"How can you govern a country that has two hundred and forty-six kinds of cheese?"People tend to forget this, but France is big. Really big. By land area it is the largest country in Western Europe and of The European Union, and the third-largest in Europe overall (after Russia and Ukraine); it's also about the same size as Texas, which of course prides itself on its size. As a result, despite the centralization of power in Paris, the government needs to divide the country up somehow in order to govern effectively. Départements are the primary administrative divisions of France. As you can imagine given that bit about France being big, there's rather a lot of them. Nowadays they are grouped for administrative efficiency into 27 régions, 22 within "Metropolitan France" (i.e., in continental Europe, including Corsica), and the remaining five elsewhere, but this is a fairly recent creation. Several regional projects aborted, the first one in 1919, the second one during the Vichy regime, and the third one rejected by referendum in 1969 (which is what led to Charles De Gaulle's retirement from power). The current regions were created in 1972 by George Pompidou, but were only given significant power by 1983's decentralization law under François Mitterrand. Each département is allocated a numbernote , which appears on French postcodes and car registrations. The départements are purely administrative, having been created during the French Revolution as a means to "rationalize" administration: originally, the idea was to divide along the lines of a rigid grid◊, and although that idea was quickly scrapped, the départemental lines are drawn with more consideration for compactness and equality of geographic size than anything else − nobody had to be "more than a day of horseriding" away from the main city of their department. Most of these departments are named after rivers, mountains or seas (or several at once like Pyrénées Atlantiques). The regions, on the other hand, tend to vaguely follow the old provinces of the Ancien Régime, although not always (Centre-Val de Loire, Rhône-Alpes, Pays de la Loire, and Midi-Pyrénées in particular are noted for their artificiality). The historic provinces tend to be very much a focus for attachment for ordinary French people, as do the towns, cities, and other municipalities that form the next level down below the département. The old provinces tend to have their own characteristic dialects, cuisines, customs, and traditions — to say nothing of the cheese and the wine. Although the dialects largely have been worn away into mere regional accents by generations of concerted attempts to impose Standard French, the rest have remained — and that's why we talk about it.
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Grand Est (Great East)
Capital (and largest city): StrasbourgMerged from three major regions — Alsace, Lorraine and Champagne-Ardenne. For centuries Alsace and Lorraine (also known as, respectively, Elsass and Lothringen in German) constantly changed hands between France and Germany — they were both part of France since the 17th century; of Imperial Germany in 1871; of France in 1919; of Nazi Germany in 1940; and back to France in 1945 — which left its mark on the local culture, where it's not uncommon to meet Frenchmen with Germanic surnames. In contrast, the latter region is a patchwork of the historic province of Champagne (obviously famous for its wine-making industry) and the Ardennes forest.
Area: 57,433 square kilometres (22,175 square miles)
Population (2014): 5,554,645
Area: 57,433 square kilometres (22,175 square miles)
Population (2014): 5,554,645
08 — Ardennes
- Capital (and largest city): Charleville-Mézières
Area: 5,229 square kilometres (2,019 square miles)
Population (2013): 280,907
Named after a heavily-wooded valley cut by the Meuse river, giving it a strategic importance that never went unseen throughout the two World Wars — during the first, Ace Pilot Roland Garros was shot down, and in his honour a tennis centre in Paris, host of the French Open, is named after him; in the runoff to the second, this was the northern end of the Maginot Line. The capital Charleville-Mézières is home to Arthur Rimbaud, as well as a medieval fair.
10 — Aube
- Capital [and largest city]: Troyes
Area: 6,004 square kilometres (2,318 square miles)
Population (2013): 306,581
The capital, Troyes, was a former centre of international trade, and in whose honour a weight measurement system for precious metals and stones once used widely in Britain and America is named. The village of Clairvaux is home to St. Bernard, reformer of the Cistercians, a Roman Catholic order of monks which stress on austerity.
51 — Marne
- Capital: Châlons-en-Champagne
Largest City: Reims
Area: 8,162 square kilometres (3,151 square miles)
Population (2013): 569,999
In a predominantly wine-making region, the town of Épernay is the place where barrels of champagne are gathered from all over the region. Near Châlons-en-Champagne is a military camp which served both as training grounds and exhibition centre, while Reims is a cathedral town where French kings were crowned (for British readers, think Westminster Abbey, only French and Roman Catholic).
52 — Haute-Marne (Upper Marne)
- Capital: Chaumont
Largest City: Saint-Dizier
Area: 6,211 square kilometres (2,398 square miles)
Population (2013): 181,521
An otherwise quiet departement mostly known for Lake Der-Chantecoq, the largest manmade lake in Europe. The capital Chaumont bore witness to an accord between Prussia, Russia, Britain and Austria refusing any peace deal with Napoleon Bonaparte, leading to his final defeat at Waterloo. The town of Colombey-les-Deux-Églises was also Charles de Gaulle's home for the last years of his life.
54 — Meurthe-et-Moselle (Meurthe and Moselle)
- Capital [and largest city]: Nancy
Area: 5,246 square kilometres (2,025 square miles)
Population (2013): 731,004
The capital Nancy was the centre of the historic Lorraine region, and is the birthplace of art nouveau.
55 — Meuse
- Capital: Bar-le-Duc
Largest City: Verdun
Area: 6,211 square kilometres (2,398 square miles)
Population (2013): 192,094
Another of the departements carved out of Lorraine. The strategic valley around Verdun saw its fair share of conflict, but one during World War I became perhaps one of the worst real-life cases of the "War Is Hell" trope, claiming over 700,000 Frenchmen and Germans in a war of attrition that lasted almost all of 1916.
57 — Moselle
- Capital [and largest city]: Metz
Area: 6,216 square kilometres (2,400 square miles)
Population (2013): 1,046,873
Moselle is a centre of Lorraine culture, and Metz has both a very old city centre and a policy of eco-friendly urban planning.
67 — Bas-Rhin (Lower Rhine)
- Capital [and largest city]: Strasbourg [Regional Capital]
Area: 4,755 square kilometres (1,836 square miles)
Population (2013): 1,112,815
The more populous of the Alsatian departements, its capital Strasbourg is home to the European Parliament, as well as the second-largest cathedral 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: 3,525 square kilometres (1,361 square miles)
Population (2013): 760,134
Disproportionately for its size and population, Haut-Rhin is one of the richest departements in France. Mulhouse hosts a Peugeot car factory, while Colmar and takes pride as the "capital of Alsatian wine" as well of its native son Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, of Statue of Liberty fame.
88 — Vosges
- Capital [and largest city]: Épinal
Area: 5,874 square kilometres (2,268 square miles)
A little-known part of Lorraine whose most famous daughter is Joan of Arc, born in Domrémy (now suffixed "-la-Pucelle" in her honour).
Capital (and largest city): Bordeaux(15,949mi )
Population (2012): 3,285,970
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: 9,060km(3,500mi ) / Population (2012): 416,384) — 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: 10,000km(4,000mi ) / Population (2012): 1,483,712) — 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. Named after the Gironde estuary, by which the Garonne river goes into the Atlantic.
40 — Landes (Capital [and largest city]: Mont-de-Marsan / Area: 9,243km(3,569mi ) / Population (2012): 392,884) — 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: 5,361km(2,070mi ) / Population (2012): 332,119) — Another byproduct of the division of Guyenne and Gascony.
64 — Pyrénées-Atlantiques (Capital [and largest city]: Pau / Area: 7,645km(2,952mi ) / Population (2012): 660,871) — The western part of this department is the other half of the "Basque country" (including that in Spain, just beyond the Pyrénées), and is also the home department of such glamorous beach towns as Biarritz. The eastern half is a part of Gascogne called Béarn, where politician François Bayrou was born.
Capital (and largest city): Clermont-Ferrand(10,044mi )
Population (2012): 1,354,104
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: 7,340km(2,830mi ) / Population (2012): 342,911) — 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: 5,726km(2,211mi ) / Population (2012): 147,415) — 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: 4,977km(1,922mi ) / Population (2012): 225,686) — 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: 4,977km(3,080mi ) / Population (2012): 638,092) — 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(12,194mi )
Population (2012): 1,641,130
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: 8,763km(3,383mi ) / Population (2012): 527,403) — 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: 6,817km(2,632mi ) / Population (2012): 216,786) — 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: 8,575km(3,311mi ) / Population (2012): 555,039) — 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: 7,427km(2,868mi ) / Population (2012): 341,902) — 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(10,505mi )
Population (2012): 3,237,097
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 looking for somewhere like home; they found it). The local language, Breton, historically spoken in the Western part of the region 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. A romance language called Gallo is also still in use in the eastern part of the region, though it has much fewer speakers. 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: 6,878km(2,656mi ) / Population (2012): 595,531) — 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: 6,733km(2,600mi ) / Population (2012): 901,293) — 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: 6,775km(2,616mi ) / Population (2012): 1,007,901) — 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: 6,823km(2,634mi ) / Population (2012): 732,372) — 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.
Centre-Val de Loire
Capital: Orleans(15,116mi )
Largest city: Tours
Largest city: Tours
Population (2012): 2,563,586
Known as the "Centre" region until 2014, it is located in the center of France (well, more in the North-West. Ish.). It 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. After a long campaign, it was renamed Centre-Val de Loire in January 2015.
18 — Cher (Capital [and largest city]: Bourges / Area: 7,235km(2,793mi ) / Population (2012): 311,897) — 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: 5,880km(2,270mi ) / Population (2012): 432,107) — 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: 6,791km(2,622mi ) / Population (2012): 228,692) — 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: 6,127km(2,366mi ) / Population (2012): 596,937) — 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: 6,343km(2,449mi ) / Population (2012): 331,656) — 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: 6,775km(2,616mi ) / Population (2012): 662,297) — 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 and turn the tide of the war.
Capital (and largest city): Ajaccio(3,350mi )
Population (2012): 316,257
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: 4,014km(1,550mi ) / Population (2012): 145,429) — 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: 4,666km(1,802mi ) / Population (2012): 170,828) — 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(6,256mi )
Population (2012): 1,175,684
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: 5,234km(2,021mi ) / Population (2012): 531,062) — 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: 4,999km(1,930mi ) / Population (2012): 260,932) — 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: 5,360km(2,070mi ) / Population (2012): 239,750) — 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: 609km(235mi ) / Population (2012): 143,940) — 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(4,638mi )
Population (2012): 11,898,502
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: 105km(41mi ) / Population (2012): 2,240,621)
77 — Seine-et-Marne (Capital: Melun / Largest City: Meaux / Area: 1,804km(2,284mi ) / Population (2012): 1,353,946) — Best known for Disneyland Paris, as well as the Palace of Fontainebleau, which used to be Napoleon's seat of power. It also roughly corresponds to the historic region of Brie française—the western part of the Brie region historically under the direct authority of the Kings of France—and is the source of the two varieties of the famous Brie cheese that have AOC appellations (Brie de Melun, from the departmental seat, and Brie de Meaux, from the department's largest settlement).
78 — Yvelines (Capital [and largest city]: Versailles / Area: 2,284km(882mi ) / Population (2012): 1,412,356) — Best known for the Palace of Versailles, Air and Daft Punk.
91 — Essonne (Capital [and largest city]: Évry / Area: 1,804km(697mi ) / Population (2012): 1,237,507) — 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: 176km(68mi ) / Population (2012): 1,586,434) — 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, home to Manhattanesque skyscrapers that house France's major corporate headquarters and the famous modernist Grande Arche (designed to form a line with the Arc de Triomphe and the Louvre; it houses a museum and government offices as well as a train station).
93 — Seine-Saint-Denis (Capital: Bobigny / Largest city: Saint-Denis / Area: 231km(91mi ) / Population (2012): 1,538,726) — 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, so legend goes, 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: 245km(95mi ) / Population (2012): 1,341,831) — 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: 1,246km(481mi ) / Population (2012): 1,187,081) — Its largest city, Argenteuil, is the second-largest Parisian suburb after Boulogne-Billancourt.
Capital (and largest city): Montpellier(10,570mi )
Population (2012): 2,700,266
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: 6,139km(2,370mi ) / Population (2012): 362,339) — 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: 5,853km(2,260mi ) / Population (2012): 725,618) — 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: 5,853km(2,356mi ) / Population (2012): 1,077,627) — 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: 5,167km(1,995mi ) / Population (2012): 76,889) — 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: 4,116km(1,589mi ) / Population (2012): 457,793) — Originally the other half of the Principality of Catalonia just across the Pyrénées 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): Limoges(6,541mi )
Population (2012): 738,633 A small and central, mostly rural area.
19 — Corrèze (Capital: Tulle / Largest City: Brive-la-Gaillarde / Area: 5,857km(2,261mi ) / Population (2012): 241,247) — 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: 5,565km(2,149mi ) / Population (2012): 121,517) — The departemental capital, Guéret, is home to some of the last native wolves in France.
87 — Haute-Vienne (Capital [and largest city]: Limoges / Area: 5,520km(2,130mi ) / Population (2012): 375,869) — 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.
Capital (and largest city): Toulouse(17,509mi )
Population (2012): 2,926,592
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: 4,890km(1,890mi ) / Population (2012): 152,366) — 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: 8,735km(3,373mi ) / Population (2012): 276,229) — 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: 6,309km(2,436mi ) / Population (2012): 1,279,349) — A departement dominated by Toulouse, the fourth-largest city in France, which prides itself as the heart of the European aerospace industry (Airbus has its main office in the suburb of Blagnac).
32 — Gers (Capital [and largest city]: Auch / Area: 6,257km(2,416mi ) / Population (2012): 189,530) — 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: 5,217km(2,014mi ) / Population (2012): 174,346) — 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: 4,464km(1,724mi ) / Population (2012): 228,854) — 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.
81 — Tarn (Capital [and largest city]: Albi / Area: 5,758km(2,223mi ) / Population (2012): 378,947) — The departamental capital, Albi, was known both as the hometown of Art Nouveau pioneer Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and the site of an imposing, fortress-like cathedral, built as a show of power by the Roman Catholic Church over the former Cathar stronghold (thus their other denonym, the "Albigensians") and one of the largest brick buildings in the world.
82 — Tarn-et-Garonne (Capital [and largest city]: Montauban / Area: 3,717km(1,436mi ) / Population (2012): 246,971) — A patchwork departement formed from leftovers of Lot, Haute-Garonne, Lot-et-Garonne, Gers and Aveyron.
Capital (and largest city): Lille(4,793mi )
Population (2012): 4,050,756
Nord 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.
59 — Nord (Capital [and largest city]: Lille / Area: 5,743km(2,217mi ) / Population (2012): 2,587,128) — The western half of the historic realms of Flanders and Hainaut (the other halves being in Belgium), Nord is France's most populous departement (being more populous even than Paris, although obviously at a much lower density) and is the only one with its own Flemish dialect. Nord once stood at the forefront of France's 19th-century industrial renaissance, and has slowly rebuilt itself as a commercial and tourist hub following the devastation of World War II
''62 — Pas-de-Calais (Capital: Arras / Largest City: Calais / Area: 6,671km(2,576mi ) / Population (2012): 1,463,628) — A surprisingly rural departement in spite of its large population, Pas-de-Calais is better-known for its largest city, Calais, which serves as the French end of the Channel Tunnel which serves as Britain's principal link to continental Europe.
Basse-Normandie (Lower Normandy) & Haute-Normandie (Upper Normandy)Normandy got inexplicably split in two entities. In the tenth century, the king of France granted a province to a group of vikings (then known as "normans"), on the condition they stopped raiding his lands. Thus, Normandy was born. 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:
14 — Calvados (Capital [and largest city]: Caen/ Area: 5,548km(2,142mi ) / Population (2013): 689,945) — A mostly rural departement, though it contains Caen, one of the two capitals of Normandy (the other being Rouen, in Seine Maritime). The D-day landings took place here.
50 — Manche (Capital : Saint-Lô/ Largest city : Cherbourg/ Area: 5,938km(2,293mi ) / Population (2013): 499,919) — The westernmost departement of Normandy, it consists mainy of the Cottentin peninsula, that juts into the Channel. "La Manche" is the French name for the English Channel. The famous Mont Saint-Michel is located in the south-east, right next to the border with Brittany.
61 — Orne (Capital : Alençon/ Area: 6,103km(2,356mi ) / Population (2013): 288,848) — The only landlocked departement of Normandy, the Orne is also the least populated. The legendary Camembert cheese comes from here. Haute-Normandie consists of:
27— Eure (Capital : Évreux/ Area: 6,040km(2,330mi ) / Population (2013): 595,043) — Another mostly rural departement, with a relatively large but evenly spread out population.
76— Seine Maritime (Capital : Rouen/Largest City: Le Havre/ Area:''' 6,278km(2,424mi ) / Population (2013): 1,254,609) — The largest and most populated norman departement. At the mouth of the Seine, Le Havre is one of the largest ports in France, and the largest municipality in the departement, though if one includes the urban area, it is largely surpassed by Rouen. Located further upstream, Rouen is one of the two capitals of Normandy (along with Caen) and has a rich cultural heritage. The city notably has one of the largest (and most spectacular) cathedrals in France ; Joan of Arc was famously burnt here on 1431. Other noteworthy sites include the coastal town of Dieppe and the famous clifs of Étretat, the secret hideout of a certain gentleman-thief.
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 . 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.
44— Loire Atlantique (Capital [and largest city] : Nantes/ Area: 6,809km(2,629mi ) / Population (2013): 1,254,609) — No matter what administrative divisions say, Loire-Atlantique is very much part of Brittany. Breton reunification has been a local issue ever since regions were created, but as of 2016 the situation remains the same. The departement is located around the river Loire's estuary into the Atlantic Ocean, as its name seems to suggests. It is the flattest departement in France, and is home to many wetlands and salt marshes. The city of Nantes is a young and dynamic city, and as previously mentioned is the historic capital of Brittany (see why people are making a big deal out of it?). Jules Verne was born here. At the mouth of the river, Saint-Nazaire is one of the world's most important shipyards, many of the largest ships in history having been built here.
49— Maine et Loire (Capital [and largest city] : Angers/ Area: 7,172 km(2,769 ) / Population (2013): 800,191) — Roughly corresponds to the old province of Anjou, the homeland of House Plantagenet, which at its peak ruled over England and all of western France. The capital, Angers,has a large castle that was owned by them. Other noteworthy sites are the town of Saumur and Cholet.
53— Mayenne (Capital [and largest city] : Laval/ Area: 5,175 km(1,998mi ) / Population (2013): 307,500) — A quiet departement, with a strong agriculture. The southern third of this departement was once part of Anjou, the remainder of it being part of Maine.
72— Sarthe (Capital [and largest city] : Le Mans/ Area: 6,206 km(2,396mi ) / Population (2013): 569,035) — The Sarthe département corresponds to the eastern half of the old province of Maine. Le Mans, the capital and largest city, was a roman city and has been home to the "24 heures du Mans", an endurance sports car race that first happened in 1923.
85— Vendée (Capital [and largest city] : La-Roche-sur-Yon/ Area: 6,206 km(2,396mi ) / Population (2013): 655,506) — Part of the old province of Poitou, in the 1790's Vendée saw a major counter-revolutionary uprising, which was brutally repressed by the Republican Government. Vendée has remained a stronghold of conservative Catholicism, being notably home to Philippes de Villiers, traditionalist politician and founder of the "Puy du Fou" medieval theme park, the second most visited in France.
Picardie (Picardy)Capital is Amiens. Despite having some identity of its own, modern picardy is (was, as of 2017) substantially larger than the old province of picardy, and each of its three département mostly falls under influence of the neighbouring régions:
02— Aisne (Capital : Laon/Biggest city : St Quentin/Area: 7,369 km(2,845mi ) / Population (2013): 540,067) — Made up of three old provinces (Vermandois in the north, Ile de France in the centre,Champagne in the south), this departement was the sight of some of WWI's biggest battles.
60— Oise (Capital [and largest city] : Beauvais/ Area: 5,860 km(2,260mi ) / Population (2013): 815,400) — Pronounced "wahz", this département is economically and culturally turned towards Paris and Ile de France. Its most noteworthy sites are the Parc Asterix theme park and the Beauvais's unfinished cathedral, which has the highest vault of any gothic church.
80— Somme (Capital [and largest city] : Amiens/ Area: 6,170 km(2,380mi ) / Population (2013): 571,675) — The core of old Picardy, Somme was the sight of one of World War I's biggest battles. Its capital is home to one of France's largest cathedrals, which unlike that of Beauvais, is complete.
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. It regroups two historical regions: Poitou (northern half) and Charente (southern half). 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.
17— Charente (Capital [and largest city] : Angoulême/ Area: 5,956 km(2,000mi ) / Population (2013): 353,482) — A quiet département of western France, Charente is home to the Cognac liqueur and the Angouleme International Comics Festival, the third largest in the world.
16— Charente Maritime (Capital [and largest city] : La Rochelle/ Area: 6,864 km(2,650mi ) / Population (2013): 633,417) — A coastal département, this Charente's big sister contains many islands, the large Isles of Ré and Oleron, and the smaller Isles Madame and Aix, and is a popular holiday destination. A protestant stronghold, the capital La Rochelle was famously besieged and largely destroyed by Cardinal Richelieu in 1628. The iconic Fort Boyard is both set and located of the coast.
79— Deux Sèvres (Capital [and largest city] : Niort/ Area: 5.999 km(2,316mi ) / Population (2013): 371,632) — Another quiet departement of Poitou, Deux-Sèvres is also one of the fastest growing and developing.
86— Vienne (Capital [and largest city] : Poitiers/ Area: 6,990 km(2,700mi ) / Population (2013): 431,248) — Halfway between Bordeaux and Paris, Vienne is home to the Futuroscope theme park.
Provence-Alpes-Côte d'AzurSoutheastern part of the Country, its name is very often abridged as PACA (pronounced "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 600s BC), and the one with the most intense football fever − its football club notably has a long rivalry with that of Bordeaux. It is also the birthplace of many French rappers (most famously the band IAM and anarchist female rapper Keny Arkana). Other big cities includes Toulon, Nice and Avignon. Consists of:
- Alpes-de-Haute-Provence (04)
- Hautes-Alpes (05)
- Alpes-Maritimes (06)
- Bouches-du-Rhône (13)
- Var (83)
- Vaucluse (84)
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:
- Ain (01)
- Ardéche (07)
- Drôme (26)
- Haute-Savoie (74)
- Isére (38)
- Loire (42)
- Rhône (69)
- Savoie (73)
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 − which means that, amusingly, France's longest border is with Brazil (more than 700km). 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 (not to be confused with the metropolitan city of the same name). 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.
Overseas collectivities & others
These are bits of French-owned land all across the globe, with varying status, administrative divisions, etc. Generally not considered as integrated into the country as the overseas departments, but those are nevertheless part of the French Republic as well. These are generally not part of the European Union, and generally don't use the Euro, but there are obviously exceptions.
French Polynesia (overseas collectivity)An archipelago of about 118 islands in the Pacific, spread out roughly over the same area as Europe, with the largest, most populated, and most famous of these being Tahiti.
Saint Pierre et Miquelon (overseas collectivity)Two islands near the coast of Newfoundland in Canada, the only remaining part of New France that is still under French control. The least populated French overseas dependency.
Wallis et Futuna (overseas collectivity)A tiny group of islands in the Pacific, sometimes wrongfully grouped along with French Polynesia, even though it is on the complete opposite side of the Polynesia region.
Saint Martin (overseas collectivity)The French side of a small island in the Caribbean divided between France and the Netherlands. Used to be administered as part of Guadeloupe until it separated in 2003. It has remained part of the European Union.
Saint Barthélémy (overseas collectivity)Yet another French island in the Caribbean, had the same status as Saint Martin until the same vote in 2003 separated it from Guadeloupe.
Nouvelle Calédonie (special collectivity)Located East of Australia, New Caledonia consists of the Grande Terre, which is the second largest island of France after Corsica, and some smaller islands in the pacific.
Terres Australes et Antarctiques Françaises (overseas territory)The French Southern and Antarctic Lands consists of roughly all the non-inhabited French islands between Africa and Antarctica. This also includes the French territorial claim on Antarctica, Terre Adélie (Adélie Land), though this isn't recognized by a lot of countries.
Clipperton Island (private state property)A small ring-shaped island West of Mexico. Hasn't had a permanent population since the 1940's.
In 2014, a rather controversial reform was initiated by François Hollande to reduce the number of metropolitan regions from 22 to 13 and increase the administrative powers of regions − and conversely reduce those of departments. It took effect in 2016.
- Aquitaine was fused with Poitou-Charente and Limousin, creating the new biggest region of France (and more or less a recreation of the old Duchy of Aquitaine). It is called Nouvelle-Aquitaine and is roughly the size of Austria, no less.
- Midi-Pyrénées was fused with Languedoc-Roussillon. The new region is called Occitanie (which irritated the inhabitants of the Pyrénées-Orientales department, who historically speak Catalan, not Occitan).
- Rhône-Alpes was fused with Auvergne. The new region is simply called… Auvergne-Rhônes-Alpes.
- Franche-Comté was fused with Bourgogne. Again, the new region is simply called Bourgogne-Franche-Comté.
- Alsace was fused with Lorraine and Champagne-Ardennes (and many Alsacians are not happy with that). It is now called Grand-Est (pronounced "grantest", Great East).
- Picardy was fused with Nord-Pas-de-Calais, forming the new Hauts-de-France (pronounced "oh-de-France", a slightly poetic way of saying "Upper France")
- Normandy was reunited, which is pretty much the only part of the reform everyone can agree on.
- Bretagne, Pays-de-la-Loire, Centre-Val de Loire, PACA and, of course, Corsica were left untouched.