France during the Hundred Years Warnote . Naturally, it is famous for its cuisine, to which we owe a lot (including les escargots de Bourgogne, the famous snails; boeuf bourguignon, or the best damn beef stew in Western Europe; and, of course, Burgundy wine).
21 — Côte-d'Or (Capital (and largest city): Dijon / Area: 8,763km² / Population (2011): 525,931) — Literally meaning "golden slope", Côte-d'Or is home to some of France's most prestigious vineyards, while much of the departement's economic activity centers on its capital Dijon (also seat of the entire region). The area is also the birthplace of the Cistercians, a Roman Catholic monastic order that stressed on austerity.
58 — Nièvre (Capital (and largest city): Nevers / Area: 6,817km² / Population (2011): 218,341) — A rural departement that largely thrives on the wine industry, its capital, Nevers, is home to a cathedral literally made of two earlier ones patched together, as well as the final resting place of St. Bernadette Soubirous, the recipient of visions attributed to the Virgin Mary at the town Lourdes farther south.
71 — Saône-et-Loire (Capital (and largest city): Mâcon / Area: 8,575km² / Population (2011): 555,999) — Dominated by a series of hills, Saône-et-Loire is most famous for the Benedctine abbey at Cluny, once the center of monastic activity in Europe, as well as the town of Taizé, home to a Christian ecumenical community.
89 — Yonne (Capital (and largest city): Auxerre / Area: 7,427km² / Population (2011): 342,463) — An otherwise quiet departement largely known for Sens, the town whose Roman Catholic Archdiocese once covered Paris and its surrounding areas until the 17th century.
Bretagne (Brittany / Breizh)
Capital (and largest city): Rennes
Population (2011): 3,217,767
Modern-day Brittany is actually only roughly 80% of the historical region, with the rest now belonging to Pays de Loire just because. Pretty Celtic in culture (it's part of the six Celtic nations with Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall and the Isle of Man), this is the last Celtic country in continental European (established by Cornish/Welsh refugees from Britainnote ). The local language, Breton, is being revived as part of France's gradual relaxation of its cultural policy. It is very closely related to Cornish and slightly more distantly related to Welsh. Famous for its crêpes (Krampouezh), buckwheat galettes (Kaletez) and its cider (Sistr). In France, it also holds a reputation for being perpetually rainy. Or in other words, it's the Wales of France. Go figure.
22 — Côtes-d'Armor (Capital (and largest city): Saint-Brieuc / Area: 6,878km² / Population (2011): 594,375) — Brittany's oddball departement, being a holdout of left-wing politics in an otherwise conservative region, centered on the socialist stronghold of Guingamp.
29 — Finistère (Capital: Quimper / Largest city: Brest / Area: 6,733km² / Population (2011): 899,870) — Literally plunked at the westernmost end of the Brittany Peninsula, Finistère remains Brittany's largest speaker of the Breton language, with an annual festival held at its capital, Quimper, while much of its economic activity revolves at the port city of Brest, only a few kilometers away from the westernmost end of the peninsula.
35 — Ille-et-Vilaine (Capital (and largest city): Rennes / Area: 6,775km² / Population (2011): 996,439) — The heart of western Brittany, the bustling city of Rennes serves as the heart of both the department and the region, while the tidal fortress-island of Saint-Malo was a primary destination for merchants and pirates alike.
56 — Morbihan (Capital: Vannes / Largest city: Lorient / Area: 6,823km² / Population (2011): 727,083) — The departement completely surrounds the eponymous gulf, which is a famous surfing and bird-watching destination — but is better-known as home to what is said to be the largest collection of megalithic structures in the world, of which the most famous is the stone formations at Carnac.
Largest city: Tours
Population (2011): 2,556,835
Located in the center of France, Centre is known for two things: the Loire Valley and its famous châteaux, and the fact that it is the only region with no individual cultural identity whatsoever. In fact, it's constituted of various smaller historical provinces (Berry, Touraine and Orléans), and some of them were even in conflict. It is often said that Centre was made with the leftovers when all the other regions where created. There's currently a campaign to get it renamed ''Val de Loire" ("Loire Valley", after its main unifying characteristic), but this is going slowly.
18 — Cher (Capital (and largest city): Bourges / Area: 7,235km² / Population (2011): 311,694) — Half of the ancient province of Berry, its departemental capital, Bourges, was also the said province's capital.
28 — Eure-et-Loir (Capital (and largest city): Chartres / Area: 5,880km² / Population (2011): 430,416) — A largely agricultural region, Eure-et-Loir is created from parts of the old province of Orléans. Almost everyone has already heard of Chartres, the departemental capital, whose skyline is still dominated to this day by the twin spires of its cathedral, arguably the best-preserved Gothic church in France.
36 — Indre (Capital (and largest city): Châteauroux / Area: 6,791km² / Population (2011): 230,175) — The other half of the former province of Berry. Most famous for Saint-Benoît-du-Sault and Gargilesse-Dampierre, said to be two of the most beautiful villages in France.
37 — Indre-et-Loire (Capital (and largest city): Tours / Area: 6,127km² / Population (2011): 593,683) — Formerly part of the province of Touraine, Indre-et-Loire saw a crucial battle during the 8th century which saw invading Moors repelled by Frankish duke Charles Martel on the modern-day departemental capital of Tours. The town of Chinon is home to a riverside château that once served as a residence of French and English kings in the 11th century, while another town, Chenconceaux, is host to another château built over an old flour mill literally straddling the Cher river.
41 — Loir-et-Cher (Capital (and largest city): Blois / Area: 6,343km² / Population (2011): 331,280) — Created from portions of Orléans and Touraine, this departement is best-known for the Château de Chambord, the largest of its kind in the Loire Valley and distinctive for its strong French architectural style.
45 — Loiret (Capital (and largest city): Orleans / Area: 6,775km² / Population (2011): 659,587) — Formerly of the province of Orléans, its same-named capital is also the capital both of the departement and the region. The city of Orleans is better known, however, for a siege during the Hundred Years War which saw a 19-year-old peasant girl from Lorraine named Joan of Arc help the beleaguered French repel the English, turning the tide of the Hundred Years War.
Largest City: Reims
Population (2011): 1,336,053
Made of the historical province of Champagne (whose name probably reminds you of something), and the Ardennes forest, located in the north-eastern part of France.
08 — Ardennes (Capital (and largest city): Charleville-Mézières / Area: 5,229km² / Population (2011): 283,110) — The departemental capital, Charleville-Mézières, is best known as the birthplace of Arthur Rimbaud and home to a medieval fair.
10 — Aube (Capital (and largest city): Troyes / Area: 6,004km² / Population (2011): 303,997) — A departement best-known for its capital, Troyes, which features half-timbered houses and was a former center of international trade (an English weight measurement system for precious metals and stones is named after the town).
51 — Marne (Capital: Châlons-en-Champagne / Largest City: Reims / Area: 8,162km² / Population (2011): 566,571) — In a predominantly wine-making region, the town of Épernay is the place where barrels of champagne are gathered from all over the region. Its largest city, Reims, features a cathedral that served as the coronation site of the Kings of France (for British readers, think Westminster Abbey, only French and Catholic).
52 — Haute-Marne (Capital: Chaumont / Largest City: Saint-Dizier / Area: 6,211km² / Population (2011): 182,375) — An otherwise quiet departement mostly known as the site of Lake Der-Chantecoq, the largest manmade lake in Europe.
Capital (and largest city): Ajaccio
Population (2011): 314,486
Nicknamed Île de Beauté (Isle of Beauty), the island of Corsica is located in the Mediterranean, right to the north of the Italian island of Sardinia.note Occupied for a long time by various countries, it was briefly independent in 1735, until 1769 where it was definitely conquered by France. Even today, Corsicans are a pretty independent bunch. A 2003 referendum on greater autonomy was voted down by a very thin majority: 50.98% against to 49.02% in favor. Ironically, the island also contributed to the history of France by being the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte himself. Common jokes involve Corsicans being lazy, insanely protective of their women, and highly irritable and violent (which combined with the long-running low-level separatist bombing campaign led to Corsica being jokingly called Île de Boum: the island of "BOOM"!). There are sometimes jokes about their kind of cheese, which even the cheese-loving French are horrified at. Corsican girls also hold a reputation for being extremely beautiful, but since it brought us women such as Laetitia Casta or Alizée, this might not be just a stereotype. Corsica used to have the number "20". This changed when it was separated in two départements.
2A — Corse-du-Sud (Capital (and largest city): Ajaccio / Area: 4,014km² / Population (2011): 145,846) — Directly facing Sardinia, the capital, Ajaccio, is the birthplace of Napoleon, while the town of Bonifacio literally sits on top of a seaside cliff facing.
2B — Haute-Corse (Capital (and largest city): Bastia / Area: 4,666km² / Population (2011): 168,640) — Literally "Upper Corsica", its capital, Bastia, is the island's principal port, directly facing continental France, while the smaller town of Calvi claims to be the actual birthplace of Christopher Columbus (then a Genoan territory).
Capital (and largest city): Besançon
Population (2011): 1,173,440
One of the few regions which sensibly corresponds to an historical province, the County of Burgundy (not to confound with the Duchy of Burgundy, of which it sometimes but not always formed a part). It is bordered by Switzerland on the east and the Jura Mountains (which gave its name to the Jurassic era of dinosaurs) are located here. Comté cheese, one of the most popular in France, is originally from here; vin jaune, a famous deep-yellow white wine, is native to Jura (and commonly drunk with Comté cheese).
25 — Doubs (Capital (and largest city): Besançon / Area: 5,234km² / Population (2011): 529,103) — A departement built around the Roman-era trade post of Besançon, the birthplace of Victor Hugo, overlooked by an imposing hilltop fortress.
39 — Jura (Capital: Lons-le-Saunier / Largest city: Dole / Area: 4,999km² / Population (2011): 261,294) — Jura is a predominantly wine-making region, and for lack of industrial activity, much of the departement's business work is concentrated in such small towns as Lons-le-Saunier and Dole.
70 — Haute-Saône (Capital (and largest city): Vesoul / Area: 5,360km² / Population (2011): 239,695) — An quiet, rural departement amidst a hotspot of economic activity that straddles the French-German border.
90 — Territoire de Belfort (Capital (and largest city): Belfort / Area: 609km² / Population (2011): 143,348) — For such a small departement, Belfort is distinct from the rest of the region by being a remnant of Alsace retained by the French after the rest was lost to the Germans after the Franco-Prussian War (partly as a show of respect to the 17,000 Frenchmen who defended the eponymous capital against 40,000 Germans during a 103-day siege; in their honor a massive stone lion was sculpted by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, finished a few months before he started work on the Statue of Liberty).
Capital (and largest city): Paris
Population (2011): 11,852,851
The center and heart of France, covering Paris and the outskirts (la banlieue), whose inhabitants are known as Franciliens. Urban and businesslike in culture, very populated of course (11 millions as of 2008), though the most far-off outskirts still manage to remain rural. Can be divided into three "rings": the city of Paris; the Petite Couronne ("little crown") of inner-ring suburbs, which might as well be part of the city; and the outer ring of départements, which are less densely populated. The inner-ring together with Paris have a population 2/3 that of New York on only half the land. Probably the biggest victim of France's Land of One City syndrome; even its inhabitants don't know it very much. Americans, compare upstate New York; Brazilians, compare the state of Sao Paulo.
75 — Paris (Area: 105km² / Population (2011): 2,249,975)
77 — Seine-et-Marne (Capital: Melun / Largest City: Meaux / Area: 1,804km² / Population (2011): 1,225,191) — Best known for Disneyland Paris, as well as the Palace of Fontainebleau, which used to be Napoleon's seat of power.
78 — Yvelines (Capital (and largest city): Versailles / Area: 2,284km² / Population (2011): 1,413,635) — Best known for the Palace of Versailles, Air and Daft Punk.
91 — Essonne (Capital (and largest city): Évry / Area: 1,804km² / Population (2011): 1,225,191) — Home to the École Polytechnique, the most prestigious engineering school in France, as well as Arianespace, builders of the near-eponymous rockets frequently launched from French Guiana.
92 — Hauts-de-Seine (Capital: Nanterre / Largest city: Boulogne-Billancourt / Area: 176km² / Population (2011): 1,581,628) — Forming the western half of the "Petit Couronne", its largest city, Boulogne-Billancourt, is the largest and richest of the Parisian suburbs. Hauts-de-Seine is also home to La Défense, Europe's largest purpose-built business district.
93 — Seine-Saint-Denis (Capital: Bobigny / Largest city: Saint-Denis / Area: 231km² / Population (2011): 1,529,928) — The northeastern part of the "Petite Couronne", the departement is home to several French hip-hop acts. The cathedral of its largest city, Saint-Denis, is also the final resting place of the Kings of France since the 10th century, built on the spot where the eponymous first Roman Catholic Bishop of Paris died after walking six miles preaching to the masses while carrying his severed head on his arms after being beheaded.
94 — Val-de-Marne (Capital (and largest city): Créteil / Area: 245km² / Population (2011): 1,333,702) — Completing the "Petite Couronne", Val-de-Marne is famous for its ginguettes. The town of Vincennes is most famous for its château.
95 — Val-d'Oise (Capital: Pontoise / Largest City: Argenteuil / Area: 1,246km² / Population (2011): 1,180,365) — Its largest city, Argenteuil, is the second-largest Parisian suburb after Boulogne-Billancourt.
Capital (and largest city): Montpellier
Population (2011): 2,670,046
Located in the south of France, it consists mainly of the historical provinces of Languedoc (from langue d'oc — "Language of Oc", i.e. Occitan), Gévaudan (now the departement Lozère), and Roussillon, a part of Catalonia annexed by King Louis XIV. Most of the Pyrénées-Orientales département, on the other hand, used to form the province of Roussillon, originally a part of Catalonia annexed by France under Louis XIV. The area retains a strong Catalan identity (even though the language itself has receded).note
11 — Aude (Capital: Carcassonne / Largest City: Narbonne / Area: 6,139km² / Population (2011): 359,967) — Aude has a long culture of wine-making, inherited from the Greeks, and throughout the medieval period was part of the territory of the Cathars, a Christian sect which rejects Christ's human nature and advocates escape from mortal flesh. Its prefectural capital, Carcassonne, is well-known for its restored medieval fortresses, while the slightly larger city of Narbonne to the coast existed since Roman times, remains of which era survive to this day.
30 — Gard (Capital (and largest city): Nîmes / Area: 5,853km² / Population (2011): 718,357) — Best-known the Roman arena in the departemental capital, Nîmes, still used to this day, and the Pont du Gard, the highest aqueduct bridge throughout the Roman Empire.
34 — Hérault (Capital (and largest city): Montpellier / Area: 5,853km² / Population (2011): 718,357) — A departement known for long stretches of beaches, while the capital, is home to one of the (if not the) oldest schools of medicine in the world.
48 — Lozère (Capital (and largest city): Mende / Area: 5,167km² / Population (2011): 77,156) — An otherwise sparsely populated departement, Lozère made headlines almost 300 years ago through a bunch of lupine man-eaters which terrorized the countryside.
66 — Pyrénées-Orientales (Capital (and largest city): Perpignan / Area: 4,116km² / Population (2011): 452,530) — Originally the other half of the Principality of Catalonia just across the Pyrenees Mountains, Pyrénées-Orientales still maintains a nominal Catalan identity, and its capital, Perpignan, is considered the third largest Catalan city (after Barcelona and Lerida) in Europe.
Capital (and largest city): LimogesA small and central, mostly rural area.
Population (2011): 741,072
19 — Corrèze (Capital: Tulle / Largest City: Brive-la-Gaillarde / Area: 5,857km² / Population (2011): 242,454) — An otherwise quiet departement which produced two of France's presidents: Jacques Chirac, who began as its deputy representative for the national lower house, and the incumbent François Hollande, former mayor of the departemental capital, Tulle.
22 — Creuse (Capital (and largest city): Guéret / Area: 5,565km² / Population (2011): 122,560) — The departemental capital, Guéret, is home to some of the last native wolves in France.
87 — Haute-Vienne (Capital (and largest city): Limoges / Area: 5,520km² / Population (2011): 376,058) — The departemental (and regional) capital, Limoges, is best-known for its porcelain, enamels and cork barrels used to store cognac wine. To the northwest lay Oradour-sur-Glane, infamous for a massacre upon its civilians during the latter half of World War II by the Nazis, said to have been their retribution for the alleged kidnapping of an SS commander.
Largest City: Nancy
Population (2011): 2,350,657
A region with a strong cultural identity, Lorraine (along with Alsace) changed hands between France and Germany a few times throughout its history.
54 — Meurthe-et-Moselle (Capital (and largest city): Nancy / Area: 5,246km² / Population (2011): 733,124) — Its capital, Nancy, was also the capital of Lorraine, and gave the world art nouveau.
55 — Meuse (Capital: Bar-le-Duc / Largest City: Verdun / Area: 6,211km² / Population (2011): 193,557) — The largest city, Verdun, is no stranger to warfare, being a strategic city and all, but the one during World War I seared itself in the pages of history as perhaps one of the worst real-life cases of the "War Is Hell" trope, claiming over 700,000 Frenchmen and Germans between February and December 1916.
57 — Moselle (Capital (and largest city): Metz Area: 6,216km² / Population (2011): 1,045,146) — The departemental (and regional) capital, Metz, has both a very old city center and a policy of eco-friendly urban planning.
88 — Vosges (Capital (and largest city): Épinal Area: 5,874km² / Population (2011): 1,045,146) — Best-known as the birthplace of Joan of Arc, in the town of Domrémy (now suffixed "-la-Pucelle" in her honor).
Capital (and largest city): Toulouse
Population (2011): 2,903,420
The largest region in mainland France by area. The region is made of part of the old province of Languedoc (including Toulouse, the regional capital and historical capital of Languedoc), part of the old province of Aquitaine or Guyenne (including a sizeable part of Gascony), and of the old Comté of Foix (Ariège). Maintains a sense of unity thanks to the rather homogenous culture of southwestern France (it also helps that Toulouse has both a Languedocien and a Gascon side). This is rugby country.
09 — Ariège (Capital: Foix / Largest City: Pamiers / Area: 4,890km² / Population (2011): 152,286) — The departemental capital, Foix is home to a castle sitting on a rocky outcrop, while the hilltop fortress of nearby Montségur saw the last major stand of Catharism, snuffed out by a 10-month siege by French Crusaders in 1244.
12 — Aveyron (Capital (and largest city): Rodez / Area: 8,735km² / Population (2011): 275,813) — Home to several scenic castles and monasteries, including the one in Conques, a stopover on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain. The town of Miliau is also well-known for what is now known as the highest bridge in the world, spanning the gaping Tarn Valley.
31 — Haute-Garonne (Capital (and largest city): Toulouse / Area: 6,309km² / Population (2011): 1,260,226) — A departement dominated by Toulouse, the fourth-largest city in France, which prides itself as the heart of the European aerospace industry.
32 — Gers (Capital (and largest city): Auch / Area: 6,257km² / Population (2011): 188,893) — The departemental capital, Auch, is best-known as the designated hometown of Charles D'Artagnan. More infamously, the departement is home to the town of... Condom (actually a shorthand of the Gaulish "Condatómagos", or "Market of the Confluence").
46 — Lot (Capital (and largest city): Cahors / Area: 5,217km² / Population (2011): 174,754) — The departemental capital, Cahors, is known for its wine industry that predates that of Burgundy, while the town of Rocamadour features a rocky outcrop upon which a sword was buried, allegedly belonging to Folk Hero Roland.
65 — Hautes-Pyrénées (Capital (and largest city): Tarbes / Area: 4,464km² / Population (2011): 229,228) — Home to several popular ski resorts and an almost-fixture on any version of the Tour de France, but perhaps better known for the town of Lourdes, where on 1858 14-year-old shepherdess Bernadette Soubirous received visions attributed to the Virgin Mary, turning the town into one of France's most popular religious pilgrimage destinations.
Nord-Pas-de-CalaisNord is the historical Western half of Flanders and Pas-de-Calais contains, as the name implies, the port of Calais. This area played key roles in both World Wars. In France, it used to hold a very bad reputation for being extremely poor, polluted and backward. The extremely successful movie Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis did a lot to change that vision of things. Nord-Pas-de-Calais retains a strong working class identity, with people whose origins come from all over Europe. Think of northern industrial England, only French. The best French beers come from there; Nord in particular shares in the Flemish brewing tradition with Belgium. Its capital is Lille and it consists of:
Basse-Normandie (Lower Normandy) & Haute-Normandie (Upper Normandy)Normandy got inexplicably split in two entities. Basse-Normandie capital is Caen while Haute-Normandie's is Rouen. Normandy is famous for its food (cream! fruits! Camembert!), apple beverages (cider! Calvados!) and beautiful rural landscapes. Birthplace of a certain Norman conqueror. Basse-Normandie consists of:
Pays de la Loire (Loire Countries)Another completely artificial region, it is made from Anjounote , Mainenote , and pieces from Brittany (Loire-Atlantique) and Poitou (Vendée). Capital is Nantes, which happened to be the capital of Brittany in the past note - and the birthplace of Jules Verne. There is a campaign to have Loire-Atlantique (the Breton part containing Nantes) reattached to Brittany and move the capital of the smaller Pays de la Loire from Nantes to Angers (historic capital of Anjou) or Le Mans (historic capital of Maine and seat of Sarthe département). The other province famous for the châteaux of the Loire Valley. Consists of:
Picardie (Picardy)Capital is Amiens. Despite having some identity of its own, each of its three département mostly falls under influence of the neighbouring régions:
Poitou-CharentesA région of middle size, not really in the north nor in the south. Its capital is Poitiers, alleged birthplace of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Île de Ré is there, where most of the Paris upper class Bourgeois Bohemian use to spend their summer holidays. Most of The Three Musketeers's sequel, Twenty Years After, takes place in La Rochelle. Also known for cognac, Angoulême International Comics Festival, the Futuroscope theme park and Fort Boyard. Consists of:
Provence-Alpes-Côte d'AzurSoutheastern part of the Country, its name is very often abridged as PACA (pronunced "paka"). Besides the Alps, the Region is very touristic, especially the Côte d'Azur (the French Riviera) and Cannes for its annual Film Festival. The largest city in the region is Marseille which is France's second biggest city and famous for being the oldest French city (founded by Greeks merchants in the 600's BC), and the one with the most intense football fever. Other big cities includes Toulon, Nice and Avignon. Consists of:
Rhône-AlpesThis big region of southern France contains (obviously) part of the French Alps (PACA has the other part) and the large city of Lyon, its capital (whose metropolitan area is the second largest in the country). A very industrial and economically strong région, with a collection of small identities (Lyon, Savoie, Dauphiné, even a piece of historical Languedoc) rather than a single one. Lyon is famed in France for its food and cuisine. Rhône-Alpes is made of:
Those régions used to be colonies but 4 were made into départements shortly after World War II at their inhabitants request (Mayotte became one in 2011). When régions were created in 1983, each of these also became a région on top of being a département.
Guadeloupe (971)The biggest of the two Caribbean French régions, located between Montserrat in the north and Dominica in the south. Its capital is Basse-Terre but the biggest city is Pointe-à-Pitre. Guadeloupe has a volcano, La Grande Soufrière (simply La Soufrière in French), still active but asleep since a long time. Many little French islands of the Lesser Antilles are under Guadeloupe's rule.
Martinique (972)The other French Caribbean région, Martinique is much smaller and less populated. It is located between Dominica in the north and Saint Lucia in the south. The capital is Fort-de-France. Martinique also has a volcano, the Montagne Pelée (Mount Pelée), but it is much more dangerous than the Soufrière. In 1902, it completely destroyed Martinique's former capital, Saint-Pierre, leaving only two survivors, one of them a criminal convict. Memories of slavery are still very vivid and touchy there, as it still shapes mentalities despite having been abolished more than 150 years ago. Martinique, like Guadeloupe, is renowned for its rum and bananas.
Guyane française (French Guiana, 973)The biggest of all the French régions: it is as big as Belgium or Portugal. It is the only one which isn't an island, being located between Suriname at the west and Brazil at the east. Guyane remains for its overwhelming part a chunk of the Amazonian rainforest, where several indigenous tribes still live. But most of the population lives on the shores. The capital is Cayenne, but the economic heart is Kourou and its European Space Center, from where the Ariane rockets are lauched. French Guiana is also known for still having gold prospectors and having been the location of the most infamously renowned French penal colony, the "Bagne de Cayenne", from which Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman once escaped. It was nicknamed "la guillotine sèche" (the dry guillotine), for crying out loud!
Mayotte (976)Located in the Indian Ocean, Mayotte is a tiny island which is geographically a part of the Comoros Islands, to the west of Madagascar. Pretty much East African in its culture (like Kenya or Zanzibar), Islam shapes most of its society. Capital is Mamoudzou.
La Réunion (974)Mauritius' sister, Réunion is the most populated of the French Overseas régions. It is a rocky island of volcanic origin, much like Hawaii. Its volcano is very active but usually benign (it sometimes destroys some roads and village, but people are seldom killed). Formerly known as "Île Bourbon", Réunion never had an indigenous population and thus is very racially mixed, and has a very tolerant society. Capital is Saint-Denis. Réunion is renowned for its volcano, food (a surprising mix of French, Indian and African cooking), surf spots and awesome inner mountains and landscapes. It is also said to be a paradise for botanists given the range of completely unique species it shelters.